How an ad man saw money do its thing in the addictive world of Malaysian politics


Cash is king haunts Malaysian politics

Prior to furthering my studies at a local university, I worked for two years as a wages clerk at a cement plant in a small town located just outside Kuala Lumpur. On the 7th of every month I was inundated with bundles of hard cash in various denominations sprawled over an office table fluctuating between RM150,000 and RM170,000 depending on the overtime hours.

This was the salary to be paid to 250 hard working employees; awaiting for the cash to be stuffed in brown envelopes bearing their respective staff number and name. For our safety, we had the services of two armed policemen from the local police station until the disbursement of the salaries.

Naively, I assumed that was probably the largest sums of cash I will ever come across in my working life.

After graduating and working at various agencies, I was lucky enough to set up my own advertising business with fellow colleagues. As years went by, I had wittingly or unwittingly, the golden opportunity to secure the patronage of high-flying clients who were very well connected to powerful political masters and the government of the day.

Apart from the usual corporate and product campaigns, I was roped in to work on special projects to win the hearts and minds of the electorate during the election season.

It was sinfully excessive to see bundles upon bundles of freshly minted currency notes firmly wrapped in transparent plastic.

The freshly minted currency permeated a distinctive smell.

It was the fresh smell of virgin money untainted by human hands.

Notwithstanding the era of de-Bossification, the adage “Cash is King” is most likely to stay and thrive in Malaysian politics.

Just like instant noodles and the 3-in-1 coffee, instant gratification can buy unstinting support right from naïve voters  for crafty and ambitious politicians.

Come election season – be it for political party elections, state or federal elections – hundreds of millions of Ringgit Malaysia currency notes are on the move from banks to hotel rooms, offices, safe houses before finding their way to remote villages and far-flung towns to be handed to supporters, voters and party members as a token of gratitude for their unflinching support.

Where do these sack loads of cash come from?

More often that not, such money creatively labelled as so called “political donation” comes from well-meaning and extremely generous business tycoons  with very deep pockets and who are “intent on making Malaysia a great nation”.

They want to be in the good books of politicians in power and hope their contributions are well reciprocated by way of lucrative contracts and projects.

I encountered one former cabinet minister who had the audacity to ask a contributor to ensure the so called “donation” was in crisp new RM100 bills as the voting public are fussy and will not accept anything lesser in tainted currency notes.

I am told of a story of a former Menteri Besar who kept in his home, hundreds of thousands of hard cash in boxes and in the cupboard. Whenever, he needed to give out money to voters, his trusted Indonesian maid will count the required sum and dutifully place into bags for her master.

During my event management days, I know of many instances where the rent-a-crowd comprising of busloads of so called hundreds of “loyal supporters” are ferried to ground breaking events to demonstrate the “overwhelming public support” a political leader is purported to command.

This is not North Korea of “Our Dear Leader”, but Malaysia of recent years.

I know of an agency several years ago, which was paid millions in cash for political advertising campaigns. The money was deposited as cash into the agency’s bank account prompting the bank to raise an alert with the authorities back then.

Many of us are complicit in this culture of “Cash is King”. We are so deeply embedded in this institutionalised culture it is difficult to see any abandonment in the near future.

Will this change?

I don’t see it happening in my lifetime.

To read more riveting content from The Malketeer, click here.

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