The Government Should Offload Its Burdens

Will we see the re-introduction of fuel subsidies?

I find it puzzling that the government has shut its doors on Maju Holdings’s intention of buying the PLUS concessions (Govt Shuts Door On Maju’s Bid for PLUS – Malaysian Digest, 26 November 2017) when I don’t think they have actually met with Maju Holdings to discuss the proposed deal.

Although the Second Finance Minister said in September that the Finance Ministry would first and foremost get some clarification from Maju Holdings on how they plan to execute the no-toll-hike deal before deciding whether or not to allow the deal to happen, I can bet my bottom dollar that at the time of writing this post, they have not met.

The Second Finance Minister wants to obtain clarification from Maju Holdings before deciding

I have written on this matter before and I have laid down my reasons and Tan Sri Abu Sahid’s explanation that he made to the press during his interview sessions, but I am writing this again because I am alarmed at how the government has made a decision without even doing its due diligence on the matter.

The government’s decision to do away with four tolls beginning 1 January 2018 may be good news for those in the Klang Valley and those who go shopping at Bukit Kayu Hitam or drive into Thailand, but we also know that it costs 20 sen to 30 sen to use a public toilet.  So, nothing is for free.  While the people in the areas mentioned above enjoy their toll-free highway, the rest are made to pay in the form of an extension to the conclusion of the concession of other highways operated by PLUS beyond 2038.

That is not all.  The government would have to fork out RM110 million a year as compensation to PLUS, not inclusive of the compensation the government would have to pay every time they disallow a toll rate hike.  Multiply that figure alone by 20 years, it would come up to RM2.2 billion.  Now that is not a small sum of money.  RM2.2 billion could get you 22 80-bed hospitals that could benefit especially the rural areas of Sabah and Sarawak, or in a term that I am more familiar with, four squadrons of the KAI FA-50 supersonic advanced trainers and light combat aircraft. That is almost 50 badly-needed aircraft altogether.

Not only does the government have to think about finding money to compensate PLUS every year for the loss of income from the four tolls, the government also has to think about compensating PLUS and other concessionaires every time they are allowed to increase their rates.

With the global oil price rebounding, the government has also announced that it would think of a measure to not allow retail petrol (RON95). That sounds like more money flying away in the form of a subsidy – something the government has fought hard to do away with.

The proposed deal by Maju Holdings sounds sweet to me now.  Question is, what is the Finance Ministry and/or Khazanah afraid of?

Is it because Abu Sahid is perceived as Mahathir’s crony?  Then again, which owner of a Malaysian conglomerate isn’t a crony of Mahathir’s?  Out of the 10 richest persons in Malaysia in 2016 perhaps only a couple are not Mahathir’s cronies.

Is it because the Finance Ministry and/or Khazanah thinks that Abu Sahid does not know what he is talking about because he only operates a 26-kilometre highway therefore what does he know about a 800-kilometre one?  The question is what highway did UEM even operate before it was given PLUS? How different is Maju Holdings to MTD Prime and Anih Berhad that are now running the 358-kilometre East Coast Highway after running only the 60-kilometre KL-Karak highway?

Or are people on different levels making PLUS their cash cow? I’m just throwing my thoughts here because I cannot see what are they so afraid of if someone can help them lower their financial burdens.

The Finance Ministry keeps saying that it does not want to have to bail out Maju Holdings should the deal go wrong in the future, I ask myself, and perhaps the Finance Ministry and Khazanah too, should they not pray for the Maju Holdings to fail?  Abu Sahid wants to give the UEM and EPF RM4 billion in cash for free as a return on investments made in PLUS. That is a 20 percent Internal Rate of Return (IRR).

On top of that Abu Sahid through Maju Holdings, with the backing of his financiers, seeks to forfeit the government’s compensation of about RM900 million owed to the toll road operator, which arose as a result of toll hikes not being implemented.  Imagine what the government could do by chanelling this money to sectors that badly need such funds.

In other words, the government should pray for Abu Sahid to fail after giving him PLUS – the government takes back the highway which is already toll-free then as there would not be any concessionaire, while Maju Holdings would have to face its financiers.  The highway and all its infrastructures already belong to the government no matter what, and the government can still impose tolls albeit minimal to help maintain the PLUS highways.  So, what has the government got to lose?

Loss of income by EPF that affects its contributors?  I find that hard to swallow.  EPF has so much money that it would seek to re-invest in PLUS even after the deal takes place.  EPF needs to make money for its contributors. Or it could just seek to invest in another company.  EPF has so much money that it is investing in both money-making and money-losing companies as it is now.

Therefore, as a rakyat, I reiterate my concerns taking into account the amount of money needed to compensate PLUS for abolishing the four tolls, the amount of money needed to compensate PLUS and other concessionaires to not increase toll prices, and the imminent need to subsidise RON95 – has the government seen the assumptions made by Maju Holdings? Has the government called Maju Holdings or its financial adviser Evercore for a meeting like it said it would, before even deciding to shut the door on Maju Holdings? Has the government done a due diligence on the proposal by Maju Holdings?

The government should seriously rethink its stance in this issue.  There is just too much money that needs to be involved if the government continues to keep PLUS.  This is money that could be used to pay the other concessionaires to not hike up their rates as PLUS under Maju Holdings would not be increasing theirs until the concession agreement runs out.  Or the savings could go to building more schools, hospitals or buy more fighters for the Air Force.

The government has an opportunity to offload its financial burdens.  But why is it so afraid to take that step?

Bat Journalism

“As blind as a bat.”

That is how I would describe most journalists today. They never understand not a scintilla of what they write but they write them anyway. Corrections can be made later no matter if the damage has been done and is irreversible.

The latest intentional or unintentional faux pas is about the PLUS highway concession, quoting Deputy Works Minister Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid Sirlin in her answer to a supplemental question from Datuk Ahmad Fauzi Zahari (BN – Setiawangsa). One portal reported:

  
The report above is as if the decision for a toll hike every whatever the number of years set in the agreement. What the portals have not mentioned is that it is up to the government to allow any toll hike after all concerns have been weighed. 

Of course you have opportunistic baboons such as Tony Puaka to further add to the confusion:

  
The actual answer by the Deputy Minister is as follows:

1.​Lebuhraya Utara Selatan (PLUS) telah mula dibina pada tahun 1989 dan siap pada tahun 1994 dengan kos sebanyak RM5.9 bilion. Kos projek ini ditanggung sepenuhnya oleh syarikat konsesi PLUS, kecuali kos pengambilan tanah yang ditanggung oleh Kerajaan. Berdasarkan perjanjian konsesi tambahan terkini (2011), tempoh konsesi Lebuhraya PLUS akan tamat pada 31 Disember 2038. Setakat ini Kerajaan tidak ada perancangan untuk melanjutkan lagi tempoh konsesi tersebut.

 

2.​Dalam tahun 2011, PLUS telah melaksanakan pengstruktaran semula dimana PLUS terpaksa membuat pinjaman sejumlah RM30.6 billion melalui penerbitan bon. Bayaran balik faedah pinjaman telah mula pada tahun 2012 manakala bayaran pokok hanya akan bermula pada tahun 2017 sehingga 2038.

 

3.​Untuk makluman Ahli Yang Berhormat, syarikat PLUS merupakan pemegang konsesi bagi 6 lebuh raya iaitu:

 

• Lebuhraya Utara Selatan

• Lebuhraya Lingkaran Tengah ELITE

• Lebuhraya LINKEDUA

• Jambatan Pulau Pinang

• Lebuhraya Butterworth Kulim

• Lebuhraya Seremban Port Dickson

 

4.​Melalui penstrukturan semula pada tahun 2011, hasil keuntungan terkumpul pemegang konsesi Lebuhraya PLUS sehingga 2014 adalah RM26 juta. Secara puratanya, 50% daripada hasil keuntungan adalah digunakan untuk membayar balik faedah pinjaman. Syarikat PLUS telah membuat pinjaman melalui penerbitan bon berjumlah RM30.6 bilion. Pinjaman ini dibuat pada tahun 2011 semasa penstrukuturan PLUS Berhad.

 

5.​20-25% digunakan untuk membiayai kos operasi dan penyenggaraan, ini termasuk lebih kurang 25% jajaran yang tidak dikenakan tol.

 

6.​15-20% adalah untuk kerja-kerja upgrading, termasuk pembinaan persimpangan bertingkat Sungai Buaya, Bukit Gambir, Kuala Kangsar, Ainsdale dan kerja-kerja naiktaraf Lorong Keempat Lebuhraya Utara Selatan.

 

7.​Baki 10% adalah untuk bayaran balik kepada pemegang saham yang terdiri daripada KWSP (49%) dan Khazanah (51%).

 

8.​Untuk makluman Ahli Yang Berhormat juga, perjanjian konsesi PLUS telah mengalami penstrukutran semula kadar tol sebanyak 4 kali iaitu pada tahun 1999, 2002, 2005 dan 2011 di mana kadar tolnya telah mengalami beberapa perubahan daripada penggunaan Consumer Price Index (CPI), 26% setiap 5 tahun pada tahun 1999 dan kepada 10% setiap 3 tahun pada tahun 2005 dan akhir sekali pada tahun 2011 di mana kenaikan kadar tol diselaraskan kepada 5% setiap 3 tahun.

 

9.​Kadar tol PLUS tidak dinaikkan sejak tahun 2005. Dalam penstrukturan semula kadar tol tahun 2011, tiada kenaikan tol sehingga 2015. Manifesto PRU 13 BN menetapkan pengurangan kadar tol secara berperingkat lebuh raya Antara Bandar. Sehubungan dengan itu, Kerajaan akan berunding dengan syarikat konsesi bagi memenuhi akujanji manifesto tersebut.

 

10.​Untuk makluman Ahli Yang Berhormat juga, jajaran Lebuhraya Utara Selatan bermula dari Bukit Kayu Hitam hingga ke Johor adalah sepanjang 848km. Lain-lain lebuhraya ELITE (63km), BKE (17km), SPDH (23km), JPP (13.5km).

 

11.​Untuk makluman Ahli Yang Berhormat, jumlah keuntungan selepas cukai PLUS Berhad bagi tahun kewangan berakhir 31 Disember 2014 ialah sebanyak RM8.4 juta, iaitu mengambikira PLUS Berhad sebagai entiti korporat tunggal yang mengendalikan 5 lebuhraya selepas pengstrukturan semula PLUS mulai bulan November 2011

PLUS operates six highways with a total distance of 964.5km. PLUS has not had a toll increase since 2005. As a result of a restructuring exercise in 2011, PLUS has had to raise RM30.6 billion through bonds issuance. 50 percent of its profit since then has gone to the payment of loan interest while 20 to 25 percent has been allocated for the operations and maintenance of the highways, 15 to 20 percent to upgrading works, while the balance of 10 percent has gone to the payments to the shareholders i.e KWSP and Khazanah.

The above profit was at RM26 million (2014).

What we must also remember, because the toll concession agreements are all legacies of a certain former Prime Minister, the original agreement allowed for a hike of 10 percent every three years. The current Prime Minister initiated for the takeover and has had the agreement renegotiated in 2011 to a hike of 5 percent every three years. However, there has been no hike since 2005.

And if I understand the statement correctly there will not be any automatic hike and that the government is committed in reducing intercity toll rates until 2018.

Blind dingbats who call themselves journalists should act more responsibly when reporting. Sensationalism sells, but that only goes to prove that you are just another opportunistic baboon like Tony Puaka.

Friday Fools

The recent hike in toll prices have riled users up, including those who have no qualms about spending RM13.80 on a packet of Dunhill cigarettes daily; queued 30 hours for an iPhone 6s rose/gold version; and spend a ridiculous amount of money for Starbucks’s Macchiato Frap.

And they blame Najib for the increase on toll rates.

Virtually all the concessions agreement were signed during Mahathir’s time, and for some like the Maju Expressway, built by Abu Sahid, a good friend of Muhyiddin and crony of Mahathir, and the Senai Desaru Highway built by Ranhill’s Hamdan Mihamad were built in 2004. Both had their concession agreement signed before Mahathir stepped down. The Senai Desaru Highway had its Development Order signed in the late 1990s.

PLUS’s North South highway was built initialy by the government via Lembaga Lebuhraya Malaysia. Planned during Tun Hussein Onn’s time in 1977, it began construction in 1980, a year before Mahathir became the PM.

Between 1980 and 1985, the LLM built 366km or 41% of the proposed 823km of the highway at a cost of RM3.2 billion borne by the government.

  
In 1986, the whole project was transferred  to UMNO-crony, Halim Saad’s UEM, despite being the most expensive bidder and having had no experience whatsoever in constructing highways.

  
In the end the highway was delivered two years late and the government then had to finance half of the RM3.5 billion budget.

Yes, our money for half of that RM3.5 billion budget. In fact, it was RM1.65 billion.

If you think that that was a bad deal, try swallowing this: we also now have to pay 30 years of toll, and also pay 10% of the bill every three years if tolls are not allowed to be increased. This is reminiscent of the rip-off IPP deal that Mahathir gave YTL that agreement has ended and not renewed by the Najib administration.

In 2011, Najib’s administration took over PLUS from private hands, restructured the deal and avoided future toll hikes. The government owns 51% of PLUS while 49% is owned by the EPF.

All the concession agreements are now no longer being subjected to the Official Secrets Act. I am sure there is a link somewhere where we can view these agreements and the terms given to the concessionaires. However, MEX has this far declined to open up its concession agreement and we must all call for the agreement to be made public as it affects us all.

This brings me to remember what Miss Lim Sian See wrote a few months ago:

Dear Siti Nurhaliza (always wanted to write to her), the PEMUDA UMNO, Pakatan leaders, Tan Sri Muhyiddin, Khairy Jamaluddin dan yang lain lan penyokong Tun Dr M,


If I may seek your passion again, sirs and madams,


The last few days, you people have demanded to seek the truth about the Tabung Haji land purchase from 1MDB as you say it is shameful, putting Haji money at risk, against Agama, etc – with a vengeance and with a vigor thus far unseen.


Now, Malaysia Insider (not always correct nor 100% truthful, I must admit) has bongkar certain Lembaga Tabung Haji deals that seems to be clear bail-outs of the Maju group that has actually caused losses of depositor money. http://tinyurl.com/lmuaz45


These are the allegations by Malaysia Insider (citing Wall Street Journal) regarding Tun M’s govt bailing out private companies using Tabung Haji Money.


1) 1996,- LTH invested RM67m with Maju Holdings project in Johor – only for the project to immediately run into trouble: 


Total loss to Tabung Haji: RM67m


2) 1998 – LTH paid RM436.38 million to Maju Group for two then uncomplete properties valued at RM267.92 million. 


Total loss to Tabung Haji: RM168.46m

Other allegations include: 
-The chairman of Tabung Haji then was Tun M’s brother in law, the late Tan Sri Ahmad Razali Mohamed Ali – a clear case of nepotism.

– Immediate upfront payment RM220 million for a building yet to start construction even though Treasury guidelines only allow maximum of RM5 million – which was 15% value of the construction work.

—-

Let me highlight the differences between the deals then and now for you:


1) MAJU HOLDINGS deals of he 1990s – Tabung Haji paid RM504 million to a PRIVATE INDIVIDUAL COMPANY for assets professionally valued at RM267.92m – causing REAL LOSSES to TH of RM235.5m


2) 1MDB TRX deal of the 2015 – Tabung Haji paid RM188.5 million to a 100% GOVT-OWNED COMPANY for assets professionally valued at RM195 million (and secured further with another asset worth RM370m) . But will soon sell off at a PROFIT to TH for a few million.


See the difference?


Tun M time: 

One is LOSSES to TH and payment by TH to a private company- money never to be recovered for assets worth less than half of what was paid.


Najib time:

One is PROFIT to TH and payment by TH to a 100% GOVT company – money – money that will immediately be recovered within a week for assets worth more than was paid.

`

I am just asking you all to be fair and use the same enthusiasm, venom and vigor to seek the kebenaran on the Tun M era deals.


You have asked MACC, AG, PDRM to investigate 1MDB and TH and Najib. 


Just to be fair, can you please also ask MACC, AG (actually already investigated and found wrong-doing), PDRM to investigate Maju and TH and Tun M?


And if Tun M is guilty as accused (or refuses to answer) then please condemn him as much as you have condemned others and please never again side with him.


Also find out who is responsible but make sure you ask about the case where Tabung Haji lost money and not the one where it made money.


Please be fair and act fairly – or be considered hypocrite.


Have no fear.

I rest my case.

Populism Does Nothing

Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that there will not be any toll rates hikes for 2014. To BN supporters, this is a form of a coup de grace to the speculation made by the Opposition that there would be a toll rates hike. As a sacrifice, the government will have to fork out RM400 million to pay the toll concessionaires.

If I may shoot the euphoric atmosphere down, the announcement does not guarantee that there would not be a hike post 2014, and road users such as I will still have to grind our teeth in expecting the imminent.

The move, to me, is just another attempt at improving the government’s popularity rate especially that the support for Najib Razak’s government is at its lowest I was told. In short, this is another short-sighted and myopic plan to win the people’s support.

What the Najib government may not realise is that only people in Kuala Lumpur live having to pay toll commuting to work or to get from one point to another on a daily basis. Using RM400 million of taxpayers’ money for the benefit of only nine percent of the population has to be one of the silliest plans ever. People in Perlis, Sabah, Sarawak hardly pay any toll.

How the RM400 million would probably benefit all is by pumping the amount into fuel subsidies which would have made more sense to a layman like me. I spend RM600 on an average month on petrol. I just wish Najib would kick his useless advisers out for daring to even suggest such a stupid scheme.