The Personal and The Professional | Selangor Times
Issue 118


The Personal and The Professional
Writer: Tricia Yeoh
Published: Fri, 25 Jan 2013

YET another Malaysian incident has made it into international news. 

The Wall Street Journal, amongst other newspapers since, has reported on Bank Islam’s suspension of Azrul Azwar Ahmad Tajudin after his analysis of a possible Opposition win at Federal Parliament was presented at a Regional Outlook Forum in Singapore last week. 

Azrul’s presentation on Malaysia’s economic and political outlook of 2013 included a section on the domestic political landscape, which outlined three possible scenarios as a result of the upcoming 13th General Election. 

The first, a scenario with moderate probability or best-case scenario, was a narrow win for Barisan Nasional; the second a scenario with high probability or base-case scenario of a narrow win for Pakatan Rakyat; and finally a third scenario with very low probability or worst-case scenario of a big loss for Barisan Nasional.

Since then, a group of civil society organisations and individuals have issued a statement in support of Azrul, and in protest of what is seen to be Bank Islam’s unprofessional and unjust act of suspension. 

In its statement (for full disclosure, I was also a signatory to this statement), it was argued that financial markets would require free access to information, and that elections analyses are of “paramount importance for the markets and the country”. Finally, that in so doing, Bank Islam showed its reporting policy of being favourable only to Barisan-friendly news. 

This issue is something that all of us in professional jobs and relationships have to deal with on a regular basis. 

It brings up several points in question, namely whether there ought to be a distinction between one’s personal versus professional opinions on a certain – in this case, political – matter. 

For instance, one blogger wrote stating that Azrul should have known that working in such a corporation meant requiring him to behave in a manner expected of him. 

Bank Islam, a bank close to the Barisan government, would naturally have received pressure after what was perceived to be a Pakatan-friendly prediction. 

Other bloggers have also insinuated that because he is a member of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, and had exchanged e-mails with members of the political party, this meant he compromised on his professionalism. 

A second point is whether or not it is within the job function and ability of an economist to make elections predictions, the way a political scientist would have more likely been able to. 

For what it’s worth, Azrul did precede his analyses with the acknowledgement that he was no political analyst, and that the prediction was based on a set of factors including: analysis of voter profile, past voting trends in the 2008 election and consequent 16 by-elections, Sarawak state elections, ground visits, voting patterns with identified election issues, as well as assumed conditions under which these would take place. 

Just how much of a gap should exist between our personal and professional lives? One imagines the number of Malaysians in either the private or public sector who may, perhaps, have attended last Saturday’s successful Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat (People’s Uprising Rally) in Stadium Merdeka in support of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat – but yet keep it quiet when entering their office premises on the following Monday morning, for fear that their personal sentiments would have an adverse effect on their job positions, contracting relationships with government, and so on. 

Should they have to? Ought an employee to adhere strictly to the corporate code of conduct and set of beliefs of his or her employer at all times, or should independent thought be protected as the right to freedom of expression? 

These answers will vary according to the specific employer in question. 

However, a general principle would be for the employee to behave in a professional manner as far as the boundaries of the work required of him go. 

In this particular situation, the question we may ask is whether as the chief economist of Bank Islam, it was considered fair and acceptable for him to have conducted political analyses for the purposes of determining Malaysia’s economic outlook for the year. 

We know, for example, that political outcomes have a direct impact on the economy. A change in government would certainly affect markets, investor sentiment and institutional structures. 

It is therefore safe to state that presenting his election outcome analyses was part and parcel of behaving in a professional manner. 

There is a difference between expressing a theoretical analysis and a personal preference; in this case, it was the former and not the latter.

Bank Islam does emerge from this looking the loser, and may have to conduct some public relations messaging to defend its actions. 

By suspending Azrul, the message it sent was “we do not tolerate opinions that are favourable to any party other than the ruling government”. 

Going forward, employers at all levels of companies would be forced to consider how to balance their employees’ needs with their personal sentiment; is there a “line” to maintain, and if so, what justifies this position? 

Ultimately, what must be remembered is that individuals when undertaking their jobs based on their professional duties as required should not be persecuted for political reasons alone. 



 Selangor Times



Also by Tricia Yeoh:

Towards a New Malaysia

THE term “think tank” may evoke images of stuffy bespectacled researchers sitting behind desks towering with stacks of paper.

The PAS conundrum – or is it really?

At a recent policy dinner at St. Mike’s, a cozy Ipoh restaurant, I spoke of civil society, reform issues and my experience of having worked at the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government. The discussion eventually centred on one subject alone, that being the ‘PAS conundrum’ (titled by me); conundrum being defined as a confusing and difficult problem or question. 

‘Tis the season to be rallying

THE past weekend has been a busy one indeed. Not only was the city’s annual arts festival, Urbanscapes, taking place, but this time Sigur Ros, the atmospheric Icelandic band graced the occasion and performed right in the heart of Petaling Jaya. 

Can overseas Malaysians contribute?

At the Singapore FreedomFilmFest 2012 where the three documentaries were screened (including The Rights of The Dead, on the late Teoh Beng Hock’s story), a sizeable number of Malaysians interspersed the audience. Roughly making up 20% of the crowd size, the question-and-answer session following the screening reminded me of the aspirations Malaysians living overseas continue to have about their country, back home. 

Models for state and city

As part of the Penang launch of my book, "States of Reform", as well as the FreedomFilmFest screenings of my documentary, "The Rights of the Dead" in the same state, I spent several days in Penang recently (a sister state of Selangor, in the sense that both are governed by the Pakatan Rakyat coalition as a result of the March 2008 elections). 

Lessons from Selangor show way forward

It was an entertaining thought that my friend, Keith Leong, would have spent long hours in the very English Cambridge University writing his MPhil thesis on the Selangor experience under Pakatan Rakyat. 

Dark look at the country’s financial situation

In the lead up to the 13th General Election, economic issues will inevitably be hotly debated by all sides of the political divide. It is within this context that a book of great relevance to Malaysian readers and voters has been recently published. 

Walking the narrow path

I had the privilege of speaking to a group of young interns under the Otak-Otak Internship Programme this week.

Decentralisation the way forward?

At the launch of my book, “States of  Reform: Governing Selangor and Penang” last Saturday, three esteemed panelists, YB Liew Chin Tong (member of Parliament, Bukit Bendera), YB Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (state assemblypersom, Seri Setia) and Dr Ooi Kee Beng (Deputy Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore) took on the increasingly popular, but also controversial, subject of decentralisation of government in Malaysia.

Wading through the so-called ‘water crisis’

Election fever is in the air, and the games have begun. Last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stated that Selangor was heading towards a water crisis, after the state government blocked the building of the Langat 2 water treatment plant.

That Religious Issue: Faith, Space and Justice

Every now and then arises a hot potato issue that few are inclined to comment upon, namely that of religious sensitivities. This week former Selangor state executive councillor and head of new NGO JATI, Hasan Ali, revealed a video of purported proselytisation of Muslims by a group of Christians.

Four years of PR in Selangor

What the Debate says about the Chinese

The much hyped-up debate between Lim Guan Eng and Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek last weekend took place with as much drama as there was in the days leading up to it.

Politics vs Policy: How do people really vote?

Malaysian lessons from Bolivia

At the Centre for Independent Journalism’s Human Rights in Outer Space series of events last week, I was asked to speak on a panel analysing the Our Brand is Crisis documentary and draw comparisons between issues arising within it and the Malaysian context.

Sewerage privatisation once again?

Cyberspace was on fire last week after the Auditor-General’s 2010 annual report revealed a host of financial irregularities perpetrated by several government agencies and government-linked companies.

Of schooling and the Budget

In my conversation with Malaysian parents, the topic almost always steers back to the issue of the country’s education system. They are most often in a dilemma about which schools they should place their children in, and which system to opt for.

Setting the tone with Selangorku

Selangor was one of the first governments in Malaysia to have officially celebrated Malaysia Day on Sept 16 in 2009, which was followed thereafter by the federal government in 2010 when it was declared a public holiday.

This year, Selangor launched its version of an agenda in con- junction with Malaysia Day, called "Selangorku", or “My Selangor". The project took about a year to complete, having been initiated when I was then Research Officer at the Selangor Menteri Besar's office. Although I have since moved on, it was indeed a gratifying moment knowing the agenda has finally


Assimilation versus integration

Last weekend, I was invited to speak at a forum organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Isis).

Water deal makes Malaysians RM6.5b poorer

A new chapter has unfolded in the long-drawn-out Selangor water saga recently. Acqua SPV, a Special-Purpose Vehicle set up under the gederal government body PAAB (Pengurusan Aset Air Berhad), has announced plans to acquire 100% of Selangor water bonds. The total outstanding bonds come up to RM6.5 billion.

Let’s start talking to one another as a nation

It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that people are driven by insecurity and fear, especially of what they do not understand or know.

The dead have rights, too

Malaysia is in desperate need of a reliable and trustworthy institute to conduct autopsies, especially in relation to deaths in custody. Last week, the body of customs officer Ahmad Sarbani was found on the grounds of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Federal Territory office.











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