PETALING JAYA: A think tank sees the exodus of Middle-Eastern investors from Malaysia as a sign that the country is losing the confidence of the oil-rich economies.
The withdrawal of billions of dollars in investment comes at a time when the Middle Eastern states are suffering from what may be the deepest plunge in oil prices in their history, but an official of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) says there’s more to it than meets the eye.
“It is actually symptomatic of a much larger problem of deteriorating investor confidence,” Azrul Khalib, Ideas’ external relations manager, told FMT.
He said the Arab withdrawal from multi-billion dollar projects signalled “an extremely worrying” shift in confidence even as the global slump in oil prices were causing Middle Eastern investors to be “increasingly selective and cautious” of where they invest.
“They are now possibly viewing this country as a risky destination for long-term investment.”
Azrul said he believed the 1MDB issue was one of the causes of the shift in confidence as it brought into question the “predictability and reliability” of doing business with Malaysia.
“Such a development highlights the urgency for the government to implement much needed and urgent reforms on the governance and conduct of state-owned enterprises,” he said.
Azrul’s remarks follow recent reports of Saudi Arabian Oil Company’s withdrawal from a US$27 billion (RM119 billion) refinery and petrochemical development joint venture with Petronas in Pengerang, Johor.
Before this, Malaysia was long perceived as a safe and reliable destination for foreign investment. It was seen as investor friendly, politically stable, strict in its adherence to the rule of law and predictable when doing business.
“Malaysia was a beneficiary of such confidence for decades,” Azrul said.
In the 2000s, Malaysia set out to draw investments from oil-rich Middle-Eastern countries to boost the nation’s growth, pulling in investors from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar and Kuwait. Arab investors felt encouraged to make plans for sizeable investments in Malaysia, but these were disrupted by the 2008 global financial crisis.
Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Mubadala Development Group was reportedly among those hoping to lead the charge for the Medini development in Johor’s Iskandar region in 2007.
After the global financial crisis, however, local companies took over the deals.
At about the same time, Dubai investors also pulled out of joint venture projects with UEM Sunrise in Nusajaya, Johor.
The Singapore Straits Times has reported that other Arab-led projects “quietly axed” in recent years included a US$7 billion oil storage facility in Tanjung Piai in Johor and a US$4.2 billion aluminium smelter in Sarawak. -FMT