Tuesday, March 8, 2016

PKR exposes on Tabung Haji not making splash among rural depositors

PKR lawmaker Rafizi Ramli's revelations on Lembaga Tabung Haji's finances may have made headlines, but they don't appear to have had much impact on depositors in rural areas in Peninsular Malaysia, underscoring the influence of government-controlled media in these parts. In Seberang Prai, Penang, those approached by The Malaysian Insider appeared to be unaware of the issues concerning the government-operated fund that helps Malaysian Muslims save to perform the haj. In Tasek Gelugor, an elderly depositor who opened his account in the 1980s, said he knew nothing of negative reserves or the possible RM933 million losses due to investments in Felda Global Ventures shares, as alleged by Rafizi. "I don't keep up with the news," said Yusof Man, 75, a self-employed man from Kampung Air Melintas Besar. Yusof, who has performed the haj four times, was also not aware of the announcement by Tabung Haji last month that it would pay depositors a 5% dividend and an additional 3% to those who have yet to perform the pilgrimage. "It is up to Tabung Haji how much they want to give depositors. Personally, it does not really matter to me even if they don't pay (the dividend). "What matters is the money depositors have put into the fund is for the haj. Being entrusted with that kind of money, it is best (for the fund) to manage the money properly and with care," he told The Malaysian Insider. Like Yusof, retired nurse Dalilah Ahmad, 65, is hoping to go to Mecca for the first time this year, but she is unaware of the issues surrounding Tabung Haji. The woman, from Kepala Batas, said whenever people around her spoke about the pilgrimage fund, it was only about going to Mecca and how Tabung Haji would make all the arrangements for them. "We save money, put it into our Tabung Haji accounts and wait for our turn to go. Tabung Haji takes care of everything. "Who is saying all those bad things about Tabung Haji? PKR? I don't know... I never heard of such things when I watch the news on TV." However, those who consume a wider variety of news sources, including online media and opposition party mouthpieces, are more aware of Tabung Haji's controversies. Penanti resident, Osman Abu Bakar, 52, who reads PKR organ Suara Keadilan, said he was worried over the news about the negative reserves and investments that might not result in profits. "I am not panicking and taking my money out, but I don't know if I can say the dividend announcement has put me at ease. Who knows how the fund is being used? "I worry about the alleged mismanagement and political interference. The fund is after all made of money people save to perform the haj," said Osman from Kuala Mengkuang. He expressed support for Rafizi's call to replace the chairman of the Tabung Haji board, Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim. "With the talk about politics being involved, it may be better to have a chairman who is not in politics. "Someone who is knowledgeable in economics and business may be more suitable for the job," he said. Norsiah Mahmud from Kodiang, Kedah, agreed with Osman that politicians should not sit on the board of Tabung Haji. "Appointing someone with a certain political background will not create a very good impression of the fund. "If they appoint someone with a political agenda, Tabung Haji's image will be badly affected and that will also be unfair to depositors," she said. Norsiah had followed the news on Tabung Haji's land purchase from state investor 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) as well as Rafizi's revelations on the fund's investments. "This is the first time I am hearing about the various problems after having an account for almost 10 years. "We never heard of such things in the past but the Internet makes news and information easily accessible and shared these days." Norsiah, who plans to perform the umrah (lesser pilgrimage to Mecca) in April, said she would still maintain her account because there was no other government agency in the country handling the pilgrimage for Muslims. Using the services of private companies would cost too much, she added. Another depositor from Tasek Gelugor, who only wanted to be known as Asrul Sani, said he read online news portals, and was not thrilled about Tabung Haji's dividend and bonus. "I hope this issue will not be handled like the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) issue," said Asrul when met near Kampung Ekor Kucing. In the southern state of Johor, some depositors have more faith in the fund, like Abdullah Ithnin, 61, and Ali Sulaiman, 62, both from Batu Pahat, who has performed the haj twice. Ali said he welcomed the 5% dividend payout and felt at ease after getting assurance from a Tabung Haji officer that everything was fine. "I went to the Tabung Haji office to check when everyone was talking about the financial problems the fund was supposedly having. I have a few hundred thousands in my account. "I asked the clerk at the counter if it was true Tabung Haji was going bankrupt. The staff told me it was an attempt to sabotage the fund. It is not true what people were saying," he said. Ali said the information spread online was not accurate. "I am confident Tabung Haji is not going bust. Millions of people put their money there. The money is okay. "It is only a problem when the government is not okay. We just have to worry if the government 'buat perangai' (misbehave). That is all. "Even if we want to withdraw our money from the fund, where else can we put it?" – March 9, 2016.]]>

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