Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and PM Najib Razak have been trumpeting their economic policies in the light of plaudits given by an outfit called the Oxford Business Group..
Explaining the significance of the praises lavished on Sarawak and Malaysia by the Oxford Busines Group, the Chief Minister’s own website claimed that the publication “provides in-depth detail on Sarawak’s current economic outlook and what the future holds for the state”.
However, the Editorial Director of these reports is none other than a former Editor of the UK’s most ridiculed porn rag, the Daily Sport, which closed earlier this year.
Peter Grimsditch was sacked 4 years after having launched the Sport for the UK ‘Porn King’, David Sullivan in 1988. He was also sacked as Editor of another low-brow red top, the Daily Star, and is now based in the Middle East.
Another ‘boob’ by Taib?
The revelation raises question marks over the economic focus and expertise of the publication that are not satisfactorily answered by the qualifications of its predominantly youthful staff:
“They are mostly in their 20’s and they get posted for a couple of months to do the business”, explained one senior executive of a respected economic publication in the Middle East, where OBG have also started operating.
“It is basically what one calls an ‘Advertorial’. They write sympathetic positive stuff about the subject matter. The purpose is obvious, which is to give the best possible spin and encourage investment. The State will then quote the report”.
Oxford Business Group Report was launched with fanfare by Taib
Under these circumstances, the grand fanfare with which Taib personally launched the Oxford Business Group’s ‘Country Report’ on Sarawak in October at the Pullman Hotel, seems rather ridiculous. ‘The Report Sarawak’ was presented as if it was a respected and objective third-party analysis, giving the thumbs up to investors. In fact it was just a vanity publication, which he paid for out of state funds! We suggest investors should therefore also read this Sarawak Report to gain some balance!
Najib and his economic ministers have likewise indulged in silly self-promotion based on Oxford Business Group puff pieces, allowing junior OBG staff to opine in interviews with Bernama about Malaysia’s macro-economic policies as if they had qualifications in the subject.
For example, OBG’s ‘Regional Manager’, the youthful Daniel Moore, was quoted extensively in Bernama at the time of the budget, praising the New Economic Model for ‘focusing in creating an environment that allowed for the private sectors to become the engine for economic growth':
“This in turn will lead to more interest from foreign markets and a more organic growth curve for the domestic markets” explained Mr Moore, who is undoubtedly an excellent salesman, but who has no credentials as an economist.
In further articles Moore would have pleased Najib by arguing that the country should “support growth sectors such as tourism, Islamic finance and halal products”.
Why are taxpayers being charged ?
We argue that the whole industry of releasing ‘economic reports’ to praise government leaders should not be charged to the taxpayer, but rather to the political party concerned.
This is particularly the case if misleading spin is being presented by the government as if it was an objective and professional analaysis of their policies.
All OBG reports follow the same format of featuring a flattering photograph of the leading political personality of the relevant country on the cover page and then proceeding to lavish praise on them throughout.
This is a fair indicator as to who has commissioned the book and an equally good sign that purchases by investors of the heftily priced reports, ( £130 /RM650) each, are not the way the project is genuinely funded!
So how much did Taib pay out for the glamorous ‘Country Director’ Jana Treeck to head up a team for 6 months in Sarawak ‘analysing trends’ and coming to the conclusion that:
“The Report: Sarawak 2011 would play an important role in relaying the State’s emerging investment opportunities on the international stage”?
The Report Sarawak in fact consists mainly of extensive crawling interviews with a line up of Taib’s favourite cronies and family members!
Inevitable set-piece features include Taib himself, his cousin and business partner Hamed Sepawi, his brother-in-law Robert Geneid, Jabu, Masing, Awang Tenggah, along with Taib’s key foreign helpers Richard Curtis of CMS and Torstein Dale Sjotveit, the Norwegian Head of Sarawak Energy.
Each interview is merely a polite question and answer session accompanied by a flattering pen drawing of the subject, which they presumably get a copy of!
Nevertheless, the ‘advertorial’ is presented by Oxford Business Group as “a business intelligence report” based on “in-country research” conducted “by experienced analysts” in order to identify investment opportunities.
According to the OBG website :
“Oxford Business Group’s in-depth coverage and research is produced in-country by our teams of experienced and specialist analysts.
For each country we cover, we aim not only to provide macro-analysis of key sectors but also to identify investment opportunities in sub-sectors, all supported by graphs and statistics”.
In fact, when Sarawak Report reviewed The Report Sarawak, our study identified a number of advertisements and a directory of hotels and businesses, but no graphs and no statistics!
We therefore question whether Peter Grimsditch’s Country Reports for OBG owner Michael Benson-Colpi are attempting to be any more realistic or objective than his representations of females for the Daily Sport?
The economy is serious
Previous thumbs up given by the Oxford Business Group have not provided much cause for encouragement. Last year OGB’s The Report Libya gave a rosy representation of the dictatorship of Ghadaffi, which has clearly not been born out by events!
Speaking of rapid economic reforms and closer international ties the Report grovels “The country’s earlier political history was troubled, but since 1969 [the date of Ghadaffi’s coup] institutions have developed at a steady pace and are now largely stable”! A few months after this insightful report the people of Libya had risen up against their dictator and the rest is history.
The Oxford Business Group, which describes itself as “highly acclaimed” made no better job of their report on Tunisia, where OBG founder Michael Benson-Copi interviewed the hated former President, Ben Ali, himself in 2010.
Just weeks before the uprising that deposed him, the report states:
“political and social stability lie at the core of the Tunisian model”! [OGB Report]
As for the economy, which is believed to have been the root cause of the Tunisian uprising, The Oxford Business Group headed its coverage with the statement: ”The Economy – a model for resilience, staving off the global financial crisis” !
Such outputs might leave the reader wondering on what basis the Oxford Business Group describes itself as ‘highly acclaimed’ when it comes to the economic analysis of investment opportunities and future developments?
But, back in the days of editing the sport Peter Grimsditch explained some of his less believable stories by saying: “It’s not dishonest journalism — we are printing what people say happens to them.” This perhaps provides a useful insight for his approach to ‘Country Reports’.
Sarawak Report has investigated the UK headquarters of Oxford Business Group, which claims to have been publishing country reports since 1994. There is no relationship to Oxford the town nor Oxford the University. The London HQ advertised on the company’s website is in fact an office rental centre, where rooms can be let on demand. We were informed that the Oxford Business Group no longer has office space in the building, although “they sometimes still come in and out” .
OBG Founder, Michael Benson-Colpi has been involved in a number of company ventures, including the St James Partnership, now defunct, and Oxford Business Group (Reports) Limited, OBG Reports Limited, Oxford Business Group (London) Limited and Oxford Business Associates LLP, all started in February 2010.
His Country Report enterprises are tellingly targetted at ’emerging’ economies, in countries with limited accountability and transparency.
He is clearly welcome to his business, but the people of Malaysia and Sarawak should know that Taib and Najib are using his services to promote themselves for PR purposes and to justfify their policies and not for genuine economic analysis.
In the wake of so many recent PR scandals it seems that yet more public money is being poured out on questionable self-promotion by BN politicians, dressed up as genuine objective analyses by foreigners.
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