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Monday, May 10, 2021

When ministers cosy up to preferred ‘big boys’

 

“It isn’t a coincidence that some people in the government want to be involved in business” – Anonymous quote.

The transport ministry’s immediate denial of the proposal to take over Subang airport is indeed alarming but not surprising.

In doing so, the ministry probably does not realise the exposure that it has created to the formation of public opinion. They are actually telling us how bad their current practices are and how poor their governance and management have been.

The ministry said: “It is common practice for the market to submit proposals to the government through the ministry to develop new or existing assets.”

This is the peculiarity of the problem within the ministries of the Malaysian government.

This type of statement is not common in many other developed economies of Europe or Japan. Certainly, this type of proposal won’t get entertained in Singapore either.

In those developed countries, the governments know what they are doing. They have plans to execute and to follow it through. More often than not, they know what the market needs and which direction the market is going. In other words, they are on top of the market.

They do not have to rely on the market to tell them what to do with the government-owned assets or decide which direction the aviation industry is heading or what property to develop next.

After all, they control and regulate the market and many of the industrial sectors. Also, they do not have to display, if any at all, a practice of double standards, by openly preferring one businessman over another.

What has happened to the policy of the “open tender system” in Malaysia? Has that been chucked aside?

Perhaps our honourable chief secretary to the government, whose circular must be followed and adhered to by all civil servants, could shed some light on this matter.

Free Market Policy

Another relevant issue is the regular policy statement made by the Malaysian government. They claim to practice a free market economy and is always fair to all. A “prihatin” concept.

But somehow, they keep interfering and meddling with the market mechanisms and often listen to and assist “the big boys” rather than keeping the playing field as level as possible.

At the moment, airports in the country are owned and managed by Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB). Though almost an absolute monopoly, it is also a listed company, majority owned by Minister of Finance Inc and its shares are also subscribed by the public.

MAHB also owns Subang Airport. Why would the government want to undermine their own corporation?

MAHB has a regeneration plan for Subang. Why wouldn’t the government consider that first?

MAHB also has the financial capacity to spend or to borrow, whichever the project requires.

But even if the government wishes to dismantle the monopoly rights of MAHB, this is certainly not the right way to implement it.

A green paper becomes a necessary document. It must be prepared and presented to Parliament, for discussions or any proposals at a formative stage.

Once the key points are agreed, a white paper, as a statement of a new government policy, outlining all the legislative changes including in this airport case, all the landing rates and charges, is presented and debated.

Bypassing Parliament?

Bypassing all these parliamentary processes simply because the country is under emergency rule now, is not the right thing to do.

This is not an urgent matter that must be decided now and cannot wait till after August. Unless, the government intends to prolong the emergency rule for an indefinite period.

Strangely enough in Malaysia, there seems to be a crop of ministers who are found to be too cosy to their preferred “big boys”. They like to entertain and give due consideration to selective private sector proposals, rather than maintaining their neutrality.

This is certainly a big issue that needs to be addressed, if we want Malaysia to be heading towards a developed nation status.

In this particular case, this common practice of “accepting proposals from the market” has been unabashedly confirmed by the transport ministry, so it is not merely speculative.

It is very shameful indeed that the ministry has to resort to this type of practice, given that it is also deeply involved in regulating and controlling the transport sector which includes aviation and airports.

Failed past projects

Given such practices, it is not a small wonder then that many of such “proposals from the market” have failed Malaysia and our economic progress.

Examples of these “proposals” which have failed the country, wasted public funds and never produced any tangible economic or financial benefits are: Port Klang Free Zone; Bakun Dam, Miri Port, Tanjung Manis Port and Mukah airport in Sarawak; Highways like Seremban-PD, SKVE, West Coast Expressway and the recently announced PJD Link; E-Village & Film Studio in Dengkil, a 2,000 acre site; Perwaja Steel Mill, Kemaman, Terengganu; Monsoon Cup in Terengganu; and the Kulim Hi-Tech Park, Kedah.

It may also include the Kerteh-Kuantan railway line, which has been closed down for good for many years and now is about to be dismantled to make way for the ECRL.

By the way, the ECRL is another “proposal from the market” which is doomed to fail.

Many of the projects listed above had the transport ministry’s involvement.

The ministry has also declared that it has called for the consultancy tender to undertake a National Airport Strategic Plan (NASP) study, due in 2022. This study will include all the airports in the country including those in Sabah, Sarawak, as well as Subang.

That was the reason given to both Penang and Kulim airport developers for delaying their development plans.

So, why the hurry with Subang? I think it’s dangling and sways too loosely. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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