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Ministerial direction needed on privatisation of Malaysia Airports – Ahirudin Attan

MALAYSIA’S main gateway KLIA has lost its lustre, plunging from 20th place a decade ago to 71st in 2024. 

Khazanah Nasional Bhd and EPF have done a decent job explaining why a “new” MAHB is desperately needed to regain our competitive edge but Malaysians need a ministerial direction on the privatisation of Malaysia Airports, especially given the controversies manufactured by the usual suspects. 

For this, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as finance minister, or the transport minister has to respond to concerns raised.

It is good that the two major shareholders of Malaysia Airports Holding Bhd (MAHB) have come out in defence of their plan to take MAHB private.

Now we have some facts to help us make a more informed decision on whether the plan by the two – Khazanah and EPF – makes sense.

Before this, all we were hearing was that the government, EPF and Khazanah were “selling out our country/asset/sovereignty” by taking Malaysia Airports private.

That the exercise would compromise national security. That Gateway Development Alliance (GDA), the consortium EPF and Khazanah will be using for the exercise, will have BlackRock, a Zionist sympathiser, as partner. 

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, the former law minister, went so far as to claim that the exercise could make Malaysia “a vassal state of the US”.

All bollocks, these claims and accusations, or so Khazanah managing director Datuk Feisal Wan Zahir and EPF chief executive officer Ahmad Zulqarnain Onn told Bernama.

Khazanah and EPF have explained the scaling up of KLIA through privatisation. 

In a nutshell, Feisal and Zulqarnain are telling us that:

1. Khazanah and EPF will together hold 70% of MAHB upon privatisation, significantly more than the 41% they own now;

2. Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) and Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (Adia), Malaysia’s two partners in the consortium GDA, will hold only 30% – the New York-based GIP 25% and Adia 5%;

3. BlackRock is not a partner in GDA;

4. The Malaysian government will hold the golden share in the new MAHB, which will give Putrajaya veto power;

5. The board of the privatised MAHB will have a Malaysian as chairman;

6. The CEO will also be Malaysian;

7. Not a single Malaysian employee – or Bangladeshi or Indonesian, for that matter – working in MAHB will be retrenched in the exercise.

Pretty decent defence and assurances by Feisal and Zulqarnain but personally I think the government has to step up and explain this move.

It won’t be asking too much for the prime minister as the finance minister to issue a ministerial direction on the privatisation of MAHB.

What does the Madani government have in store for MAHB? Tell us where (and how) exactly MAHB and our airports will be in 10 years.

Most importantly, who will lead the board and management of Malaysia Airports and KLIA?

Tan Sri Tony Fernandes once quipped: “Running an airport is not rocket science but what an airport can’t afford is a poor board.”

KLIA, our main gateway operated by MAHB, is not what it used to be. In 2014, KLIA ranked 20th on Skytrax’s Top 100 Airports in the World but today we have dropped to number 71.

If we don’t do something drastic, KLIA could be out of the Top 100 list soon.

Admit that this sorry state MAHB is in was self-inflicted: Malaysia Airports, as Feisal pointed out, had not been investing enough to improve services at KLIA and our other airports.

In the last five years, Thailand invested RM6.6 billion in its airports and Indonesia spent RM12 billion. MAHB’s capex during that period was RM1.4 billion!

No good will come from witch hunting but accountability demands that the Finance Ministry, the Transport Ministry, EPF and Khazanah, Mavcom and the current and previous boards of MAHB share the blame for allowing the rot to fester for far too long.

That only the PM, or his second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Amir Hamzah Azizan, can do.

Finally, having Malaysians lead the board and top management of the new MAHB is desirable but what we also need are qualified, experienced Malaysians who will put the nation’s interests before their own.

Do we have the right people to sit on the board of the privatised MAHB? Yes, we actually do have world-renowned experts in the fields of aviation and airports. Some of these Malaysians sit on international aviation bodies and run major airports abroad. 

But in the last decade of MAHB’s steep decline, the relevant authorities have preferred to appoint their political cronies and college buddies to fill up these jobs. This bad practice must stop. – ScoopM

Datuk Ahirudin Attan, also known as Rocky Bru, is executive director of Big Boom Media, which publishes Scoop. He is also president of the National Press Club.

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