By Syed Jaymal Zahiid
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 ― PAS criticised today Bank Islam’s suspension of its chief economist over a prediction that Barisan Nasional (BN) will lose Election 2013, calling the decision politically motivated.
The Islamist party’s vice-president, Mahfuz Omar, alleged the bank had acted on government orders when it punished Azrul Azwar Ahmad Tajudin for his prediction of the 13th general election.
Azrul Azwar was last week reported by Singapore’s The Straits Times to have predicted a narrow win in Election 2013 by Pakatan Rakyat (PR) as the most likely out of three possible scenarios.
“Imagine if he had predicted more seats for Barisan Nasional, I’m certain the outcome would have been different,” Mahfuz told a press conference held at the party’s headquarters here.
The Pokok Sena MP pointed out that Bank Islam’s majority shareholder is Lembaga Tabung Haji. The fund tasked to oversee Muslims’ pilgrimage affairs, is under the purview of Prime Minister Najib Razak, he noted.
Mahfuz said this was a strong factor to strengthen claims of political interference in Azrul’s suspension.
“It is an embarrassing decision. I am extremely disappointed. Azrul did nothing wrong. As the bank’s chief economist, he only gave his prediction on what’s to come post-elections,” commented the PAS leader.
Bank Islam in a statement issued yesterday said it was its policy to suspend staff found actively engaged in political activities or making political comments, pending investigations into the matter.
“Based on the current policy of Bank Islam Malaysia Berhad (the Bank), any staff irrespective of their position, including the management level, whom the Bank has reasonable grounds to believe has breached the Bank’s internal policy, will be suspended with full pay, to facilitate investigation,” the bank wrote in a one-paragraph statement.
When contacted, a bank official said it was the bank’s “internal policy” bars its employees from participating in political activities.
“We are a commercial entity, we are not allowed to [be involved] in any political activity.”
Mahfuz dismissed the reasons as nonsensical, saying Azrul had merely presented his calculation on the elections outcome on his capacity as the bank’s chief analyst.
“It was done for the market, investors and the shareholders. I don’t see anything wrong with that,” he said, adding that suspension proved accusations that the BN government does not tolerate officers with views opposing government interests.
Bank Islam had also moved to distance itself from Azrul Azwar’s forecast soon after news reports that appeared in The Straits Times and The Malaysian Insider last week.
In a January 11 statement, Bank Islam managing director Datuk Seri Zukri Samat regretted that a news report on a Singapore forum had associated the bank with Azrul Azwar’s views and forecast.
In a report by The Straits Times, Azrul Azwar’s calculations found that one of the most likely scenarios was that BN would likely win only between 97 and 107 of the 222 parliamentary seats, which are insufficient to form the next administration.