Travel around Malaysia and one cannot fail to notice the Umno-Baru buildings, in the state capitals, because they are massive, multi-storeyed, and proudly display the Umno-Baru logo. Most importantly, they are always situated on prime land.
So, how does a political party, afford such properties? The land must have cost millions of ringgits. The structures would have cost scores of millions of ringgits to build. Who owns the property? Umno-Baru? Their cronies? The leaders? Their nominated individuals? The country?
Did a major Umno-Baru supporter pay for the land and building, and receive, in exchange for his “donation”, privileged access to government contracts? This is conflict of interest.
What happens when there is a major fall-out, or when the crony, or donor, switches sides?
Did an Umno-Baru crony, who owned the prime land, sell it to Umno-Baru below market rates, in exchange for contracts?
Alternatively, did an Umno-Baru crony who owns the land, sell it at high cost, to Umno-Baru and pocket the difference?
Party subscription is insufficient to pay for the land and building
The subscription for each Umno-Baru member, will not support the purchase of the properties. It is also alleged that most members do not pay for their subscriptions. They are nominated and their subscriptions are paid by the party; therefore, party subscription did not pay for the multi-million ringgit prime estate dotted around the nation.
If one were to visit England, Australia, France or, Iceland, one would not see grand, ostentatious buildings which house the individual political parties.
In England, for instance, the political parties usually hold their Annual General Meetings (AGM) in Conference Centres in the major cities, such as Blackpool or Brighton. Delegates make their own way there, and pay for their own accommodation. Their attendance at the AGMs, is at their own expense. This is not the case, in Malaysia.
The real story behind the grand Umno-Baru buildings
So, what is the true story behind the cost of each Umno-Baru state headquarters building?
What are its annual costs? How much does it cost to maintain? What other costs are involved?
Many people believe that the party parks its alleged corrupt dealings, by converting the money into prime land and buildings.
What is the prime function of these buildings? When they are short of cash, the party might be able to release funds, by liquidating the assets; however after the last election, a freeze was ordered on Umno-Baru funds.
The AGM is usually held in the main Umno-Baru headquarters, in Kuala Lumpur. So how is the building used, during the rest of the year? Perhaps, the building is rented out for other conventions. One might see the need in Kuala Lumpur, but what about other major towns, like Ipoh, Penang and elsewhere. Do the massive buildings mirror their leader’s ego?
The Umno-Baru training camp at Janda Baik
In July, FMT ran a story on the Umno-Baru training camp at Janda Baik, the village nestled in the hills of the Pahang mountain range. It has grown over the few decades, from a sleepy hamlet.
This is an excerpt from the report by FMT: “One neighbour who operates a homestay nearby said he believed the centre was used to “brainwash” Umno members with drills aimed at rivals PAS and DAP.
An aerial view of the site showed that it had two large buildings and nine small ones, together with accommodation facilities.”
Today, several wealthy and influential people own properties in Janda Baik. This is their weekend retreat, a chance for them and their families, to escape the stifling, polluted and hot smog of Kuala Lumpur. Land prices here are not cheap. Some industries are also located there. The houses of the rich and famous nestle among the durian and fruit trees. Ponds, teeming with fish lie between the trees.
This area probably has more gentlemen farmers than traditional village peasant farmers. The story of how Janda Baik became an Umno-Baru retreat is reserved for another day. Why does Umno-Baru need a training camp at all? What goes on behind the gates which guard the property?
This training camp, together with the Umno-Baru skyscrapers, are worthy of investigation.