|Najib's bid to put aide on Petronas board hits snag|
|Directors say PM's nominee had defaulted on scholarship; Petronas adviser Mahathir says 'not good idea'|
|By Leslie Lopez, Senior Regional Correspondent|
Mr Omar worked briefly with Petronas, a tenure the oil firm says was not enough to meet his scholarship obligations.
KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Najib Razak's bid to appoint his key aide as a director of Petronas is being resisted by the board and could put the Premier at odds with the national oil corporation's influential adviser, former premier Mahathir Mohamad.
According to senior government officials, the board of directors of Petroliam Nasional (Petronas) raised reservations over the proposal to appoint
Mr Omar Mustapha at its monthly meeting last month.
Mr Omar is one of the premier's closest political confidants.
The reservations were made on the grounds that he had defaulted on his scholarship loan agreement with Petronas two decades ago.
Datuk Seri Najib, however, is determined to have Mr Omar appointed as a director. He ordered the Petronas board to review its position over the appointment at a meeting this week, the government officials said.
Petronas officials have declined comment, and Mr Omar could not be reached.
Tun Dr Mahathir, who government officials said has been briefed about the situation, told The Straits Times yesterday that it was Mr Najib's prerogative as Premier to 'appoint a man who failed to honour his obligation to Petronas when he was given a scholarship by it'.
'Generally, I would say that it is not a good thing to appoint such a person,' he said in a written response.
Mr Najib's office did not respond to requests for comments.
Petronas, Malaysia's only company on the Fortune 500 listing of the world's most profitable companies, is considered to be the country's most efficiently managed state-owned corporation.
Incorporated in August 1974, the corporation has firmly established itself as a global energy player over the last two decades. It currently operates in over 30 countries, and its overseas operations, including exports, account for more than 75 per cent of its revenue.
Many oil industry experts and bankers credit the oil company's phenomenal growth to the government's hands-off approach to the running of the oil corporation.
Mr Omar, 38, has emerged as one of the closest political confidants of Mr Najib and is often tapped for advice on economic and financial matters.
'A politician in Petronas may have other agenda which may or may not be in keeping with the national interest,' Dr Mahathir said in his comments to The Straits Times.
He added: 'I think it is far better if no politician is allowed to interfere with commercial decisions which may not be good for the corporation.'
Positions on the board of Petronas and its subsidiary companies have traditionally been reserved for very senior civil servants and prominent private sector personalities.
Mr Omar graduated from Oxford on a scholarship from Petronas in the mid-1990s and worked briefly with the national oil corporation and another government-linked corporation.
He then joined McKinsey & Co, where he worked for the international consulting company in London and Malaysia.
He left McKinsey in early 2002 to set up his own consultancy firm called Ethos with several close friends. Two years later, he was tapped by Mr Najib, who was then the deputy prime minister, to become his special officer.
Government officials familiar with Mr Omar's proposed appointment to the board of Petronas said that the national oil corporation takes a firm view against scholarship defaulters.
Mr Omar did not complete the required number of years of service with the oil corporation or a related government agency as stipulated in his scholarship agreement.