Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Did 1MDB resort to carefully leaked fake news to The Singapore Straits Times to cover up the fact that the Ministry of Finance forked out another RM2.4 billion to foot the bill for 1MDB’s debt to IPIC?

1MDB proudly announced that they had made their final US$602.7 million or RM2.4 billion settlement payment to Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Company (IPIC) on 27 December, four days ahead of their deadline.

The problem is, we all know 1MDB is completely insolvent.  So Malaysians are rightly concerned as to how 1MDB paid its latest instalment of their debt.  All that is stated in the official 1MDB statement is that the payment is funded through its “on-going rationalisation programme”.

No one of course, has a clue as to what the “rationalisation programme” entails.

What is more interesting is the carefully planted leaks to The Singapore Straits Times (SST) to reveal that the funds to repay IPIC came from the sale of investments in financial instruments and stakes held in two 1MDB-related entities that own tracts of land in Penang and Pulau Indah, Selangor. The report merely identified the anonymous buyers as “concerns ultimately controlled by Chinese state-owned enterprises”.

This is not the first time SST had carried out a hatchet stories which helped cover up some of the 1MDB’s financial shenanigans.  When the Bandar Malaysia sale to an Iskandar Waterfront-led consortium was terminated out-of-the-blue by the Ministry of Finance, it was SST which created a media maelstorm by reporting on 9 May 2017 that “Government officials and financial executives close to the situation told The Straits Times that negotiations with the Dalian Wanda Group to take a central role as master developer have reached an advanced stage…”

“Malaysian government officials noted that the new deal would be substantially higher than the previous RM12.3 billion valuation tag for the entire project.  According to financial executives familiar with ongoing talks, Wanda has proposed to use half of the development for tourism and entertainment-related ventures valued at roughly US$8 billion,” the Singapore paper added.

The above proved to be a hoax of course, because when Dato’ Seri Najib Razak met Wanda a week later, he came home empty-handed – without even a face-saving “Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)” signed.

The current SST report is similarly couched in the same language. SST claimed that “Malaysian government officials declined to identify the buyers in the real estate transactions but one financial executive close to the situation said that the equity interests in the 1MDB real estate entities were acquired by "concerns ultimately controlled by Chinese state-owned enterprises". The executive declined to elaborate.”

The SST report was inevitably picked up by nearly all local media outfits.  This clearly served the interest of 1MDB which would want to avoid prickly questions on how they found the funds to  repay IPIC.

The question really is, if 1MDB has really succeeded in disposing of its controversial properties in Pulau Indah and Penang to China-owned state enterprises, why is there absolute silence from official sources?  Dato’ Seri Najib Razak and 1MDB would have been carrying out victory parades for proving their critics wrong, as they did in the past.

Surely if the companies owning these parcels of land were sold for billions of ringgit to foreign investors, from China or otherwise, official transactions would have taken place and the information would be publicly available.

More curiously, these parcels of land in Selangor and Penang were purchased by 1MDB for RM294 million and RM1.1 billion respectively.  Critics were aplenty in citing that both parcels were purchased at inflated prices.  However, even so, the combined purchase amounted to less than RM1.4 billion.

Hence if the SST report were to be true, then it begs the question as to which Chinese state-owned enterprises would pay an outrageous RM2.4 billion for these parcels, which in-turn allowed 1MDB to repay its second loan instalment to IPIC?  Or is it more likely that it is another hoax to evade disclosing the fact that it was really the Ministry of Finance, which directly or indirectly, repaid both instalments amounting to US$1.24 billion to IPIC?

Monday, January 08, 2018

Ministry of Finance Bailout of 1MDB continues unabated with its latest acquisition of 106 Exchange Tower to be built in Tun Razak Exchange

The Edge reported yesterday of the Ministry of Finance’s takeover of the 106-storey 106 Exchange Tower through the company MKD Signature.  The 3.42 acres of land for the project was previously acquired by Indonesian conglomerate, Mulia Group for the sum of RM665 million.

The 106-storey Exchange Tower was initially proof of 1MDB’s success with the TRX project as it was a wholly-owned foreign investment by Indonesia’s Mulia Group. However, news of the transfer of a majority stake ‘back’ to the Malaysian Government goes to prove that there is something extremely fishy going on.

Why is it even necessary for the Government to use tax-payers’ funds to get involved in another mega-property project?  Didn’t the Second Finance Minister, Dato’ Seri Johari Abdul Ghani announced a Cabinet decision to freeze all high-end commercial and residential projects?  Why is the Ministry of Finance participating in the aggravation of the property glut in the country?

More importantly, if Mulia Group had paid RM665 million for the land, the question is how much did the Ministry of Finance pay to acquire the 51% stake in the project?
The complete lack of transparency over the deal which would involve hundreds of millions of ringgit, possibly to the tune of billions, raises suspicions that it is really another one of the series of continued bailout of the debt-stricken 1MDB.

Was there for example, a secret ‘put option’ in the sale and purchase agreement between the Mulia Group and 1MDB, where the latter is obliged to buy back a majority stake from Mulia Group with a higher price at a later date?  And because 1MDB obviously has no money to buy back the stake from Melia Group, was the Ministry of Finance was forced to step in to bailout 1MDB?

It should also be noted that this would be the second tract of 1MDB's TRX land that has been bought by MOF companies. It was previously disclosed in Parliament that MOF-owned company Aroma Teraju had purchased another tract of land at the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) development in 2015.

Last year, I had asked several times in Parliament for the land area and purchase price of the land by Aroma Teraju.  However my question was repeatly shot down because of the purported confidentiality clause in the purchase agreement was with two companies wholly-owned by MOF.

Why hide behind the veil of secrecy when the parties involved are entirely owned by the Government?  Is it because the Ministry of Finance will look utterly stupid for buying back tiny parcels of land back from 1MDB at sums astronomically higher than the RM230 million paid by 1MDB to acquire the 70 acres from the Government?

We call on MOF and 1MDB to confirm and disclose the details of the purchases of the land in TRX above. As wholly-owned companies under the Government, the public deserves to know what is being done with their own money.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Mark Twain’s quote, “there are lies, damned lies and statistics” best describes Information and Communications Minister Dato’ Seri Salleh Keruak boasting of Malaysia having the lowest poverty rates in Southeast Asia

Writing on his blog on Wednesday, 28 December, Dato’ Seri Salleh Keruak boasted that the Malaysian economy was in fact very doing very well because our GDP per capita, according to the CIA World Factbook stood at US$27,2000, which was much better than those of neighbouring Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos.

More importantly, he claimed that our poverty rate was the “lowest in South East Asia” at 3.8%. He further added that he was grateful because our poverty rates are “drastically lower” than the poorest countries namely Syria, Madagascar and Zimbabwe with poverty rates above 70%.

Have we really gone so low today that we now need to compare ourselves with the poorest countries in the world today to make ourselves feel good for the new year?  What has happened to the times when we pride ourselves to be among the Asian Tigers, being quoted in the same breath as South Korea, Taiwan and sometimes even Singapore and Hong Kong?

What’s more, the Information and Communications Minister can’t even gets his fact right, intentionally or otherwise.  It appears that he has conveniently erased both Singapore and Brunei, with substantially higher GDPs per capita at USD77,500 and USD87,800 respectively off the map of Southeast Asia.

And even when he did get his “facts” right when compared to Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines and Myanmar, he also conveniently forgets to convey the fact that our neighbours have been enjoying significantly higher growth rates in the recent years.

Curiously however, Dato’ Seri Salleh Keruak chose to quote the CIA Handbook statistics, instead of the more authoritative World Bank.  If Salleh Keruak were to believe the CIA Handbook statistics, Malaysia should already immediately declare itself a “developed nation”, ahead of the Vision 2020 target.  Does the Minister actually believes that the average monthly income of Malaysians today is in excess of RM9,000?

A check with the World Bank Report – which is consistent with Malaysia’s own Department of Statistics, our GDP per capita is only US$9,500, barely a-third of the Minister’s boast!  So why did the Minister decide to quote an unbelievable source and not that of our own Department of Statistics or the World Bank?

Instead of trying to glorify Malaysia’s superiority to countries like war-torn Syria and Zimbabwe, or even the Southeast Asian backwaters of Laos and Cambodia, Dato’ Seri Salleh Keruak should instead explain why Malaysia has fallen so far behind countries like South Korea and Taiwan?

In 1966, 10 years after achieving independence, Malaysia’s GDP per capita was triple that of South Korea?  The latter overtook us in 1990 and today, based on World Bank figures, South Korea has a GDP per capita of US$27,500 (2016) which is more than triple that of Malaysia today.

Why have we lost competitiveness to our Asian Tiger peers in the 1980s and are now threading water above countries which are rapidly catching up like Vietnam and Indonesia?  This is the real question which Dato’ Seri Sallleh Keruak and the BN administration must answer, and not continuing to pull the wool over the rakyat’s eyes.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Only a totalitarian communist-like regime would ban books and art without requiring the authorities to provide any rhyme or reason.

On December 19, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s book ‘Assalamualaikum: Observations on the Islamisation of Malaysia’ was banned under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPA). As usual, only official reason given for this ban is that the book is "likely to be prejudicial to public order as well as public interest and is likely to alarm public opinion".

The addition of ‘Assalamualaikum’ to the growing list of books banned by the Malaysian government is proof of the government’s outright disregard for freedom of expression and ideas in Malaysia.

According to Zaid, the Home Ministry did not explain or consult him before banning his book nor was he even informed that the book would be banned. It goes to show the immense and arbitrary power that the PPA accords the Home Ministry to ban these without any clear reasoning.

Such curt excuses to ban books certainly harks back to the Stalinist or Maoist regimes where any forms of expression, whether in writing or in art, which are deemed prejudicial to the interest of the ruling elites are banned.

In 2017 alone, 44 gazettes have been issued to ban publications in Malaysia. Among the political titles banned are civil society group G25’s new book Breaking The Silence: Voices of Moderation; Islam in a Constitutional Democracy and reknowed academic Professor Farish A. Noor’s From Majapahit to Putrajaya, which was published in 2005.

The banning of these titles without any clear justification shows that the government exercising totalitarian control over what ideas can be discussed by Malaysians. This goes completely against the values of democracy that our country holds so dear.

In a democratic state, the authors and publishers would be hauled to the Courts to be charged for any criminal offences which may have taken place.  Even if there were no criminal elements involved, the Government must at the very least provide facts and justifications to prove the contents of these books to be wrong.

However, the BN regime will not even pretend to rebut the arguments carried in the book, however feeble the rebuttals might have been.

Just last month I had questioned the government’s censorship of arts following the confiscation of works at the KL Biennale for purportedly containing ‘elements of communism’. It seems that the thought policing of our government will continue with the banning of these books and the continued censorship of our media.

We call upon the Home Affairs Minister to prove that Malaysia is not taking great leaps to undermine democratic principles enshrined in our Federal Constitution, in remaking Malaysia into a communist state.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin must defend Parliament's honour and dignity by reprimanding the Election Commission for treating the highest legislative institution of the land with utter contempt

During the objection hearings to the new voters being transferred to Segamat’s still unbuilt army camp, an Election Commission (EC) registrar had rejected the Parliament Hansard as evidence saying that it “cannot be believed”.

The objections are being raised in regards to the inclusion of 1079 new army voters in the Segamat constituency as list in the EC’s third quarter supplementary electoral roll. The ongoing issue had been raised by Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong because the new army camp in Segamat is not even complete but the army personnel and their spouses have already been added to the electoral roll in that constituency.

During the Budget debate in Parliament on November 27, Seremban MP Anthony Loke had asked for confirmation if the army camp was still under construction or if it had been completed.

In response the Deputy Minister of Defence, Datuk Johari Baharum said that the camp was still under construction and when question further, said that the camp was not complete. As recorded on page 136 of the Hansard, the Deputy Minister said “belum siap” when asked to confirm the status of the army camp.

Yet, the registrar chose to reject the Hansard as evidence.  This is a clear case of contempt against the Parliament.

The Parliament Hansard is the official record of Parliamentary proceedings. Even in court, Parliamentary proceedings are admissible as evidence. Section 78 (1b) of the Evidence Act 1950, which states the proof required for official documents, states that
…the proceedings of Parliament or of any of the federal legislatures that existed in Malaysia before Parliament was constituted or of the legislature of any State— by the minutes of the body or by the published Acts of Parliament, Ordinances, Enactments or abstracts or by copies purporting to be printed by the authority of the Government concerned.

The Act clearly says that Parliamentary proceedings are proved by the minutes of the session, which takes the form of the Parliamentary Hansard and nothing else.

If the judiciary accepts the Hansard as hard evidence, who is the EC to reject the official Parliamentary document?  For the EC registrar to say that the Hansard cannot be believed, they are saying that Parliament proceedings themselves cannot be believed.

We call upon the Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin to reprimand the Election Commission for the latter’s contempt and we call upon the EC to reprimand the responsible Registrar above and immediately act to rectify the injustice by reopening the objection proceedings in Segamat.

The failure of the EC to do the above would only further prove that the EC is not the independent institution conceived by our Constitution.  Instead, it is merely a paw of Barisan Nasional.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM) claim that it is ‘unsustainable’ for the Passenger Service Charge (PSC) to be kept at LCCT levels confirms that the fees are hiked to rescue Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB)

MAVCOM told The Malaysian Insight[1] two days ago that
…when klia2 began operations, it had the same PSC rates as the LCCT, despite having far superior services and facilities.  This environment is non-sustainable, given that the costs of operating and maintaining a larger and more advanced airport are higher.
Indeed, we have long criticised and warned the Government on the inflated costs and questionable decisions made by MAHB in the construction of KLIA2 which will inevitably result in subtantially higher operating costs.  The higher cost however, isn’t quite due to MAVCOM’s description of a “more advanced airport”.

Firstly, it is due to more than RM5 billion worth of borrowings MAHB took to finance the airport which today incurs more than RM250 million in interest per annum.

Secondly, it is due to MAHB incompetence and questionable decisions which have resulted in substantially higher than expected maintenance cost.  Despite KLIA2 commencing operations since 2013, the airport is still plagued with soil settlement or sinking problems causing constant operational inconvenience and a state of perpetual repair.

For example, in August this year, urgent repairs had to be carried out at the KLIA2 runway due to soil settlement problems, forcing dozens of outbound and inbound flight delays.  In October last year, a ruptured fuel pipeline – not the first time – was estimated to have taken one and a half months to rectify.

Most obviously, and the biggest complaint by both Air Asia as well as passengers is the unnecessary grandeur in the sheer size and scale of the airport.  This has resulted in extra-long walking distances for airline workers and passengers.  As a result, MAHB was forced to retrofit poorly designed walkalators all around the terminal to ease the inconvenience.  Hence perhaps in this particular instance, MAVCOM is indeed correct to point out that the larger airport is indeed more costly to maintain.

Regardless, the admission by MAVCOM confirms that a key reason for the hike in PSC, also known as the airport tax, is to bailout MAHB which is suffering from losses in its KLIA2 operations.  It should be remembered that the Chief Financial Officer of MAHB, has assured the Public Accounts Committee that MAHB does not need to raise the PSC above and beyond the prescribed inflation rates to ensure operational profitability.  That has clearly turned out to be a lie.

We will not object to a hike in PSC if it is pegged to the annual inflation rates.  However, a hike amounting to 46% to RM73 per international passenger is unacceptable, especially since it is to make the rakyat pay for the follies of MAHB.

It is worse when Malaysians see how biased MAVCOM is, when the latter is prepared to even revise history to justify the above hike.

MAVCOM reiterated to The Malaysian Insight that “KLIA2 was never designed as a low-cost carrier terminal and was not a “hybrid airport” as some claimed”.  There cannot be a greater lie coming from the airline industry regulator which was born only a few years after KLIA2 commenced operations.

KLIA2 was conceived and intended to service the low-cost carrier airlines.  Even the official brochure on KLIA2[2] on the MAHB website site still clearly states so.  And when the cost of the airport ballooned to RM4 billion from the original budget of RM1.7 billion, it was the Deputy Transport Minister, Datuk Aziz Kaprawi who told both the media and the Parliament in 2013 that KLIA2 was not merely a ‘low-cost carrier terminal’ but a ‘hybrid airport’.

Is MAVCOM telling us that both MAHB and the Transport Minister had lied about the nature of KLIA2?

Let me advise the MAVCOM to download a copy of the Public Accounts Committee Report on KLIA2[3] for its commissioners to read and better understand the shenanigans which have taken place during the design, award and construction of KLIA2.  Only then perhaps, Malaysians can hope that MAVCOM will stop punishing tax-payers to save MAHB’s skin.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) policy clearly states that “in general, aircraft operators and other airport users, including end-users, should not be charged for facilities and services they do not use”

Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) has been quick to often cite the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) ‘principle of non-discriminatory pricing of passenger service charges’ when responding to criticisms against the equalisation of the fees between KLIA and KLIA2.

Earlier this month, it was announced that the Passenger Service Charge (PSC) for international flights, excluding ASEAN, operating at KLIA2 would be increased from RM50 to RM73 per passenger. The move by the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) has drawn the ire of users of KLIA2, including the airport’s main airline AirAsia.  The PSC increase which comes into effect on January 1 2018, will likely lead to an increase in airfares for flights using the supposedly low-cost terminal.

However, MAHB is only being selective in using the above non-discriminatory principle as an excuse to raise the PSC for KLIA2.

If one were to refer to the ICAO’s Policies on Charges for Airports and Air Navigation Service (attached), MAHB conveniently forgets to mention that the same policy still allows for differential pricing systems.

ICAO specifically says that “in general, aircraft operators and other airport users, including end-users, should not be charged for facilities and services they do not use”.

Hence MAHB is clearly violating this guideline when it increases the PSC at KLIA2.

This is very simply because the facilities and services provided at KLIA2 are vastly inferior to KLIA.  And that in turn is because KLIA2 was never intended, designed or built as an extended “second permanent terminal for KLIA”.  KLIA2 was conceived and always intended as an international hub for low-cost carriers, and was built to cope with the growth of AirAsia as the region’s fastest growing low-cost airline.

Because of the massive cost overruns as a result from MAHB incompetence, as concluded by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), KLIA2 was relabelled as a ‘hybrid terminal’ in 2013.  Even so, that relabelling still confirmed that after its opening in 2013, KLIA2 was unique and distinct from KLIA.

Therefore the latest claim by MAHB that KLIA2 is merely a “second permanent terminal for KLIA” to justify the hike in PSC is wholly untenable.

Hence, we call upon both MAHB and the Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM) to retract the decision to 46% hike the PSC charges at KLIA2 to equal that charged in KLIA.  ICAO clearly allows for fee differentiation between airports and terminals based on the availability and quality of services offered.

If MAHB and MAVCOM insist on hiking the fees at KLIA2, then they must prove how KLIA2 is an equal to KLIA to the angry Malaysians out there.  If they fail to do so, then it cannot be clearer that the entir fee hike exercise is to make more profits for MAHB, particularly since MAHB has taken billions of ringgit of debt to fund its RM4 billion KLIA2 misadventure.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Dato’ Seri Rahman Dahlan should answer why inflated ECRL contract was a direct negotiation with a China company, and not whether it was foreign or locally owned.

Yesterday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan once again tried to deflect questions and criticisms of the RM55 billion ECRL project by painting it as “a domestic investment with foreign funding”.

This was in response to the statement issued by former Finance Minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin  who responded to questions from the media last weekend on whether the country should be worried over foreign investments from China.

“How much investment did they bring in? Like Forest City? Does the train project (ECRL) bring in money?,” he asked

“If it is a loan, that means we have to pay (it) back. If you have to pay (it) back, does that mean it is an investment? If you were an investor, what would you say? Its not (an investment). It’s a loan,” Tun Daim explained.

Dato’ Seri Rahman Dahlan then retorted in his statement, “Would Daim and Bersatu be happier if foreigners own and operate the ECRL instead?”

The Minister who is in-charge of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) is trying to be disingeneuous in his response.

While the fact of the matter is that ECRL is indeed an infrastructure project which funded with foreign debt, the Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak himself, together with many other Cabinet Ministers have often used the project as a successful example of Malaysia’s ability to attract sizeable investments from China.

For example, earlier in January this year, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak defended “investments” from China, stating that “This is unfair, because investments from China benefits the nation including us in Pahang, not only large investments like ECRL but the price of palm oil also go up, to simultaneously profit smallholders and settlers,” he said said this at ‘An Evening With the Chinese Community In Pekan’ programme.[1]

Hence Tun Daim is merely trying to correct the ‘managed’ perception that these large infrastructure projects are not ‘investments’ from China, but are effectively huge debts which have to be repaid by Malaysians in the future.

The question isn’t where former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad or Tun Daim or any Malaysian for that matter, “be happier if foreigners own and operate the ECRL instead”.

Instead, Malaysians would “be happier” if the ECRL project was tendered openly and competitively so that our tax-payers will receive best value for our ringgit.  Why was a infrastructure project of this magnitude awarded directly without any competitive tender?  Hence, it begs the question - who will really profit from this contract?

It has already been exposed that the Government’s own appointed engineering consultants, HSS Integrated (HSSI) has estimated in December 2015 the project's value was RM29 billion (RM53.2 million per km), whereas China-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) was awarded the contract at RM55 billion (RM91.7 million per km).

We have demanded for the HSSI to be publicly disclosed and Transport Minister, Dato’ Seri Liow Tiong Lai has promised in Parliament in November 2016 to “publish” the feasibility study when it is “finalised”[2].  However, the HSSI report remains a secret document with the BN Government.

The question which remains unanswered to date – if ECRL were to cost RM30 billion or less, why was CCCC awarded the contract via direct negotiation for RM55 billion, even if there so-called favourable financing terms?  Where would the excess RM25 billion go to?  Would it be used to pay-off some of 1MDB’s debts as speculated so as to cover up the Najib administration’s largest international financial scandal?

Is KLIA2 a “low-cost terminal”, a “hybrid airport” or a mere “extension” of the main KLIA terminal?

Yesterday, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) issued a statement in response to my criticisms against the impending Passenger Services Charge (PSC) increase in 2018.

MAHB insisted that “KLIA2 is not a low-cost airport terminal”. It said “together with the government, we had made the strategic decision to build a second permanent terminal for KLIA that will accommodate increased capacity requirements, or in other words, future growth”.

So not only is KLIA2 not a “low-cost terminal”, it also appears that MAHB is now ditching its own much-ridiculed “hybrid airport” moniker.  Deputy Minister of Transport Datuk Abdul Aziz Kaprawi had announced in July 2013 that “KLIA2 will no longer be a low-cost terminal, but Malaysia’s first hybrid airport with upgraded business-class services alongside total international passenger segregation”.  The announcement was made partly to justify the astronomical increase in the cost of the terminal from RM1.7 billion to more than RM4 billion.

Malaysians are rightly confused with the shifting terminologies and inconsistent definitions of what exactly is the purpose and intent of KLIA2.

If you were to download the brochure from MAHB’s own website, “KLIA2 – The Rise of the New Titan”[1], it clearly states

…KLIA2 is positioned to be the biggest terminal for Low Cost Carriers (LCC) in the world, serving as a global benchmark for future terminals of its kind…

With these world-class features, KLIA2 will be the largest purpose built terminal for low-cost travel in the world with a capacity of up to 45 million passengers per annum…

So which is right?  The marketing brochure on MAHB’s website or the latest statement to deflect blame from the massive hike for Passenger Service Charge (PSC) at KLIA2?

However, regardless of whether MAHB wants to call KLIA2 a “hybrid airport” as it did earlier in 2013, or a “second permanent terminal for KLIA” as it did yesterday, the fact remains that KLIA2 has at all times since its approval by the Cabinet, been intended specifically to serve as a new “low cost carrier terminal” to replace the old makeshift LCCT.

The fact of the matter is, MAHB had only decided in 2013 to re-label KLIA2 as a “hybrid airport” in order to justify the massive unbudgeted cost overruns and delays.  Now, MAHB is redefining KLIA2 as merely a “second permanent terminal of KLIA”, implying no differentiated service quality between KLIA and KLIA2, purely to justify the equal PSC to be imposed both terminals.

It is ironical that MAHB claimed that it has already explained the above to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), of which I am a member.  MAHB said in its statement yesterday

We have also explained numerous times to YB Tony Pua along with the other members during the PAC sessions that after numerous engagement sessions with key stakeholders, klia2 development had undergone significant scope increase due to changing requirements by the key stakeholders, including the government agencies and AirAsia.

MAHB seems to have forgotten that the damning PAC Report on MAHB concluded that the excuses given by the top management of MAHB were misleading, untenable and unjustifiable.

The then PAC chairman, Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said MAHB was “not being customer-centric” when “MAHB should be building airports for people to use and not determine what people should use”.  The PAC had strongly criticised MAHB’s arrogance for intentionally abstaining from engagement with its key customers like Air Asia when designing and constructing the airport.

The PAC Report had concluded that “Malaysia has lost a golden opportunity to develop the most competitive low-cost carrier hub in the Asia Pacific region.”  Today, Malaysians have to pay for the follies of MAHB with a massive 46% hike in Passenger Service Charges.

So now MCA President Dato’ Seri Liow Tiong Lai and PAS President Dato’ Seri Hadi Awang sings the same desperate broken racist tune to fish for votes?

Just when you think that MCA could not sink any lower, MCA President Dato’ Seri Liow Tiong Lai beats all expectations by jumping on the bandwagon to demonise Lim Kit Siang as a potential Prime Minister.

His statement recycles the same fake news that is being peddled by UMNO and PAS that Lim Kit Siang will become Prime Minister if the Opposition wins the next election. Kit Siang has already said time and time again that he has no intention of becoming Prime Minister, yet the government seems to have run out of ideas to promote itself that it is relying on its tired propaganda of portraying him and the DAP as the only party in the Opposition.

It has long been the weapon of UMNO President, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak and his merrymen to threaten the Malays with losing power.  During the ruling party's Annual General Meeting earlier this month, Wanita Umno Chief Dato’ Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil warned that voting for Pakatan Harapan would lead to rule by “Emperor Lim”.

It is a weapon to diminish the importance the Malay voters will place on the outrageous scandals and misdeeds which have been carried out against Malaysians.  These would include tens of billions of ringgit worth of shennanigans in government ministries and state-owned enterprises like 1MDB, FEDLA, MARA and Tabung Haji.  The diversionary lie is also to distract voters from feeling the pain of rising prices, the Goods & Services Tax (GST), weak ringgit and a stagnant economy.

Most uncannily, Liow Tiong Lai’s statement comes right after PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang took a similar position to support UMNO last weekend.

“In fact, for DAP leaders to become the prime minister if the opposition front wins the 14th general election (GE14) goes against the reality in Malaysia, where the concept of an Islamic country means Islam must be in power. This is important. We want to maintain the leadership of Muslims in this country,” Hadi was reported telling Berita Harian in an interview.

Perhaps it should not have come at a surprise that MCA is now so desperate that it felt the need to peddle the same fear mongering rhetoric as PAS. Liow Tiong Lai also said that Lim Kit Siang was clever at sowing racial discord. In echoing the PAS President’s calls, has is Liow now admitting that there should never be a Malaysia for all Malaysians?

The MCA President must have finally realised that it has no hopes of recovering support from the non-Malay community. He is now hoping that by demonstrating subservience to UMNO and PAS, it can receive higher Malay support.  This will ensure that MCA might be able to hold on the the handful of remaining seats it possess – such as his own in Bentong where he won with a wafer thin 379-vote majority.

There could not be a greater irony than a political party founded on the need to protect the interest of the Chinese community is now parroting the racially-tainted lies and propaganda espoused by the ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ extremists in UMNO and PAS.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Malaysians are now paying the cost of an incompetent Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) who built a defective ‘low-cost’ KLIA2 at more than RM4 billion

Earlier this month, it was announced that the Passenger Service Charge (PSC) for international flights, excluding ASEAN, operating at KLIA2 would be increased from RM50 to RM73 per passenger. The move by the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) has drawn the ire of users of KLIA2, including the airport’s main airline AirAsia.

The PSC increase which comes into effect on January 1 2018, will likely lead to an increase in airfares for flights using the supposedly low-cost terminal. Mavcom’s rationale for the increase is to equalise the PSC between KLIA and KLIA2 because they view the two airports as providing a similar quality of service.

However, anyone who’s used the two airports would know that the level of service provided at the two airports is far from the same. For passengers, this includes the long distances that need to be covered by foot when using KLIA2. The check-in area at KLIA also has more space and counters compared to the newer KLIA2, even though the latter was designed for a higher passenger capacity of 45 million people per year compared to KLIA’s 30 million people per year.

Airline operators also face similar inconveniences including a greater distance to the KLAS Cargo and catering building, which are now 10km away in KLIA. The construction of KLIA2 was already controversial with problems such as sinking soil which has caused alarming depressions on the aprons and runway, while damaging fuel supplies at the airport.

With all these problems plaguing KLIA2, it is boggles the mind how Mavcom has decided to treat the airport as an equal to KLIA, and in doing so make passengers at the lesser airport bear a greater cost.

The real reason for the increase in PSC lie in the astronomical cost over-runs that came with KLIA2. The airport which was built and is operated by Malaysia Airports Berhad (MAHB) started off with a budget of RM1.7 billion in 2007 and wound up costing well-above RM4 billion.  Worse, the ‘low-cost’ terminal was completed more than 2 years later than scheduled.

Back in 2012, when I raised this issue in Parliament, the then Deputy Transport Minister said that the increased costs would not be borne by the Government but would instead be fully borne by MAHB through their issuance of sukuk bonds.  MAHB had borrowed RM5.6 billion through various bond issuances to fund the airport.

In 2014, I protested that MAHB’s borrowing spree to fund these increased costs had lead to the company facing increased financing costs. An analyst report on MAHB at the time had suggested that without a price hike to the PSC at KLIA2, MAHB would not be able to meet its debt obligations which kick in in 2023.

The Chief Financial Officer of MAHB then had assured the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) who was investigating the KLIA2 project then that MAHB does not deed to raise the PSC to meet its debt obligations.  However, it is clear today that the senior management of MAHB had lied to the PAC to absolve themselves of responsibilities towards to drastic increase in the cost of construction of the new terminal.

The government may not have lied when it said that government funds would not be used to bear the extra costs of KLIA2, but it did conveniently hide the fact that passengers would be picking up the tab through its increased PSC.

It is clear now that the PSC hike announced by Mavcom could be coming in to ensure that the Government does not have to bailout MAHB if it fails to meet its debt obligation. Worse, the massive hike of the PSC at KLIA2 will significantly jeopardise Malaysia’s strategic competitiveness as the hub for the growing low cost airlines.  This will in turn hurt our tourist arrivals and economy.

Therefore, we call upon the Government to review the decision to penalise KLIA2 passengers with higher fees without any corresponding increase in the quality of facilities and service.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

DBKL's in-your-face defiance to Cabinet directive freezing all high-end property developments above RM1 million per unit proves that BN Government has lost total control of its limbs

Following a meeting with DBKL Mayor Tan Sri Mohamad Amin Nordin, my colleagues from Parliament revealed yesterday that DBKL would not be enacting the announced freeze on high-rise property developments above RM1 million. According to Segambut MP Lim Lip Eng, DBKL Mayor said that the ban would not be implemented in the Golden Triangle as it would infeasible.

City Hall’s response confirms two glaring flaws in the government’s ‘hare-brained’ solution to the oversupply of luxury properties in the country. Firstly, as I’ve stated before, it shows how ill-thought out and impractical the ban actually is.

Secondly and more importantly, DBKL’s defiance of a Cabinet directive demonstrates just how toothless Putrajaya’s is.  Ironically the BNM report specifically highlighted that in Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley alone, the report found that office vacancy rates had increased from 20.9% in Q1 2015 to 23.6% in Q1 2017. The situation is only set to get worse with an incoming supply of additional 38 million square feet of office space.

The property freeze was first announced on November 17 by Second Finance Minister Datuk Johari Abdul Ghani following the release of Bank Negara’s (BNM) report on the severe supply and demand imbalance in the country’s property market. The freeze was supposedly a nationwide blanket ban which would freeze approvals on condominium, office and shopping mall developments valued above RM1 million per unit.

The announcement quickly became a farce when the Works Minister Datuk Fadillah Yusof contradicted his cabinet colleague by saying the ‘blanket ban’ would actually be applied on a case by case basis. The Federal Territories Minister Dato’ Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor then added that 1MDB-linked projects - Tun Razak Exchange and Bandar Malaysia would be exempted from the ban because they were ‘pre-approved’.

Finally, cabinet made a full u-turn last week when it said that developers could appeal the ban to a Ministerial committee comprising the Second Finance Minister, the Works Minister, Urban Wellbeing and Local Government Minister Tan Sri Noh Omar, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan.

However, yesterday’s revelation by the DBKL Mayor proved that all these acrobatics are unnecessary since any decision by the Cabinet is utterly futile. If DBKL can do it, then there’s no reason why all other local councils in the country would comply with the directive.

The above further showed why we have reached such a state of severe “demand and supply imbalance” in the first place despite warnings from BNM since 2015.  It is precisely because of the Cabinet’s impotence, that whatever policy that has been decided upon – good or bad, are completely diulted, if not ignored altogether like the above, by the its implementation agencies.

Beyond the major policy decisions Putrajaya needs to make to remedy the increasingly severe property sector problems which will have far-reaching consequences for our economy, there is a clear need to overhaul the Government bureaucracy to ensure policies made are carried out to the letter.  Otherwise, you may have the world’s best policy-makers and the highest paid consultants, but all would be wasted with a Government effectively run by politically entrenched warlords and little Napoleons.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Police must stop abusing irrelevant and oppressive laws to investigate and persecute Senai state assemblywoman for merely questioning if the Johor Menteri Besar was involved in an act of corruption

On 27 November, DAP Senai elected representative, Wong Shu Qi had asked in the Johor State Assembly whether it was true that Khaled had received RM12 million from a developer to change the Bumiputera status of a residential plot of land to non-Bumiputera.  Wong said the allegations against Khaled had surfaced in March and were based on witness statements in an investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

As a result of her question, she has not only been thrown out of the state assembly and is in the process of being referred to the Rights and Privileges Committee, the Police have commenced investigation against what she asked.

Firstly, the investigation by the Police demonstrates a clear abuse of power on its part by failing to respect the sanctity of the Johor state assembly.

The Federal Constitution, the highest law of our land, clearly states that assemblymen are immune from things said in state legislative proceedings.  Clause 72(2) of the Constitution states that:

No person shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him when taking part in proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of any State or of any committee thereof.

The reason for this protection needs no explanation – but for the benefit of our law enforcers – elected representatives must be empowered to state and ask without fear or favour regardless of how scandalous and sensitive the subject matter might be. This process exists to ensure transparency and accountability in national and state administration.

If one can’t even ask questions of our leader’s in the state assembly, then where else can we ask to ensure the righteousness and integrity of our Government?

Are the Police of the opinion that the Menteri Besar of Johor is above the law, to the extent that even questioning his alleged involvement in a corruption case is criminal?

Worse, the Police are clearly clutching at straws to investigate and persecute Wong.  Wong has purportedly committed an offence under Section 203A of the Penal Code provides that anyone who discloses purportedly leaked information to any other person shall be punished with fine of not more than one million ringgit, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with both.

The problem here is what leaked information is illegal?  When fraudulent contracts signed by 1MDB with Petrosaudi International and Aabar Investment PJS Limited involving billions of dollars were exposed, does it mean that every person who had written about it – from analysts to politicians to both online and off-line media are all guilty of the above crime?

That would only result in the complete collapse of Malaysia’s natural justice system where the whistleblowers are persecuted while those involved in crimes against the tax-payers get away scot free.

Wong is also investigated under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, which refers to “improper use of network facilities or network service, etc.”

The fact that a leaked witness statement relating to the corruption allegations against Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin might amount to ‘communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person’ is clearly an outrageous abuse of the law.

My question to the Police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission remains the same – have they initiated and commenced investigations against Dato’ Seri Khaled Nordin based on the very witness statement which is being used to charge another member of the Johor administration for corrupt practices?

If the Johor Menteri Besar is indeed innocent, let the investigations prove that to be the case and clear Dato’ Seri Khalid’s name.  However, the fact that no investigations have been carried out against the Menteri Besar, but those who had the courage to question the case even within the protect confines of the state assembly are persecuted, only serve to confirm the suspicions in the minds of the rakyat as to Dato’ Seri Khalid’s guilt or innocence.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Why is the Cabinet adamant in ignoring Bank Negara's policy prescriptions on the property market imbalance?

Putrajaya’s constant u-turns over its announced luxury property ban are yet another example of the government’s absurd tendency to ignore expert policy advice in favour of ill thought out knee-jerk reactions.

Bank Negara (BNM) had reported last month on the substantial supply and demand imbalance within the country’s property market. The report found that new property launches were skewed towards the high-end sector of the market priced above RM250,000.

The government then immediately issued a poorly thought out directive halting approvals for all new high-end property developments priced above RM1 million per unit.

When the blanket freeze was first announced on November 17, I had already warned that the ban was not going to resolve any of the issues highlighted by Bank Negara. Sure enough, the government has now made a near-complete U-turn its ban in less than a month.

Based on the latest announcements by the Housing and Local Government Minister, Dato’ Seri Noh Omar and the Second Finance Minister, Dato' Seri Johari Abdul Ghani, earlier this week, property developers can now appeal to Ministers for high-end project approvals on a case-by-case basis.  Basically, the Ministers have now granted themselves full discretionary powers to approve projects for developers who can sweet talk way to win the hearts of the Ministers.

The arbitrary nature of this new policy with have serious consequences to short and longer term investments by both foreign and domestic investors in Malaysia.

The thing is, BNM’s report had outlined six different policy recommendations to dealing with specific issues in the property market.   Hence, why doesn’t the government just adopt the advice already given to them by BNM?

To address the high level of unsold residential properties, the report suggested increasing encouragement for the rental market. On affordable housing, it was recommended that the government increase its efficiency in providing and allocating affordable homes. These policies are targeted and are designed to address the specific issues in the residential market.

The government’s halting of new approvals for high-rise residential developments over RM1 million does nothing to address these issues. According to the Edge Weekly’s in-depth report published last weekend, units at that price point and high-rise residences only make up 12.06% and 11.48% of unsold properties respectively.

BNM also suggested better management to address the large incoming supply of commercial properties. This includes ensuring the commercial viability of the project is thoroughly assessed and for developers to be cognisant of demand conditions. However, the government’s blanket ban lacked any mechanism that would allow an objective assessment of each development.

In addition, to alleviate the problem of high office vacancy rates and low rental rates in existing buildings, the report recommended the repurposing of vacant commercial buildings as well as increasing demand for existing space through either rental rebates or greater efforts to attract foreign business.

Unlike these policies, the government’s knee-jerk ban would only halt the approvals for future high-end developments without managing the already severe level of oversupply. It is difficult to understand why the government has chosen to ignore Bank Negara’s relatively sound advice to address these problems.

We call upon the government to take heed of Bank Negara’s recommendations immediately.  It should also conduct a thorough study with all stakeholders and think-tanks to design and implement consistent, constructive and incentivised policies to ensure continued growth and sustainability for the property sector and correspondingly, our economy.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Our Cabinet has some of the best back-flip acrobats in the world with the unbelievable twists and turns over high-end property development freeze

Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani announced on November 17 that the government had sent a directive to halt all approvals for high-end residences, shopping complexes and office buildings priced over RM1 million.

The freeze came after Bank Negara’s report on the substantial supply and demand imbalance within the country’s property market. The report found that new property launches were skewed towards the high-end sector of the market.

The Second Finance Minister subsequently reaffirmed the blanket ban after his fellow Cabinet colleague, Works Minister Datuk Fadillah Yusof said that developments would be reviewed on a case by case basis.

The ‘blanket ban’ had smacked of being a ‘hare-brained’ policy prescription as the Government started granting exemptions to projects which the Government had a vested interested.  In particular, the Minister of Federal Territories, Dato’ Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said the 1MDB-linked projects – Tun Razak Exchange and Bandar Malaysia were “pre-approved”, and are hence exempted.

The fact that Bandar Malaysia has not even found a developer with a plan appears immaterial to the ban exemption.

The biased exemption of such projects by Government-linked companies (GLCs) created an uproar among the private sector, who then lobbied hard to ease the ban.

Yesterday, the Government did another double-twist somersault on its ‘blanket ban’. Two statements by Urban Wellbeing and Local Government Minister Tan Sri Noh Omar and Datuk Seri Johari, suggested that the Government will now allow developers to appeal the ban on a case by case basis.

For luxury residential properties, Tan Sri Noh Omar announced that a four-minister committee to review the project applications comprising of Datuk Seri Johari, Datuk Fadillah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan and himself. The committee would apparently subject its approvals to criteria including the existing housing condition, the number of houses in that location and those priced above RM1 million, as well as the number of unsold houses.

Separately, Datuk Johari said that developers of office spaces and shopping malls could appeal to the relevant ministers if they find locations that lack those properties and can justify their developments. He even went on to say that “anyone can build an office provided you know how to market it”.

Does the Minister actually think that developers are going to build an office block or a mall that they are not confident in selling?

I was among the first who had criticised that the blanket ban would not do much to remedy the property market imbalance.  However, now the Ministers have granted themselves full discretionary powers to grant approval to any developers who can sweet talk way to win the hearts of the Ministers.

Have we now become a communist regime where the Government dictates how many left shoes to manufacture?  Two big mistakes here certainly don’t make a right.

The multiple twists and turns worthy of a world-class acrobatic act only goes to prove that the Najib administration is completely clueless in policy-making.  How does the above, for example, even address the main issue of the lack of affordable housing in the country and the largest oversupply of residential properties were reported at the RM500 000 to RM1 million segment?

The worst type of Government for any investor, foreign or domestic, is the absolutely lack of predictability and consistency in its policies.  The current fiasco will certainly have major short to long term negative implications for Malaysia’s economy.  The Cabinet must remedy its knee-jerk policy-making mechanism and instead, conduct a thorough study with all stakeholders, Bank Negara and think-tanks to design a consistent, constructive and incentivised policies to ensure continued growth and sustainability for the property sector and our economy.