Olympic Council Veterans Fume over ‘RM30k a Month’ COO Appointment

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Barely six months after the appointment of Ung Su Ling as the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) chief operating officer (COO), another controversy has erupted over the selection process with regard to getting Michelle Chai on board.

Last Sunday, Chai was unveiled as the new COO by OCM president Norza Zakaria, who described Chai as the best candidate, given her prior service with the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and the United Arab Emirates Football Association.

Chai, 44, started work on Monday. Her salary is alleged to be in the region of RM30,000 a month.

However, former OCM secretary-general Sieh Kok Chi is one of those vexed with the developments in the body he helped build.

“I have no idea why OCM made such an important decision, especially when it incurs a high financial cost,” Sieh told Malaysiakini.

“In the past, all of us were volunteers. Now they want to hire somebody at such a high salary. We don’t mind ex-athletes or someone (former squash ace) like Nicol David with a proven track record. That would be ok, at least they are likely to fight for the athletes,” he added.

Questions raised over hiring process

Sieh, who served as OCM secretary-general from 1992 to 2015, said numerous OCM veterans are displeased with the manner in which the hiring was carried out.

A source familiar with the appointment process claimed the OCM executive board met for just 30 minutes to decide and endorse Chai’s appointment, which was then approved by the OCM council on the same day.

“Chai was not in the group of 59 candidates who applied in February,” said the source.

The first round saw 59 candidates shortlisted to six, including Ung. Ung was reportedly a favourite for the job, but a furore erupted when her links to fugitive businessperson Jho Low were exposed.

When it was revealed that Ung had been the former CEO of Yayasan Rakyat 1Malaysia (described as 1MDB’s charity arm) and also worked in an asset management firm where she handled investments for Low, the selection process ended abruptly.

“The OCM at the time denied it was going to choose Ung and that she was only one of six shortlisted candidates, but if that was really the case, why was the process pushed back five months?

“Furthermore, a headhunting firm was engaged, and five candidates were interviewed, but Chai was not one of them – so exactly when and how did she apply?” asked the source.

Former National Sports Council director-general Zolkples Embong is another who is upset with the move.

“As far as I know, and as far as the OCM’s responsibilities are concerned, I don’t think they need to appoint a COO, what more one who is to be paid around RM30,000 a month,” he said.

“Fong Wan Hor served as general manager for many years, doing a good job. When Sieh was secretary-general, he did a good job. They also have many qualified officers who are experienced. Why bring someone from outside at such a large salary?” asked Zolkples, who served with NSC for over 30 years.

“For many years I have been with Malaysian sports and I have never heard her name. So, what is so special about her to be appointed to such an important post?”

OCM doesn’t directly oversee sports development

Meanwhile, Sieh questioned the need for such a large sum to be spent on an administrator’s salary.

“I think the importance of the OCM has been inflated,” he said.

“BAM, FAM and all the national sports associations are more important. OCM only goes to multi-sport games. We don’t oversee the sports. We don’t administer the operations or development of athletes. We don’t provide funds.

“When sports do well, it is a reflection on the associations and the athletes, not OCM,” he added.

Sieh said many OCM veterans were surprised that a COO job position was created because less than two years ago, a consultancy firm, Zubedy (M) Sdn Bhd was paid around RM80,000 to undertake a detailed study on improving the management of OCM, and its report made no mention of such a position.

Large assets make for potential cash cow

The OCM was founded in 1953 and received IOC recognition in 1954. It owns a nine-storey building, Wisma OCM, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

The fixed assets of OCM are worth around RM60 million and its cash assets about RM21 million, according to Sieh, who said this has left the OCM with revenue of more than RM1 million a year just from interest payments.

The source said OCM’s assets might be the root of the problem.

“So many sports officials are long-time career officials without other professions. Those who have nothing to fall back on, cling on like leeches and enjoy the perks,” added the source.

The source said a possible turning point was that the last OCM election was held just before GE14.

“Tunku Imran Tuanku Jaafar was the OCM president for 20 years, but he stepped down in April 2018,” said the source.

Since then, the OCM president has been Norza, a former Federal Territory Umno Youth chief who is also currently serving as BAM president, whereas the OCM secretary-general is Mohd Nazifuddin Najib, son of former premier Najib Abdul Razak.

“The culture within the OCM has changed. Now we have guided democracy, everybody keeps quiet. If there is something suspicious, the executive board looks the other way and doesn’t question,” said the source.

Malaysiakini is attempting to contact Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman for his views on Chai’s appointment. – Malaysiakini