Dato Rocky, Bigdog and us had an informal audience with Tuanku Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, the Sultan of Johor last Monday on Maulidur Rasul holiday.
Rocky came from Singapore who was there visiting his sickly old friend in hospital. Bigdog and ourself came from Kuala Lumpur.
Throughout the trip, the two Johoreans, Big Dog and ourself were nervous after getting a friend's call. He was in the audience when Tuanku made a royal proclamation in the morning to turn Muar into Johor's royal town. He said Tuanku mentioned not to believe untrue rumours of himself in the blogs.
Now what did we write? We were sure we didn't inadvertently accused Tuanku in our postings. But one can never know if Tuanku had misunderstood it to refer to him. Was Tuanku offended with the coded words of Ghost of Johor?
By 4:30 PM, we reached Istana Muar, as commonly called. It is in Muar town situated near Government offices and next to the Muar river. It does not have a palatial character, more like a large bungalow with 60s retro architecture.
We were immediately whisked upstairs. Tuanku was at the dining table as though he was waiting for us.
The dining room had a majestic view of the Muar river and the second Masjid of Muar on the other side of the river as backdrop. The table were already set with plates and silverwares. There were two grills at the verandah.
Our imagination ran wild as we wonder what are those grills for?
Tuanku was casually dressed in light blue short sleeve shirt and blue jeans. Rocky was in his usual casual self. It made the us, the two Johorean felt overdressed with our black coats on. Just in case it was a formal affair, we even had our songkok and ties ready in the car.
After the initial introduction and pleasantries, Rocky told Tuanku how surprised he was with the simplicity of the Muar palace. Tuanku replied he loves being in Muar and to watch the flowing Muar river.
That could explain why he was the Sultan that finally proclaim Muar as royal capital of Johor. In our conversation, Tuanku shared his big plans for Muar.
As we got into the reason for our presence that day, we apologised to Tuanku and asked did we wrote anything wrong. He gestured to show he was not concerned with who wrote what or to hear our explanation of our postings. He didn't call us to be reprimanded.
Tuanku wanted to, as he said, "I just want you to know what really happened."
That was comforting to know his Majesty was willing to "mencemar duli" to engage us bloggers. It was also an honour to be seen in Tuanku's eye as Johoreans concerned for the well being of our home state.
As for Rocky, he can always call Johor his home state. Singaporean Malay tend to look at the Sultan of Johor as their own. As a Masjid Tanah born, he is not far off also for the Johor Sultanate begin a year after Melaka Sultanate ended, explained Tuanku.
Throughout our 5 hours marathon conversation that ended near 10 pm, we covered a wide range of subjects on the current issues and happenings in Johor.
We got a lot of insights into many happenings in Johor. Unfortunately, not all can be told here. They call it client confidentiality. Some are private. And, it is also about being selective.
One thing was obviously noticeable throughout our conversation. Tuanku was conversant in the economic and business development of the state as well as the corporate game. Honestly Tuanku knows what he is taking about and more.
We took a break for Tuanku to grill the meat he had marinated himself for our bar-b-que dinner. He marinated a lot of meat but he could not join us for dinner. He is currently on a strict vegetarian and exercise regime.
Since my father's days in the Johor civil services, we knew of Johor Sultans' hereditary hate for wastage of food in any event at Istana. Tuanku had his ADC, District Officer, and members of his entourage to join us.
It was a relief to finally know what the grill was for.
Despite running the risk of Tuanku's displeasure, we saw the engagement as an opportunity to hear out Tuanku's perspective as ruler and someone selfishly concerned for Johor.
Throughout our audience with Tuanku, he was frank and as we described, brutally honest. Tuanku was so straight forward and open that there seem no attempt to withheld information or side step any issue. It was no holds barred all the way.
We were quite sure that Tuanku had read himself all our recent blog postings on Johor because Tuanku touched on all the issues we raised.
Upon hearing out Tuanku's side of the story, we realised we had our hits and misses.
And, there were areas we "agree to disagree." For instance, Tuanku mentioned he doesn't care what others say on some appointments in Johor Corp, because he insist he wish to see certain things in order and get new blood.
Tuanku knows well the parameter of his authority under the state enactment on the Johor Corporation and expressed his unhappiness with certain area of governance. He specifically express that he wants to get things done properly and in order.
Throughout his days as Tengku Mahkota, Tuanku had been closely monitoring the state and reading the reports. Tuanku had a strong grasp of administrative matters of the state and grassroot issue of the rakyat.
Every year, Tuanku will lead his Kembara Mahkota Johor visits to every corner of the state to meet and touch base with the rakyat. The event this year will be in March, said Tuanku.
One concern Tuanku saw was that the state coffer was not benefiting from the development brought by the Federal Government and investment that flow into the state. Tuanku was not comfortable with privatisation of Johor based assets into what he deemed as private hands.
In Bigdog's posting of the audience here, Tuanku expressed his wish to see that Johor state benefit from any investment and development via equity and dividend after certain number of years.
Tuanku expect the state to be custodian and it's agencies or SLCs to benefits from projects in the state. The state should not be expected to give away land without any benefit in the medium and long run.
Tuanku would like to see Johor benefit from the spillover of progress and development in Singapore.
This is all part of Tuanku's plan to be more participative in the tri-partite arrangement involving the Sultan, politicians and civil service in the administration of the state. Tuanku is quite conversant in his constitutional rights as ruler.
Early in the conversation, this blogger managed to sneek the question, "Who is the ghost of Johor?" to Tuanku.
"Lim Kang Hoo lah," he answered with a cheeky smile as if to kid with our coverage of Dato Lim Kang Hoo in our blog postings.
Tuanku did explained that Kang Hoo came to Johor from Sabah and was not getting anything. Finally, he came in to helped bailout Gani's RM200 million problem of Kumpulan Parasarana Rakyat Johor.
Like we said, Tuanku was brutally honest.
Tuanku did not hide the fact that Kang Hoo is his business partner. However, Tuanku made known that he had personally opposed and rejected some of Kang Hoo's applications to the local authority, including the height limit to Danga Bay development.
Another displeasure of Tuanku's that he shared with us were of those selling his name to secure business or projects or favours. There had been many including family members and friends.
But, that evening Tuanku shared with us the exploits of one fugitive lawyer that seriously smeared his good name and made wild allegations on private royal family matters. Tuanku also told of how he had taken a cut from what was wholly due to a doctor present that night.
Could the lawyer be the ghost of Johor?
Tuanku was quite upset with the allegations made on him including the rumour that he is a 30% man. The 30%, Tuanku explained, is for the state.
Tuanku said, he had always pay for what is due and sometimes gone beyond what is fair. He hoped we could tell his side of the story.
We expressed to Tuanku that many other rumours on Tuanku is making it's round and it is important that Tuanku be cautious and judicious in his business dealing. The perception need to be managed so that the rakyat do not have a false impression.
Tuanku felt that only certain level of the people would be making such allegations on him.
Tuanku acknowledged that he is involved in many businesses in Johor and he stress the point that he only invest his money in the Johor economy to benefit the state.
To be fair to Tuanku, the Johor Sultanate is very self sufficient. It is already rich and had Hong Kong Bank established a Bank 110 years ago to service for the royal family's private banking needs.
Tuanku made known that like his predecessors, the family's main business has always been in plantations, particularly oil palm.
Tuanku was considerate of the rakyat in his business dealings. For instance, Tuanku told of winning all four open tenders for petrol stations in a certain area near a University.
His company only took up two. Even one of the two petrol station was donated to a University together with some money to construct the petrol station.
Many in Johor Baru knew of the late Sultan's generosity to donate 27 acres land in the city to relocate flat dwellers near the CIQ and new planned bridge.
Tuanku personally attend to help relocate to a new prime place for stalls displaced by infrastructure development.
Tuanku had bought four pieces of old Government bungalow land in the Tanjung area of Muar for RM10 million, which is signficantly more than the market.
On the matter of Dialog, Tuanku own up to being paid S$10 million and subtly corrected us. The land had been a concession he had for many years long before the Petronas Rapid idea was formed.
So we got the wrong ghost there. That was one of our misses.
Since Tuanku mentioned his displeasure of seeing Johor land being made for corporate shuffling, we asked his view concerning Iskandar. Expectedly, Tuanku was not pleased with the whole idea but accepted the fact that it is agreed already by his late father, Almarhum Tuanku Sutan Iskandar.
In the like of these two Utusan Malaysia's letters from concerned subjects of Johor here and here, with regard to Khazanah management of Medini project in the Iskandar region, which while it was answered here, still left much suspicion remain (read Outsyed the Box here), we hope for Tuanku's concern.
When it comes to Khazanah's investment, particularly those involving Johor and with Singapore, it falls on the feet of Khazanah's Ganen Savarananthan.
Ganen could well be one ghost of Johor yielding such powers to bypass local authorities and politicians. For he is the one that brings Singapore in the development planning of Iskandar and by passing Johor's own UPEN.
Question should be posed to Ganen as to why should Keppel Group be offered a 40% stake in the IPP to produce power to Singapore on Johor land and yet Johor gets none?
Ampun Tuanku. The Iskandar Malaysia which is not to your liking was the brainchild of Zaki together with Dato Dr Vincent Lim (now with ISIS) of the infamous Tingkat 4 of Pak Lah's Prime Minister's Depatment.
Ganen is also considered as part of Tingkat 4.
Zaki should be closely monitored and checked in his role at Johor Corp as to not to compromise the interest of Johor again!
He is capable of being a ghost of Johor and guardian of Singapore's interest. And he attracts suspicion and spoils confidence on entity he is attached with.
Another puzzling development is Kang Hoo, Tuanku's own business partner which is not Johorean.
How could he be allowed to control Tebrau Teguh by using a company he control to buy the shares of the custodian, the state of Johor's SLC, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor in which state lands had been injected?
Read in Bigdog's A precursor of ‘Seri Flipping-jaya’.
In line with Tuanku's new aspirations for Johor, we trust Tuanku is aware of all these and would take up these matters accordingly with the concerned parties for the sake of Johor.
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