by Choo Choy May
The Malay Mail Online
PETALING JAYA, August 19 — Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz backed today the appointment of scandal-ridden Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil as the prime minister's special adviser, saying it was “not morally wrong” despite the fiasco that led to her eventual dismissal from Cabinet.
The tourism minister said Shahrizat's appointment was based on merit, highlighting her vast experience as the past women, family and community development minister.
He claimed that Shahrizat's experience is needed to guide her successor Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim, and added that it should overwrite public scepticism over the former minister's integrity.
“I believe the prime minister had appointed her (Shahrizat) to help Rohani, the new minister.
“What is most important is to resolve whatever problems we might face, I don't think it is morally wrong to do that,” the tourism minister told The Malay Mail Online.
Earlier this afternoon, local daily The Star reported that Shahrizat will likely be appointed the prime minister’s special adviser on women affairs.
The yet-to-be announced appointment will also confer Shahrizat full ministerial status and powers, allowing her the avenue to return to the corridors of power.
Shahrizat had remained a Cabinet member and had headed the women, family and community development ministry previously courtesy of her appointment to Parliament's upper house despite losing in the March 2008 general election.
According to Nazri, the ex-Lembah Pantai MP's experience was needed to help Rohani run a ministry that is accustomed to “the peninsula (Malaysian) way of doing things”.
“Rohani is from Sarawak. Probably her focus of work does not cover many of the peninsula aspects..the ministry is used to the management done by those from the peninsula,” he said.
Shahrizat was effectively removed from Cabinet in April 2012 after her term was not renewed during the height of the RM250 million National Feedlot Centre (NFC) scandal involving her and her family members.
The NFC scandal hit headlines two years ago when the Auditor-General highlighted in his 2010 report the failure of the NFC project, which aimed to farm cattle for consumption and cut Malaysia's massive foreign beef import.
The Auditor-General reported the project failed to achieve its target of breeding 8,000 head of cattle in Gemas, Negri Sembilan, which it attributed to poor management from the company in charge, the National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp), which was run by Shahrizat's husband and children.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, however, had refused to confirm or deny the matter, saying no such announcement has been made as yet.
Asked if the move could tarnish Najib's reform credentials, Nazri dismissed the idea and said political sensitivity was no longer and issue since the 13th general election is already over.
“Now is already after the elections. Before it was sensitive because of the general election. Now such sensitivity should not be given priority.
What is important is that the ministry must be run properly”.
Nazri, a supreme council member of Umno, the ruling coalition's lychpin, also shrugged off suggestions that Shahrizat's appointment could be linked to the party's upcoming polls.
“With the new system in place, and many more members allowed to vote, I am very sure that the number one and number two posts will not be contested,” he said.
Shahrizat is the current Umno Wanita chief.
The NFC scandal caused ripples in the party's senior wing and triggered calls for her resignation although the coup, led by her deputy then, Datuk Kamilia Ibrahim, eventually fizzled out.
Shahrizat’s husband Datuk Seri Dr Mohamed Salleh Ismail and their children were alleged to have misused the government allocation of RM250 million for the project.
On March 12 last year, Mohamad Salleh pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal breach of trust involving some RM49.7 million with regards to the purchase of two condominium units and two other charges under the Companies Act.
Shahrizat had also filed a RM100 million defamation suit against PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli and Wanita PKR chief Zuraida Kamaruddin, two opposition lawmakers who were actively pushing for the former minister’s resignation over the scandal.
Rafizi was pushed into the limelight after exposing NFCorp’s purchases of luxury condominium units allegedly through the RM250 million federal government loan that was meant for the national cattle-farming project.
During the trial of Shahrizat’s defamation suit against Rafizi last March, it was revealed that NFCorp had purchased a RM534,622 Mercedes-Benz in 2009 as a company car that was parked in her house.
In the trial, Shahrizat also defended NFCorp’s purchase of three luxury condominium units in the Orchard Scotts Residences and Marina Bay Sands in Singapore worth RM42 million, saying that the buy was part of the company’s investment portfolio, according to her husband.
The embattled leader will be defending her post in Wanita Umno in the coming party polls and is expected to face a challenge from Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, another former minister.