DEC 9 — It is a hazardous occupation being a member of the inner circle. Don't think so? Just ask Rohana Mahmood and Omar Mustapha Ong, widely acknowledged for several years as members of Prime-Minister-in-waiting Datuk Seri Najib Razak's group of advisers/strategists.
Way before it was fashionable to claim to be one of "Najib's people'' and to call the deputy prime minister as "Boss'', both these individuals were doing the spade work for him; from meeting foreign media to burnish his image to providing input for policies and speeches.
But being young, ambitious and with access to the top can be a liability in Malaysia these days. Being pigeonholed as another Fourth Floor in the making can be a career wrecker.
The Fourth Floor was the label used by critics of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to describe the team of young professionals whom he employed as special officers and aides when he became the deputy prime minister.
The critics charged that the young advisers became too influential and had an inordinate say in policy-making.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and other Abdullah critics were successful in demonising the Fourth Floor as usurpers of power and as young upstarts.
In late October, Dr Mahathir trained his guns on Omar and Rohana, both of Ethos Capital, and wondered whether they would become Najib's Fourth Floor.
The Malaysian Insider understands that even before the former prime minister fired his first salvo, Najib's family members and supporters were a bit unnerved with the interview both Rohana and Omar gave to the financial weekly The Edge. The consensus was that it was unnecessary to be talking about their links to Najib and Ethos Capital's ambitions even before the handover of power.
In their defence, the interview was conducted some months before and they did not have any control over when it would be published.
Still, the view from the trenches was that the last thing Najib needed was more baggage, especially carry over from the Abdullah administration.
So in the last few weeks, precious little has been heard about Rohana and Omar. Until this weekend, that is.
StarBiz published several articles last Saturday on individuals who are likely to carry some influence in the next administration.
Most of them are the who's who of the corporate world here, including Khazanah Nasional's chief Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar; Datuk Azman Yahya; Datuk Shahril Samsuddin of Sapura, etc. Sandwiched in between were Rohana and Omar.
"Out of the family, a name that frequently pops up when asked who is in Najib's milieu is Rohana Mahmood, chairman and partner of Ethos Capital, a RM200 million private equity firm. Rohana and Omar Mustapha, a former special assistant to Najib, are co-founders of the boutique advisory firm Ethos & Co.
Rohana sits on the boards of Paramount Corp Bhd, TH Group Bhd and Dijaya Corp Bhd.
Omar was seen not too long ago in the finance minister's office "just assisting a friend with some perspective,'' as one source puts it.
But speculation about Najib building a "wall of advisers" around him resulted in Omar being asked to return to Ethos.
"The political rationale for Najib to distance himself from the "Fourth Floor boys" syndrome is understandable. That was one of the most criticised aspects of the Abdullah administration. Sources say Najib is not keen to have "filters" between him and the civil service.
And he will likely have more direct dealings with the business sector,'' StarBiz reported.
The Malaysian Insider has learnt that not many Najib supporters were pleased with Rohana and Omar being included on the list of the next who's who.
They are concerned that political enemies of Najib and the Opposition will accuse him of building his own Fourth Floor and of favouring a select group of individuals. They don't want him to be on the back foot in the same way Abdullah was in the last two years about his association with the Fourth Floor.
The image of the next PM they want to nurture was best captured in a column in The Star on Sunday.
"He has been careful in dealing with the perception of people supposedly close to him, as the media speculates on the membership of his inner circle. Names like Rohana Mahmood and Omar Mustapha Ong have cropped up but these talented people have actually moved on. Najib has kept tight his choice of advisers around him, preferring not to favour anyone, '' said The Star's editor Datuk Wong Chun Wai.