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A year ago as I was browsing in a bookshop at KLIA, I saw a book on Syed Mokhtar AlBukhary, the only Malay businessman in the Malaysian top 10 wealthiest in the country. I bought it to find out what this man is all about. It crossed my mind though, unlike the book on Lim Goh Tong, the founder of Genting, the book looks cheap. But I said to myself not to judge a book by its cover.

Well now I know a lot more which I never knew about AlBukhary: his Afghanistan father and his Kedah Malay maternal side and how he developed his business despite not having a high education. He capitalised on the Bumiputra special licences to run businesses and, unlike most Bumi entrepreneurs he did not “Ali Baba” his business permits. For the uninitiated, “Ali Baba” is a term used when a Malay sells his business licence to a Non-Malay to do certain business like transportation, imports-exports etc and act as a sleeping partner.

I also learn that AlBukhary is a charitable man building houses of worship (mosques) and schools and a University, an international one at that, for the poor. It is the latter venture that I am most intrigued. A University with some 600 students from Malaysia and other parts of the world given scholarship by the AlBukhary Foundation to study business, finance and computer science. Wow! My mind raced through the kind of  financial investments and expenditures that the foundation need to bear. Arguably there would be tax deductions for the AlBukhary’s  business from the  contributions made by this charitable foundation.

AlBukhary International University - A case of bad management?

AlBukhary International University – A case of bad management?

Anyway the university was open in 2010 and by early 2013, there were already rumours that the University would be closing.  There was a sad letter a month ago in the paper by a student who begged the foundation not to close  till they have finished their studies. And today I read here that it is indeed closing.

The idea to have such a University is noble and the decision to build the University is brave but may I say rather rash. It is sad because an in-depth study to run a University was probably never conducted. Even the world’s wealthiest man, Bill Gate does not build a university run on charity. He gives back in supporting programmes such as global polio immunisation and funding for research on HIV and AIDS.

Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary - noble intention but poor implementation

Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary – noble intention but poor implementation

Mokhtar AlBukhary could have built annexes in any well-established existing university in his name and sponsor deserving and  brilliant students to study there. Should he become unable to further support the venture, at least the students would not have to transfer here and there like they have to now. It is very sad for the students especially those who are from foreign countries. To make matters worse, all management-student communications on this closure and subsequent transfers have  been verbal instead of in writing. What kind of organisation is this?

Another thing which nags me is that how can one sustain a charitable foundation if one keeps on expanding one’s business, requiring more fund and incurring more debt and increasing one’s business gearing? AlBukhary was reported to be involved in a multi-billion Ringgit project in Langkawi early this year.

You really need to have excellent accountants and business advisors if you have a diversified and complex business: profit and nonprofit entities, otherwise your foundation is going to have sustainability problems despite placing it on “wakaf“.

Lastly, what is the actual focus of the university when its biggest building on campus is a house of worship?


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