By Maria Begum
Under heavy fire for an abuse of power and corruption scandal, Umno minister Shahrizat Jalil gave her strongest hint yet she was ready to quit her Cabinet post ahead of snap general elections, widely expected to be held early next year.
However, it is less clear whether she would also resign her post as the head of Wanita Umno, the party’s women’s wing. In the past weeks, several Umno stalwarts including former premier Mahathir Mohamad have asked her to step down.
The quit calls came after arch rivals Parti Keadilan Rakyat exposed the RM250 million NFC debacle, showing documentary evidence that instead of using the government soft loan to finance the development of a cattle livestock industry, Shahrizat’s family had spent the money to buy luxury condos in Bangsar and Singapore, a super-class Mercedes Benz plus grant million ringgit discounts and cash transfers to family-owned firms.
“Nobody needs to tell me what to do. As a responsible leader and veteran in politics who loves Barisan Nasional, I know what action needs to be taken and I will discuss it with (Prime Minister) Najib Razak,” Shahrizat told reporters on Wednesday.
The last straw
PKR leaders attributed the slight bending in stance to their latest revelation that Shahrizat’s family, which had been awarded the project, had also bought another condo – this time in the swanky Orchard-Scotts Residence in Singapore.
The Singapore condo worth nearly RM10 million was even registered in the personal names of her husband, Salleh Ismail, who is the NFC chief, and her two children, who also sit on the NFC board.
“What is even more nauseating is that the unit was registered directly under the names of Shahrizat’s family members, instead of the company… they were jointly registered under (husband) Mohamad Salleh Ismail and their two children Izran and Izzana,” PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution had told a press conference on Tuesday.
Not acceptable she is uninvolved, say pundits
Nonetheless, while the embattled Shahrizat finally succumbed to the pressure she was facing, she was still defiant, insisting that she was innocent and not involved in NFC operations.
“Legally and professionally, I am not involved in the NFC. I am just the wife of the NFC chairman. All women have families and husbands,” Shahrizat told reporters on Wednesday.
“I will decide of my own volition.”
Shahrizat might be hanging onto her pride, but certainly she fooled no one, including her own Wanita Umno members.
“Who knows him from Adam?” a delegate was reported as having told the Malaysian Insider in reference to Shahrizat’s husband during the Umno annual assembly.
“Come on, they (the delegates) understand. It is your husband, so what do you mean it has nothing to do with you? If you were not a minister do you think your husband would have gotten the project?”
Husband tries to handle matter “intelligently”
Separately, the same day, Salleh declined comment on the Singapore condo allegation, which political pundits from both sides of the divide said was the death knell for Shahrizat’s political career.
“No. I am not speaking to any media. I’m sorry,” Malaysian Insider reported Salleh as saying. “It is better for me to handle this intelligently and not speak to the press. I am not speaking to any media because it involves too many people.” – Malaysia Chronicle