Writer shares how little Napoleons, corruption can derail crucial agreements

SOME Malaysians do not think much about memoranda of understanding (MoU) and that is quite understandable. For there was a time when corporate Malaysia would sign MoU after MoU with foreign parties without any intention of turning them into real business contracts that would bring the nation wealth and jobs.

The 1980s and 90s were notorious for this – the prime minister presided over scores of MoUs churned out by cronies who were just interested in making headlines on the business pages and boosting their share prices.

These Malaysian businessmen were the ones who bastardised the concept and principles of MoU. As a result, some of us pooh-poohed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when he recently announced the “historic” RM170 billion worth of MoU signed during his visit to China.

What many Malaysians do not understand is that the Chinese treat their MoU seriously.

A 2016 article in Forbes comes to mind – “In China, treat a memorandum like a binding contract”, 2016. In common law countries like Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, MoU typically mean little, only the signed final contract really counts.

However, this is not typically true in civil law countries like China which hold to a much stronger concept of good faith negotiation. Under that concept, it is not acceptable to simply walk away from an MoU as that would constitute “bad faith.”

That’s right. When dealing with China, it is important foreign companies treat an MoU with a Chinese company just as it would a binding contract. The challenge for the government now is to cut the red tape that would bog down efforts to realise the inflow of investments resulting from the China MoU.

Former Finance Minister II Datuk Seri Johari Ghani, who is Titiwangsa MP and holds influence over the country’s media industry from his control of Media Prima and FMT, has proposed the setting up of a special panel to monitor the realisation of these MoU, which is not a bad idea.

More importantly, as one Twitter user rightly pointed out: “Get rid of the little Napoleons first”.

These little Napoleons, I take it, are those who would make it difficult for anyone to do business in this country unless they have been paid their commission.

Anwar obviously understood this, which was why he had stressed the need to stop this “commission culture among civil servants” the day after returning from his official visit to China, where he announced the RM170 billion worth of MoUs.

The commission culture is, of course, not limited to civil servants. Politicians are probably the bigger culprits.

– The Vibes, April 5, 2023

(Datuk Ahirudin Attan is the executive director at Petra News which publishes The Vibes and Getaran. He also runs the hugely popular blog Rocky’s Bru where this article first appeared. )

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