Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Will Khairy demand for Maria Chin’s release since he mocked the opposition’s fear that SOSMA would be abused against peaceful assemblies when the Act was passed in April 2012?

The Securities Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) was passed in Dewan Rakyat on 17 April 2012.  The controversial new law intended to fight and counter terrorism was hotly debated by both sides of the House.

Among the issue which was most fiercely discussed was the fact that provisions of SOSMA could be used against individuals deemed to be “carrying out activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”.

The members of the opposition led by the then Opposition Leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had argued furiously that such a clause of involving “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy” was too broad and will be subject to abuse by the authorities.

However, the Member of Parliament for Rembau, Khairy Jamaluddin, and a Minister in Najib’s Cabinet today, had mocked the opposition’s fear, claiming that they were not only unfounded, the letter of the proposed law was extremely clear and had no room for the purported abuse.

Instead, in his speech on the 16th April 2012, he praised the SOSMA Bill which was tabled by the Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak himself, was “on the side of civil liberties”[1].
He criticised the Opposition Leader for not understanding that activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy means, “an activity carried out by a person or group of persons designed to overthrow or undermine Parliamentary Democracy by violence or unconstitutional means”.[2]

Subsequently, during his speech on the Amendments to the Penal Code (2012) the next day, Khairy further criticised the opposition’s position as “misleading” and reiterated that legitimate political dissent including peaceful assemblies or even, Bersih “is not detrimental to Parliamentary Democracy”.

“Saya dapati bahawa perbahasan daripada pihak pembangkang bukan mengelirukan tetapi amat lemah sekali sebab tidak mengkaji ataupun sengaja tidak mengakui bahawa sebenarnya apa yang dipinda ini tidaklah terlalu umum, tidaklah terlalu general, tidaklah terlalu longgar dan tidaklah satu peruntukan yang boleh ditafsirkan mengikut sesuka hati siapa-siapa pun.”

“…Kalau nak buat perhimpunan aman atau bersih pun, itu tidak detrimental to Parliamentary Democracy. Itu yang mereka [pembangkang] tak faham. Sudah cukup khusus daripada segi definisi yang diberi.”[3]

However, Bersih chairpeson, Maria Chin’s arrest under SOSMA three days ago has materialised all the fears expressed by the opposition MPs when the law was passed 4 years ago.  Despite only organising a peaceful assembly to seek free and fair elections to ensure a clean government, the Police are investigating her for “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy” and detained her under SOSMA.

The question now for the Youth and Sports Minister is, will he now accept that he was over-zealous in his defence of the SOSMA and Penal Code Amendment Bills and his confidence with the authorities’ interpretation of the Acts in the spirit that they were intended was badly misplaced?

More importantly, will Khairy Jamaluddin do the honourable thing now to demand that Maria Chin be immediately released because she has been wrongfully arrested?

Or will he, more likely, keep his mouth shut and pretend that he had never said in Parliament that the SOSMA and Penal Code Amendment Bills will not be used on peaceful assemblies or Bersih?

[1] Hansard 16/4/2012 p18
[2] Hansard 16/4/2012 p24
[3] Hansard 17/4/2012 p73

Friday, November 18, 2016

New exposés during Singapore trial revealed how SRC International had similarly misappropriated funds using the same dubious investment funds as 1MDB

Malaysians are now thoroughly familiar with how 1MDB has misappropriated some US$7 billion of investment funds, of which approximately US$731 million has ended up in the Prime Minister’s personal bank account at Ambank, as exposed by the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

One of the key modus operandi which was used by 1MDB to launder the funds was to first move the money into seemingly legitimate investment funds. Subsequently, these funds will then pass through the money to special purpose vehicles created by Jho Low and his associates to be utilised or further disbursed to third parties.

For example, the 2013 and 2014 financial statements of 1MDB which were previously audited by Deloitte Malaysia, showed that nearly US$1.6 billion were invested in overseas funds without the provision of any details.

From the US DOJ filings, we now know that 1MDB, via its subsidiary, 1MDB Global Investment Limited, had in 2013 invested the funds with Devonshire Growth Fund (US$646 mil), Enterprise Emerging Markets Fund (US$415 mil) and Cistenique Investment Fund (US$531 mil).  From these funds, a total of US$1.265 mil was transferred to two British Virgin Islands incorporated companies, Tanore Finance Corporation and Granton Property Holdings, owned by Eric Tan Kim Loong, an associate of Jho Low.  From Tanore, US$681 million was transferred to Dato’ Seri Najib Razak.

For SRC International which was funded with RM4 billion from Kumpulan Wang Amanah Persaraan (KWAP), the March 2014 financial statements audited by Deloitte Malaysia had disclosed a whopping sum of RM3.81 billion categorised as “investment portfolio outside Malaysia”.

Other than a US$60 million failed investment in Mongolia’s Gobi Coal and Energy Ltd which we have discovered via past parliamentary replies, Malaysians have been left in the dark as to where and what exactly these funds have been invested in.

Malaysians’ worst fears were realised when the Switzerland Attorney-General issued a public statement on 5 October 2016 that “the sum of US$800 million appears to have been misappropriated from investments in natural resources made by the SRC sovereign fund.”

“Secondly, it is suspected that a ‘Ponzi’ scheme fraud (i.e. paying the returns on initial investments from funds obtained from subsequent investors rather than from legitimate revenue from the investments) was committed to conceal the misappropriations from both the SRC fund and from 1MDB,” he further disclosed.

Last week, we have received confirmation from the Singapore courts where the trial of former BSI banker, Yeo Jiawei was being held, the money from SRC International have been launder throught the same vehicles used to mask the transfer of the 1MDB investment funds above.

Testifying at his own trial, Yeo said the scheme devised was for SRC International, to invest in a fiduciary fund called Enterprise Emerging Market Fund (EEMF) in 2011.  This is the same exact fund which was used by 1MDB to misappropriate US$415 million as mentioned above.

He explained that a fiduciary fund was one where the client, in this case SRC, will direct the manager of the fund on what to do with the money invested.

He also informed the court that SRC asked that EEMF extend a loan of US$100 million to a company called Blackstone Asia Real Estate Partners whose beneficiary owner is Eric Tan Kim Loong, like Tanore and Granton.  He further disclosed SRC then gave an indemnity that shielded BSI from responsibility should all the money be lost.

The revelations at the Singapore courts are explosive.  They not only lend credence to the suspicions and allegations that the RM3.81 billion “investments in overseas portfolios” in SRC International have effectively all been siphoned away, just like what has happened in 1MDB; they exposed the fact that these “investment funds” like EEMF received direct instructions from SRC as to how the funds are used and provided an indemnity to the relevant parties.

It above has proven firstly that EEMF, Devonshire and Cistenique investment funds are sham investments which 1MDB and SRC has participated in, secondly and more damagingly, that SRC directly given instructions for the funds to be siphoned to vehicles such as Blackstone.

We call on the Minister of Finance to come clean with the transactions which have taken place in SRC International.  We also call upon the authorities – the Police, the MACC and Bank Negara Malaysia to carry out full investigations, particularly on the Directors an Management of the company for the crimes of theft, criminal breach of trust and money-laundering.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai’s attempts to justify increase in ECRL price from RM29 bil. to RM55 bil. raises many more questions than answers

Finally, after more than a week of denying that the proposed East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) would cost a whopping RM55 billion, the hapless Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai finally conceded that the project would indeed cost RM55 billion or RM91.7 million per kilometer.

This admission came after slamming me on 8 November last week in The Star that I was making assumptions of the cost of the ECRL when it was still not finalised yet.  “We have to go into negotiation on every kilometre so where did he get the cost?” he had then asked.

The Transport Minister’s admission in Parliament yesterday came after the Pakatan Harapan law-makers exposed the existence of an extensive feasibility study by HSS Engineers Bhd which had estimated that the cost of the 545km project to be only RM29 billion or RM53.2 million per kilometer.

He then tried to defend the staggering increase in cost by arguing that:

The project has been extended from 545km to 600km to include the Gombak-Port Klang link – a fact which we have never disputed.

The HSS feasibility study is based on RM3.2 to the US Dollar in 2009-2010.
There is a new alignment resulting in an increase in tunnel length from 30km to 50km, which also results in additional viaducts.

Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai’s appears to be desperately making up responses to questions as they arise, as his answers raises far too many more questions on the highly questionable RM55 billion project.

The HSS feasibility study which cost the Government RM8.7 million was carried out over a 6-year period, starting in December 2009 and completing only in December 2015 before concluding on the cost of RM29 billion.

Is the Transport Minister telling us that HSS consultants, who have completed many mega-infrastructure projects in the country, are so stupid as to use the 2009-2010 exchange rates to calculate the cost of the project, even though they finalised the report only in December 2015 when the exchange rate was already RM4 to the Dollar by then?

Since the comprehensive HSS report had to take 6 years to complete and was finalised only in December 2015, how did the Government decide to suddenly alter the alignment within 6 months or so?  Was a new engineering consultant actually appointed to carry out a new study which could be completed in such a time-frame?

I would agree with Dato’ Seri Liow that if there is an increase in tunnel length through the Titiwangsa range from 30km to 50km, it would certainly increase the cost of construction.  However, it begs the question, why take a 50km tunnel route across Titiwangsa range if indeed HSS recommended the much shorter 30km route?

The Transport Minister had told the Parliament that “we have nothing to hide. We are a responsible, accountable and transparent government.”

If he really has nothing to hide, Datuk Seri Liow should immediately order that both the HSS feasibility study and the subsequent study which changed the scope of the HSS study be released to the public.

That way, if what Datuk Seri Liow said is right, then the Pakatan Harapan critics would have no choice but to shut up immediately.  Otherwise, the Transport Minister, who is also the MCA President has no right to accuse us of trying to “gain political mileage” when what we clearly want to ensure is not another project where tens of billions of ringgit are embezzled by the powers that be.  Instead it would be Datuk Seri Liow who is playing politics to cover up for another multi-billion ringgit mega-scandal.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

We challenge EPU Minister, Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan to make public the feasibility study conducted by HSS Engineering Group which was commissioned by the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC)

In our research over the controversy surrounding the 600km East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), we have discovered that the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC) has appointed HSS Integrated Sdn Bhd to conduct a feasibility study including engineering studies, ridership studies, systems and rail operation studies, environmental screning, land use and socio-economic impact studies and most importantly, a economic and financial evaluation.

HSS Integrated is part of HSS Engineers Bhd, an engineering company which is listed on Bursa Malaysia who have been involved in some of the biggest engineering projects in Malaysia.  Their rail experience would include the Electrified Double-Tracking from Ipoh to Padang Besar, the Sungai-Buloh to Kajang MRT I Line, the Ampang Line LRT Extension Project and the KLIA Express Rail Link.

They were appointed to carry out the ECRL feasibility study in December 2009 and completed their work in December 2015 and were paid RM8.7 million for their services.  As disclosed in the HSS Group’s Corporate Profile and Capability statement, the proposed route was approximately 545km in length from Kuala Lumpur to Tumpat, passing through Mentakab, Kuantan, Kuala Terengganu and Kota Bahru.

The full HSS Group profile and capability statement can be downloaded here: http://www.hssbim.com/docs/HSS_Company_Profile.pdf

Most importantly, HSS stated that the project value for the project was RM29 billion (pg 21), or approximately RM53.2 million per kilometer.  The study hence supports ECERDC CEO, Datuk Jebasingam Issac John who has previously been quoted by news reports in April 2014 that the ECRL will cost approximately RM30 billion.

Hence Pakatan Harapan elected representatives are absolutely right to heavily criticise the award of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project to China-owned China Communications Construction Company as excessively expensive RM55 billion or RM91.7 million per kilometer.

The Edge Financial Weekly had labelled the project as “the world’s most expensive” when compared to similar railway projects in Bangladesh and Kenya which were also being constructed by CCCC for only RM68.1 million and RM61.4 million respectively.  Another project in Ethiopia of which 40% of the 375km project to be built by a Turkish contractor, Yapi Merkezi on challenging terrain cost only RM18.1 million per kilometer.

The EPU Minister in-charge of the project, Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan tried to dismiss the “world’s most expensive” railway allegations by citing the Golthard rail project in Switzerland, the Madrid-Valladoid and the Barcelona lines in Spain costing significantly more per kilometer.

We have since debunked the EPU Minister’s comparison because those were nearly 100% rail tunnel projects and they were all High Speed Rail travelling up to 300km per hour, which we all know, cost substantially higher than conventional rail like the ECRL travelling up to 170km per hour.

In fact, the Golthard rail tunnel had to cut through the Swiss Alps and was as deep as 2.3 kilometers below surface.  As a comparison, even the most expensive tunnelling project in Malaysia to date, carried out for the MRT was only 45 meters at its deepest.

After being caught trying to sell ATP turboprops at Boeing 747 prices, the EPU Minister has changed his argument to insist that “all infrastructure projects cannot be compared directly”.  He is now trying to avoid the now-established claim that the ECRL at RM55 billion will indeed be the world’s most expensive in its class.

Of course it is a given that every rail project will be different.  However, the EPU Minister cannot claim that the ECRL has to pass through the Titiwangsa range which will require numerous tunnels and viaducts – as if it is the only such project in the world facing such “challenges”.

Hence, to end the “world’s most expensive” railway debate once and for all, we call upon Dato’ Seri Rahman Dahlan to make public the feasibility study carried out by HSS which would already have included the cost of having to cut through the Titiwangsa range with tunnels and viaducts.

The EPU Minister will then have to justify to Malaysians why did the Prime Minister award the contract to CCCC at RM91.7 million per kilometer which is 72.4% more expensive than the HSS study of RM53.2 million.

The failure to do so will only confirm Malaysians’ worst fears, that the RM55 billion ECRL over-priced project is an attempt to siphon up to RM25 billion to pay off 1MDB’s debts, to cover up for the tens of billions of ringgit which have been stolen and laundered overseas.

Rafizi Ramli
MP Pandan

Tony Pua
MP Petaling Jaya Utara

Dr Hatta Ramli
MP Kuala Krai

Monday, November 14, 2016

Bank Negara’s inaction and reticence, in stark contrast with Singaporean authorities' actions to protect the integrity of their banking system, abets the indictment of Malaysia as a global kleptocracy

I had on 31 October asked the Minister of Finance to state the actions taken by Bank Negara over the conduct of Ambank bankers, Joanne Yu and Cheah Tek Kuang for covering up money laundering transactions relating to the 1MDB.

The question was raised because The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had on 6 September 2016 made very specific allegations against Ambank Malaysia and its officials of facilitating and abetting money-laundering when billions of ringgit was transferred into the bank accounts of Dato’ Seri Najib Razak.

In making the allegations, the prestigious financial paper substantiated the claims with private conversations between senior Ambank officials with Low Taek Jho, who was carrying out the transactions on behalf of the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister had given Low access to his accounts, according to investigative documents sighted by WSJ. His primary contact at AmBank was Joanna Yu, the banker he had warned via BlackBerry to communicate discreetly. Cheah Tek Kuang, a senior AmBank executive and adviser to the bank’s chairman, handled the account personally, the BlackBerry messages indicate.

According to WSJ, Low sent hampers of food to Yu and lunched with her at noodle shops, according to the phone messages. He kept reinforcing the need for secrecy: “v v important no one should know in ambank besides u or cheah or get hold of statement,” one message said. “Cause if it gets on internet where funds were from then headache.”

Yu even made recommendations on which US correspondent bank – Wells Fargo or JP Morgan will raise less questions involving the transfers.

These messages clearly indicated a conspiracy by the above parties to at best, hide the transactions from scrutiny, and at worst, blatant masking of the illicit transactions as legitimate ones.

In his written reply, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak appeared to confirm the above allegations when he said that “Bank Negara has undertaken investigations on financial institutions relating to 1MDB under Financial Services Act 2013, Islamic Financial Services Act 2013, and Anti Money Laundering Act 2001… Based on the investigation results, enforcement actions have been duly executed by Bank Negara with the power provided to it under the law.”

However, we were never informed of what actions have been taken against Ambank or the bankers who have facilitated these illicit transactions.  In fact, as far as we are aware, both Joanne Yu and Cheah Tek Kuang are free men.

Cheah Tek Kuang who was the Group Managing Director of Ambank until his retirement in 2012 remains an advisor to the Chairman’s Office the Bank according to publicly available records.  He is also the Chairman of Berjaya Sports Toto and an Independent Director at IOI Group.

If Bank Negara has indeed taken action against him for abetting money laundering offences, can he still be Chairman and Director of publicly listed companies?

Bank Negara’s absence of any visible actions against Banks and its officers who were complicit in money laundering offences is in stark contrast with the actions taken by the Singapore authorities to defend the integrity of their banking system.

Former private banker Yak Yew Chee, who dealt with Jho Low and 1MDB has been jailed 18 weeks and fined S$24,000 for forging reference letters vouching for the Low family and for failing to report suspicious transactions involving tens of millions of dollars coursing through BSI bank in Singapore.  Yak will also surrender S$7.5 million to the State “to demonstrate his genuine contrition”.

Another former private banker with the Swiss BSI Bank, Yeo Jiawei is currently on trial over four charges for perverting the course of justice and another seven counts for money laundering, cheating and forgery over the same Jho Low and 1MDB-related scandal.

Unfortunately, the new Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia, Datuk Muhammad Ibrahim’s silence and reticence in tackling the above money laundering scandal will only serve to enhance Malaysia’s reputation as global kleptocracy.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Minister in Prime Minister’s Department, Dato’ Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan tried to pull a fast one by comparing the exorbitant cost of the East Coast Rail Link with complex High Speed Rail in Europe

Three days ago, Dato’ Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan, the Minister in-charge of Economic Planning Unit (EPU) responsible for the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) tried to deflect the allegations that the cost of ECRL was the most expensive in the world.

Unlike his fellow Cabinet Minister, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai who denied that the ECRL was to cost RM55 billion or approximately RM91.7 million per kilometer, the EPU Minister pretty much confirmed the cost of the project.  Instead he argued that it was not the most expensive in the world.

Dato’ Seri Rahman Dahlan gave the examples of a 57km rail project in Switzerland costing US$11.9 billion (RM50bn) or US$209 million (RM860 mil) per km to build; a 177km rail line in Madrid-Valladolid, Spain, costing US$5.48 billion (RM22.46bn) or about US$30 million (RM123 mil) a km; and a 48km rail project in Barcelona costing about US$8.12 billion (RM33.3bn) or US$170 million (RM697 mil) per km.

It is disastrous for Malaysia that the EPU Minister actually cited these projects as comparison to our own proposed ECRL.

Dato’ Seri Rahman Dahlan perhaps didn’t realise that the 57km Swiss Golthard rail project costing a whopping RM50 billion actually involved the building of the world’s longest tunnel as deep as 2.3km below the surface!  The neighbouring 56km Brenner rail project which is currently under construction costing just a shade less than Golthard, will be the second longest tunnel in the world when it’s completed in 2025.

Is the Minister telling us that the 600km ECRL link from Port Klang to Kota Bahru via Kuantan will be, if not completely, substantially underground to compare with the Swiss rail lines underneath the Alps?

Similarly, the Barcelona line costing US$8.12 billion has a length of 47.8 km, of which 43.71 km is underground and 4.9 km is on viaducts.

At the same time, the 177km Madrid-Valladoid line was only the first phase of the two-phase Madrid-Leon 342km rail line costing a total of US$6.34 billion.  That actually works out to only US$18.54 million (RM76 mil) per kilometer which is cheaper than the ECRL’s RM91.7 million per kilometer!

Most of all, all of the examples cited by Dato’ Seri Rahman Dahlan are not only tunnel-intensive, they are all High Speed Rail (HSR) projects which, as we know cost significantly more than conventional rail projects like ECRL.  These European HSRs travels up to a top speed of 300km per hour compared to the ECRL project proposed at 170km per hour.

Hence what the ignorant Dato’ Seri Rahman Dahlan attempted to do, intentionally or otherwise, is to try to sell Malaysians a ATP turboprop at the price of a Boeing 747.  Unfortunately for him, Malaysians are not that stupid.

The EPU Minister shouldn’t have to go around to world to try justifying the exorbitant cost of the ECRL project.  After all, this isn’t our first and only rail project.  He should very well know that the 329km Ipoh-Padang Besar and 179km Gemas-Johor Bahru double-tracking link cost RM44.0 million and RM39.8 million per kilometre respectively.  Amazingly, these projects such as the Ipoh-Padang Besar and Rawang-Ipoh links were all completed by local engineering and construction companies!

We challenge Dato’ Seri Rahman Dahlan to show proof that a conventional railway project would cost anything more than the above or that there are no local companies with the necessary expertise who are able to complete the ECRL project for far less than the RM55 billion awarded to China Communications Construction Company.

Rafizi Ramli
MP Pandan

Tony Pua
MP Petaling Jaya Utara

Dr Hatta Ramli
MP Kuala Krai

Monday, November 07, 2016

Does Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai really know what he is talking about when he said the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) doesn’t cost RM55 billion?

The Edge Financial Weekly quoted an executive from a construction outfit who said that at RM55 billion, the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) “could be the most expensive rail infrastructure project in the world in its class... it’s a good project but not at this ridiculous price.”

The Edge cited the examples of the 215km Padma rail line in Bangladesh and 120km Mombasa rail link in Kenya which were being constructed by China Rail Construction Corp for RM68.1 million and RM61.4 million per kilometer respectively.

For another project in Ethiopia awarded to Turkish contractor, Yapi Merkezi, the 375km Awash-Weldia railway line of which more than 40% is built on challenging terrain, the cost was only US$1.7 billion or RM18.1 million per kilometer.

The question hence arises as to why is the Malaysian government awarding the 600km ECRL project to China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) at RM55 billion or RM91.7 million per kilometer without any open competitive tender exercise?

The Minister of Transport, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai tried to allay the concerns of the Malaysian public by claiming that the RM55 billion is not the cost of construction.  Instead he claims that it is merely the value of the Financing Framework Agreement.

We have no idea whether the Transport Minister knows what he is talking about or whether he has even seen or read the above agreements given that his Deputy told the Parliament that he could not answer ECRL queries because it was not under the purview of the Transport Ministry but is instead under the Prime Minister’s Department control.

The question hence arises as to whether Datuk Seri Liow, who is also the MCA President is merely shooting off his hip, especially since the Prime Minister himself disclosed during his Budget 2017 address that “the 600-km rail will connect townships such as Port Klang, ITT Gombak, Bentong, Mentakab, Kuantan, Kemaman, Kerteh, Kuala Terengganu, Kota Bharu and ends in Tumpat, with an estimated cost of RM55 billion.”

Datuk Seri Liow even assured Malaysians that the construction cost of the ECRL was “very transparent” and that industry players were well aware of the cost per kilometre of the rail that would be laid.  If so, then why didn’t he reveal the “real” cost of the project then?

Even if Datuk Seri Liow does indeed know better than his Prime Minister, his response further begs the question as to why should Malaysia borrow RM55 billion if the cost of the rail project is significantly less?

Malaysians fear a repeat of the multi-billion dollar 1MDB scandal where the state-owned company borrowed US$3.5 billion and RM6.8 billion, or approximately RM18.3 billion (at the then exchange rate of US$1:RM3.30) to acquire Tanjong Power and Genting Sanyen power plants for RM10.8 billion.

As we know today, the balance of the proceeds from the borrowings, US$1.367 billion were siphoned to a fictitious British Virgin Island incorporated Aabar Investment PJS Limited under the guise of a “collateral” to secure the bond guaranteed by Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Corporation (IPIC). Of the misappropriated amount, the United States Department of Justice has alleged that US$30 million was transferred to Dato’ Seri Najib Razak’s personal bank account in Ambank while another US$238 million went to his stepson, Riza Aziz’s company in the United States, Red Granite.

The East Coast Economic Region (ECER) Development Council CEO, Datuk Jebasingam Issac John has previously been quoted by news reports in April 2014 that the ECRL will cost approximately RM30 billion.  If the figure cited is indeed true and is the same figure Datuk Seri Liow is referring to, perhaps the Transport Minister should enlighten Malaysians as to where the balance of RM25 billion to be borrowed from China’s Exim Bank for the ECRL project will go to.

Can Datuk Seri Liow or any other Cabinet Minister guarantee Malaysians that the excess borrowings will not be misappropriated, perhaps even to bailout of 1MDB debts which were stolen?  Is the Malaysian Government digging a bigger hole for itself in order to cover up the previous holes?

Friday, November 04, 2016

Ministerial replies in Parliament over the multi-billion dollar 1MDB scandal, when there were replies, has made a mockery of our august institution

When travelling overseas, Malaysians are now inundated with questions as to how Dato’ Seri Najib Razak remains firmly in power as the Prime Minister of Malaysia despite a few billion ringgit of funds which were misappropriated from a state owned investment firm finding its way into his personal account.

Foreigners are bewildered as to how our so-called democratic system could tolerate such unprecedented excesses.

The reason is simple.  Our parliamentary institution is a mere facade whose sole existence is to lend legitimacy to those who wield the ultimate power.  It is a pesky inconvenience which Dato’ Seri Najib Razak needs to tolerate to continue to present a semblance of a modern progressive nation.

When asked of the Prime Minister’s near total absence from Parliamentary sittings, the Honourable Speaker defended Dato’ Seri Najib Razak, claiming that the Prime Minister would have more important things to do than “to sit here and see the same face and then they (MPs) ask irrelevant questions”.

If even the Speaker of the House treats the elected Members of Parliaments with such contempt, little could be expected of the Ministers and Deputy Ministers who are left to respond to the obviously “irrelevant questions” from MPs.

Questions were asked about the actions taken by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission pursuant the charges laid out by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to seize more than US$1 billion of assets laundered by Low Taek Jho and the Prime Minister’s stepson, Riza Aziz with funds misappropriated from 1MDB.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Razali Ibrahim responded that there is no need for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to question Riza Aziz, the stepson of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, as he is not being probed for graft..

"For the MACC, Riza is not under a corruption probe so there is no need for the MACC to summon him (for questioning)", he said.

And when MP for Bayan Baru, Sim Tze Tzin asked about DOJ’s allegations that Riza had bought luxury properties overseas with 1MDB funds, Razali audaciously replied, "what's wrong if people with lots of money buy things?"

Obviously the point that these funds were stolen from funds managed by the Government did not matter to the Minister.

Separately the MP for Puchong, Gobind Singh asked about the need to re-open MACC’s investigations into the billions of ringgit found in the Prime Minister’s personal bank account in the light of the DOJ filings. Datuk Razali Ibrahim astonishingly responded that the concluded MACC probe on Dato’ Seri Najib Abdul Razak's RM2.6 billion ‘donation’ did not look into the origins of the money.

"We (the MACC) were only looking into corruption, not where the money came from,” he said.

"We can't make assumptions about 1MDB, because of things in the US and Switzerland… They may be looking at the money trail, we only look at the question of corruption," he added while wrapping up his part of the Budget 2017 debate speech, focusing on the MACC and Felda.

The answer is as bizarre as it is dumbfounding.  How can you rule out corruption if you fail to investigate the money trail?  In fact, the admission by the Minister that MACC did not bother investigating the money trail to trace the origins of the funds which ended up in the Prime Minister’s accounts only goes to justify the call for MACC to re-open investigations because they have failed to perform their duties thoroughly and competently.

However, the fact that the Ministers can get away with such nonchalant and nonsensical replies in the highest legislative body of the land epitomises the collapse of Malaysia’s democratic institutions.

With a cabinet full of Ministers that know no shame, it explains why despite the severity and credibility of the corruption and embezzlement allegations against the Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak remains firmly in grip of power.

The only way to remove Dato’ Seri Najib Razak and the ruling Barisan Nasional, is via the ballot box, even if Malaysians have to overcome the unfair electoral system.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Has Malaysia become the new rogue nation of this world?

Malaysia has always prided itself to be a progressive nation which built its foundations the principles of justice and moderation.  Even before our own independence, we have always been on the on the right side of history, fighting the Axis powers during the World War II and was part of the coalition to halt the rise of communism in Southeast Asia.

Even during the worst of times during the Mahathir’s era of an authoritarian regime, we have never been regarded as a basket case like Cambodia, Burma, Iraq or God-forbid, North Korea.

Our leaders have been reasonably well-educated and speak with the right tones to ingratiate ourselves well in a world led by the United States, Europe and Japan.  Even our current Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak had tried extremely hard to be part of international elite fraternity with his constant, albeit rhetorical preaching of the “global movement of moderates”.

Who can forget, how hard our Prime Minister tried to be buddies with President Obama and how proud he was when he had the rare opportunity to have a round of golf with the American President in Hawaii not too long ago in December 2014?

How quickly things have changed in less than 2 years.

In July this year, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has labelled Malaysia a kleptocracy, with the single largest seizure of assets purchased with funds laundered in the United States which were misappropriated from 1MDB.  While Dato’ Seri Najib Razak was not an owner of the assets to be seized, the DOJ explicitly disclosed that he received US$731 million of these misappropriated funds in his personal bank account in Malaysia.

Despite the severity of the accusation by the US Attorney-General, Dato' Seri Najib has refused to deny the allegations and has chosen to remain silent.

Instead today, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak has decided that it is now in his best interest to pucker up to mighty China.  After all, China doesn’t pass judgement on who they deal with, regardless of whether it’s a rogue nation like North Korea or a Western counterpart like United States.  China’s investments for influence policy reaches out far and wide to third world countries all around the world, especially in Africa like, Nigeria, Sudan and Angola.

After the much-hyped promise of Middle-Eastern petrodollars-led investment boom in Malaysia failed to materialise, the Prime Minister is turning to Beijing to not only jumpstart our economy, but also to help him clean up his multi-billion dollar 1MDB mess.

It is one thing eschewing open tenders for mega-projects in the past to local Malaysian cronies of the ruling parties.  Now, the Prime Minister has decided that we should eschew open tenders and award mega-projects at inflated prices like the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link to Chinese state-owned companies without any tender, or even the pretence of one.

Dato’ Seri Najib has decided to award of the above project to China Communications Construction Company Limited at a price more than double the price per kilometer of rail ever awarded in Malaysia with borrowings from China’s Export-Import Bank.  It is a clear attempt to siphon cash to payoff 1MDB’s outstanding debts, especially those embroiled with Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Corporation.

In exchange, Dato’ Seri Najib yields to Chinese geo-political and economic supremacy.  When the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal ruled that “there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line” in South China Sea, Malaysia has strangely refused to endorse the ruling despite the fact that we are ourselves laying claims on parts of the Spratlys archipelago in the area.

Worse, Malaysia together with Cambodia, has frustrated the attempts by ASEAN nations to recognise the ruling which had resulted in a meaningless water-down statement with regards to the disputes in South China Sea.

Yesterday, as if to hammer the nail into the coffin, the Prime Minister wrote in his special column in China Daily chastising the West including the “former colonial powers”, that “it is not for them to lecture countries they once exploited on how to conduct their own internal affairs today.”

It is a not so subtle statement to tell these Western powers that how Malaysia is a kleptocracy today isn’t any of their business.  If they are not happy with him, he is more than happy to embrace China, who couldn’t care less about how the Malaysian government leaders plunder the nation.

Dato’ Seri Najib Razak’s stand has much bigger implications to Malaysia than merely an attempt to play off one Superpower against another.  The Prime Minister’s brazen foreign policy switch will lead Malaysia, intentionally or inadvertently, down the road of becoming a rogue nation, globally snubbed and internationally derided.

As basket cases like Burma, Vietnam or even Iran redeems themselves with greater rapprochement with the international communities, it is frightening that a Prime Minister, consumed with the need to save himself is taking actions which will lead us down the slippery slope.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Dato’ Seri Najib Razak must explain to Malaysians why he has forsaken all forms of transparency and accountability in awarding the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project to a Chinese company

The Treasury-General Tan Sri Dr Irwan Serigar Abdullah had informed the media two days ago that Malaysia and China will sign the Framework Financing Agreement and Engineering, Procurement, Construction (EPC) Contract for the project yesterday.

Dr Irwan spoke to Malaysian media upon arrival in Beijing on Monday as part of the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Najib Razak who is on a six-day visit to the Chinese capital.

He said the railway link will lower transportation costs between the west and east coasts of peninsular Malaysia, bring down prices of goods and reduce travelling time. "It will also will help create more jobs and business opportunities for Malaysians, especially the rural folks," Dr Irwan said.

Malaysians are not disputing or objecting to the ECRL project or its benefits to the nation.

Malaysians are stunned that such a mega-project is being awarded without any form of transparency and competitive tender to ensure that we receive the best value for money.

Worse, the project was originally touted to cost RM30 billion, as opposed to a monstrous RM55 billion as announced in the Finance Minister’s budget speech.

As a measure of comparison, the 329km Ipoh-Padang Besar double-tracking project was awarded to MMC-Gamuda consortium for RM14.5 billion in 2003.  More recently in December 2015, the 179km Gemas-Johor Bahru link was awarded to China Railway Engineering Corporation for the sum of RM7.1 billion.  On average, the railway projects cost RM44.0 million and RM39.8 million per kilometre respectively.

However, at the cost of RM55 billion, the 600km ECRL will cost a monstrous RM91.7 billion per kilometre to construct.  That would mean that the ECRL will cost 108% and 130% more than northern and southern double-tracking projects respectively!

Tan Sri Dr Irwan Serigar tried to preempt questions on the project by claiming that the financing offered by China was a lower rate compared to the international market, coupled with a long repayment period of 20 years.

A favourable financing rate is not a justifiable excuse not to carry out a proper tender exercise.  Based on the above information we have, a financing rate that is say, 2% lower than other parties would never justify a 130% increase in the cost of the project!

If Dato’ Seri Najib Razak or Tan Sri Irwan Serigar think it is, then they should be sacked as the Finance Minister and Treasury-General respectively as they have obviously failed their mathematics in primary school.

Malaysians fear that the real reason why the ECRL project is awarded to China at grossly inflated prices is to hide future illegal money flows from the opaque Chinese companies to 1MDB creditors such as International Petroleum Investment Corporation (IPIC) to rescue the state-owned fund.  IPIC, in this case, is suing 1MDB for a massive US$6.5 billion.

As exposed by the Sarawak Report earlier in July, we fear that the “excess” from the inflated Chinese contract will be siphoned in a prearranged but illegal manner to bailout 1MDB.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Second Minister of Finance is living in a different planet for claiming 1MDB is not related in anyway to the Federal Government Budget

It is amazing how an UMNO MPs speaks when he is in or out of the Cabinet.

Dato’ Seri Johari Abdul Ghani, before he was appointed to the Cabinet in July last year, was one of the more vocal UMNO members of parliament who asked probing questions with regards to the unravelling RM50 billion 1MDB scandal.

Today, after being promoted to become the Second Finance Minister recently, he would tell Malaysians that 1MDB has nothing to do with the Federal Government budget.

In his explanation to Malaysiakini, he said the government's budget had nothing to do with 1MDB, which was managed by its board.

“A budget is a budget, 1MDB is 1MDB, they are two separate matters.  Budget is something that we present to the public to explain what the government is going to do - how to spend the money with the revenue. The budget has nothing to do with 1MDB. Please tell me which part is related,” he rationalised.

Instead, today we have former Cabinet Ministers, including the former Second Finance Minister, Datuk Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah asking probing questions about 1MDB and its very existence during his budget speech.

1MDB has everything to do with the Federal Government Budget not only because the global scandal has made Malaysia a renown kleptocracy and puts into question on why a tainted Dato’ Seri Najib Razak, who was found to have siphoned US$731 million into his personal bank account, is still the Finance and Prime Minister of Malaysia.

1MDB has everything to do directly with the Budget because Federal Government funds are being utilised to bail out 1MDB.

Most crucially, the Federal Government has given direct and indirect guarantees on RM5 billion and nearly US$8 billion, or an estimated combined RM32 billion worth of 1MDB’s borrowings and liabilities. If 1MDB fails to repay its loans and obligations, then the Finance Ministry will have to foot the bill.  RM32 billion will raise our targeted deficit of 3% of the GDP to 5.4%!

Any responsible Finance Minister will have the obligation to explain to the Malaysian tax-payers as to how the financial scandal will be resolved, especially since the much-hyped rationalisation exercsise which was supposed to by completed by June this year has collapsed.

The collapse was a result of the discovery that 1MDB has made as much as US$3.51 billion payment, according to information submitted by the 1MDB CEO, Arul Kanda to the Auditor-General, to a fraudulent Aabar Investment PJS Limited which was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.

As a result, the parent of the “real” Aabar Investment PJS of Abu Dhabi, International Petroleum Investment Corporation (IPIC) has brought a suit against 1MDB and the Malaysian Government to the Arbitration Court in London. Of interest is the fact that the Ministry of Finance Incorporated has indemnified IPIC of up to US$4.8 billion of 1MDB’s obligations.

The failure of Dato’ Seri Najib Razak in addressing the 1MDB issue, especially in the Budget, is a clear attempt to hide the scandal and cover up for the guilty parties, including himself, who had misappropriated billions of dollars from the state-owned investment firm.

It might be useful to remind Dato Seri Johari Abdul Ghani that in the Budgets prior to 2013, Dato’ Seri Najib was happily gloating about 1MDB projects and achievements in his Budget speeches and including the proposed 1MDB investments in Bandar Malaysia and Tun Razak Exchange in the data compiled for the Non-Financial Public Corporations (NFPCs).  If it was relevant for the Budget then, why is it suddenly not relevant today?

The Second Finance Minister should be ashamed of himself for failing the people of Malaysia after he has been appointed to the Cabinet to get to the bottom of the single largest scandal ever suffered by Malaysia, and instead turned into a stooge to defend the kleptocrats of this nation.

Treasury-General not telling the whole truth when dismissing Non-Financial Public Corporations as a time-bomb for Budget 2017

After the Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak announced the Budget for 2017, I had issued a statement warning of a time-bomb hidden in the depths of the Economic Report, often unnoticed in budget presentations.

In 2013, the budget deficit was 3.8%.  The figure declined to 3.4% and 3.2% in 2014 and 2015.  For this year, the Government estimates it to be 3.1% and is forecasting 3.0% for 2017.

However, what is the above relatively benign figures mask is the increasing shift of expenditure from the official Federal Government budget to state-owned corporations.  Hence in reality, Government spending is higher than ever, increasing the risk to the economy with larger borrowings and contingent liabilities.

Some of these hidden off-budget spending are exposed in the obscure Non-Financial Public Corporations (NFPC) Financial Position (Table 6.13 p161 Economic Report 2016/7 – see below).

NFPCs includes 29 key government-linked companies including Indah Water Konsortium, KTM Bhd, Telekom Malaysia, Malaysia Airlines Bhd, Malaysia Airport Holdings, Petronas, Prasarana, Syarikat Perumahan Negara, Tenaga Nasional, MRT Co and the UEM Group.

The table clearly showed that the the NFPC deficit which was a modest RM10.6 billion deficit in 2013 leaped astronomically to RM52.3 billion in 2014 and further increased to RM56.9 billion in 2015.  The estimated deficit for 2016 is currently RM50.5 billion.

Effectively, Government-owned enterprises are having much larger deficits than the Federal Government itself.  The Federal Government budget deficits for 2015 was RM37.2 billion.  In 2016, it is estimated to hit RM38.7 billion while the Government forecast RM40.3 billion for 2017.
When this matter was raised to the Treasury-General Tan Sri Irwan Serigar on Monday, he dismissed my warning that the NFPC deficit is a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode.

He said “NFPCs are Government-Linked Companies which huge investments, and they have borrowings… Everybody needs to invest”.

He further added that “It is a contingent liability, but its not a time bomb kind of thing as they can repay their loans.  They are big entities with large resources.

“For example, Tenaga Nasional and Telekom Bhd, they are making profits. If they have borrowings for their projects, are you going to say it’s a time-bomb?” Tan Sri Irwan asked rhetorically.

The Treasury-General is being extremely disingenuous by citing only the big public listed companies as examples.  Out of the list of 29 companies, there are also other companies which are generally well-managed and would have no problems servicing their financial obligations, such as Axiata and Petronas.

However, there are many other entities among the 29 which are nothing other than vehicles for Government expenditure which more likely than not, will never generate sufficient income to service their loan obligations.

Why didn’t Tan Sri Irwan Serigar point out the fact that Prasarana’s RM13 billion of debt and mounting expenses have only increased and requires annual Government grants to keep the company afloat?

Why didn’t he point out that MRT Co is undertaking a RM22 billion investment for the current Sg Buloh – Kajang line and is planning another RM26 billion MRT II line which is financed almost entirely debt which are never likely to be repaid without future Government support?

Or the fact that among the 29 companies lie many critically ill GLCs which had required or will require government bailout, such as Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTMB), Malaysia Airlines, Penerbangan Malaysia, Silterra Malaysia and Syarikat Perumahan Negara?

Worse, the list of 29 NFPCs isn’t even conclusive.  They leave out a number of other key Government-owned enterprises which heavily commit the federal government to meeting their obligations for many years to come.  This list will include PFI Sdn Bhd which took a RM30 billion loan from EPF to carry out general public infrastructure works, Pembinaan BLT with a RM10 billion debt to build police stations nationwise, and of course more recently controversial companies such as 1MDB and SRC International.

I call upon the Secretary-General to be stop creative accounting with the country’s national budget in order to manipulate the perception towards the Government’s financial position.  Such actions will only bring short term benefits but bring long-term pain, reminiscent of the Greek-type government spending which ultimately brought collapse to the country.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Apa sebabnya Menteri Kewangan merahsiakan pengurus dana dan bank kustodian bagi pelaburan “unit” yang dikatakan bernilai US$940 juta?

Laporan Ketua Audit Negara dan Laporan Jawatankuasa Kira-kira Wang Negara yang dibentangkan di Dewan Rakyat pada bulan April yang lalu telah menyatakan bahawa nilai dan aset sejumlah US$7 bilion (RM28 bilion) tidak dapat dikesan atau disahkan.

Antaranya ialah pelaburan “unit” bernilai US$940 juta yang pada masa itu disimpan dalam bank kustodian, BSI Bank di Singapura.  Ketua Audit Negara tidak dapat mengesahkan kewujudan dan nilai semasa pelaburan tersebut sebab 1MDB telah gagal menyerahkan sebarang dokumen daripada BSI Bank kepadanya walaupun dokumen telah diminta selama setahun.

Aset “unit” yang dikatakan bernilai US$940 juta ini merupakan baki aset yang ditebus daripada pengurus dana di Cayman Islands pada bulan January 2015.

Sehingga hari ini, “unit” yang disimpan di BSI Bank ini merupakan misteri sebab kalau 1MDB begitu terdesak kekurangan aliran tunai, sehingga terpaksa menjual aset-aset penting negara seperti penjanakuasa bebas dan hartanah emas seperti Bandar Malaysia kepada pelabur asing, kenapa pelaburan “unit” ini tidak dijualkan dahulu untuk membiayai hutang gergasi 1MDB?

Keengganan 1MDB untuk menyampaikan sebarang matlumat dan dokumen kepada Ketua Audit Negara, dan keputusan Deloitte Malaysia untuk menarik balik pengakuan kepada audit 1MDB bagi tahun 2013 dan 2014 mengemukakan keraguan besar terhadap kewujudan “unit” yang dipegang dalam BSI Bank tersebut.

Kini, lesen perbankan BSI Bank telah dibatalkan oleh kerajaan Singapura kerana didapati bersalah dari segi pengubahan wang haram yang berkaitan dengan skandal 1MDB.  Saya telah bertanya kepada Menteri Kewangan, apa telah terjadi kepada “unit” tersebut.

Inilah jawapan yang saya telah terima daripada YB Menteri Kewangan pada Hari Khamis yang lalu.  Beliau menyebut bahawa “Ahli Lembaga Pengarah Brazen Sky Limited mengesahkan bahawa sebuah bank berlesen antarabangsa telah diberi mandate sebagai custodian bank untuk mengambilalih peranan BSI Bank, Singapura.  Ahli Lembaga Pengarah Brazen Sky Limited juga telah melaporkan bahawa tiada perubahan status di dalam nilai pelaburan tersebut.”

Ini merupakan jawapan yang cukup tidak bertanggungjawab daripada Menteri Kewangan.

Pertama sekali, kenapa Menteri tak sebut, siapakah pengurus dana dan custodian bank yang baru?  Apakah kerahsiaan yang diperlukan sehingga nama tidak boleh dimaklumkan kepada Dewan Rakyat?

Dulu bila Menteri Kewangan ditanya siapa pengurus dana pelaburan 1MDB di Cayman Islands, Menteri Kewangan sama-sama enggan menamakan nama pengurus dana walaupun beliau menegaskan bahawa ia dilaburkan dalam sebuah syarikat kewangan yang berlesen.

Kini, kita faham kenapa Menteri enggan menamakan syarikat. Ini adalah kerana syarikat pengurus dana pada masa 1MDB membuat pelaburan telah didapati oleh Ketua Audit Negara bahawa syarikat itu tanpa lesen.

Adakah keengganan Menteri Kewangan untuk menamakan pengurusan dana “unit” ini adalah kerana ia juga tidak berlesen seperti syarikat di Cayman Islands yang dulu?

Adakah Menteri Kewangan takut bahawa kalau dinamakan, bank kustodian yang baru ini juga akan dibatalkan lesen perbankan seperti apa yang terjadi kepada BSI Bank Singapura?

Kedua, jawapan Menteri Kewangan tidak boleh diterima kerana beliau bertanggungjawab untuk memastikan kesahihan segala jawapan yang diberikan oleh syarikat yang dikawalnya.  Menteri Kewangan tak boleh jawab bahawa Ahli Lembaga Pengarah berkata bahawa apa-apa.  Menteri Kewangan kena pasti bahawa nilai “unit” itu benar-benar bernilai US$940 juta!

It is not right for the Finance Minister to try to protect himself with deniability.

Adalah jelas bahawa kesemua kekurangan keterbukaan dalam jawapan Menteri Kewangan ini menunjukkan bahawa adanya udang disebalik batu yang disembunyikan daripada rakyat Malaysia.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Economic Report 2016/7 exposes Dato’ Seri Najib Razak’s hidden budget time-bomb

Since the last general elections, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak has successfully managed the investment community’s perception of the “prudence” of the budget with declining budget deficits, albeit at a snail’s pace.

In 2013, the budget deficit was 3.8%.  The figure declined to 3.4% and 3.2% in 2014 and 2015.  For this year, the Government estimates it to be 3.1% and is forecasting 3.0% for 2017.

Despite the fact that Dato’ Seri Najib will never achieve his zero deficit target in 2020 at the current snail’s pace, credit should be given to the Finance and Prime Minister for the moderating deficit in the light of difficult economic conditions – that is if the deficit figures truly reflect government spending.

Even for a non-economist, you might raise an eyebrow as to whether deficit decline looked too “uniformly smooth” in a choppy global economy.  If you think that the numbers look too good to be true and have been manipulated, you are absolutely right.

In practically every budget in recent years, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak had announced multiple multi-billion ringgit projects such as the LRT Extension Project, the MRT I and II Projects and soon, the proposed High-Speed Rail and the RM55 billion East Coast Railway Link.

However, these spending were never reflected in the Government budget expenditure which showcased the “prudent” budget deficits.  Where did these massive spending disappear to?

You will find part of the answer in the Non-Financial Public Corporations (NFPC) Financial Position (Table 6.13 p161 Economic Report 2016/7 – see below).

NFPCs includes 29 key government-linked companies including Indah Water Konsortium, KTM Bhd, Telekom Malaysia, Malaysia Airlines Bhd, Malaysia Airport Holdings, Petronas, Prasarana, Syarikat Perumahan Negara, Tenaga Nasional, MRT Co and the UEM Group.

What is most alarming from the table is the NFPCs’ spending deficit.  In 2013, the NFPC deficit was a modest RM10.6 billion.  However, since then, the NFPC deficit leaped astronomically to RM52.3 billion in 2014 and further increased to RM56.9 billion in 2015.  The estimated deficit for 2016 is currently RM50.5 billion.

To lend context and perspective to the scale of these NFPC deficits, the Federal Government budget deficits for 2015 was RM37.2 billion.  In 2016, it is estimated to hit RM38.7 billion while the Government forecast RM40.3 billion for 2017.

In lay man’s terms, the Government has hidden the bulk of its excessive spending under the NFPCs to maintain a semblance of “moderate” budget deficit.  However, so much spending has now been shifted to these NFPCs, that the NFPC deficit has grown by leaps and bounds to now become even bigger than the Federal Government deficit!

To make matter worse, the 29 GLCs accounted in the NFPC does not include debt stricken 1Malaysia Development Bhd which is mired in more than RM20 billion of debt.

There is no question that the NFPC deficit is the biggest time-bomb to the Malaysian public finances.  We can already feel its ticking with the rapidly rising “Debt Service Charges” which the Government is forced to bear annually.  This is caused in no small part, to the Government being obligated to pay for interest and loans which the NFPCs are unable to fulfil.

The Federal Government Debt Service Charges have increased from RM20.3 billion in 2013 to a projected RM28.9 billion in 2017.  The increase will only accelerate and snowball as NFPC financial obligations arising from the massive deficits are realised in the years to come.

By the time the time-bomb explodes, the 2017 Budget which is already depressing, will feel like a Hawaiian vacation on hindsight.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Budget 2017 proved that the Government is not only running out of cash, but the situation will only deteriorate further, making 2017 possibly one of the worst years for ordinary Malaysians

Federal Government failed to meet 2016 revenue targets

Last year, Dato’ Seri Najib Razak announced in his budget that the Government expected to collect RM225.7 billion of revenue for 2016. However, the 2016 revenue has now been revised to RM212.6 billion based on the latest estimates.  That represents a very substantial 5.8% or RM13.1 billion shortfall for 2016.

To put things into perspective, and to highlight the severity of situation, more often than not in the past, the Government will collect more than they projected. 

The shortfall has in turn caused lower than projected operating and development expenditure.  The Government now estimates 2016 operating expenditure to drop from RM215.2 billion to RM207.1 billion, while development expenditure will drop from RM50 billion to only RM45 billion.

For example, this is the reason why we are seeing a substantial shortfall in health expenditure, resulting in shortages of reagents for conducting critical blood tests as well as increase in cost of medication for the man on the street.

The ability of the Federal Government to allocate the already limited operating expenditure budget is further constricted by Emoluments and Debt Servicing

In fact, it will only get worse in 2017 as the sins of the past catch up with the Government of the day.

The increasing size of the civil service has ensured that the “Emolument” payments for 2016 has increased by RM3.8 billion to RM73.9 billion despite the RM8 billion decline in operating expenses.  For 2017, the Government has further projected that emoluments will increase further by at least RM3.6 billion.  In the meantime, pension contributions, or “Retirement Charges” will also increase substantially from RM19.0 billion in 2016 to RM21.8 billion in 2017.

In addition, the annual “Debt Service Charges” – the instalments and repayments the Government has to pay for loans taken in the past – has increased significantly.  For 2016, it is estimated at RM26.6 billion or a RM2.36 billion hike from 2015.  For the next year in 2017, the amount would further increase to RM28.9 billion.  This is as a result of the Government’s reckless ramping up of Federal Government debt over the past decade on the back of high oil prices.

The twin increases in emoluments & retirement charges and debt service charges in the context of constricted revenue and operating expenditure would only mean less funds for other crucial expenses.

“Subsidies and social assistance” has already been reduced from RM39.7 billion in 2014 to RM27.3 billion (2015) to an estimated RM24.6 billion (2016).  It will be further reduced to RM22.4 billion in 2017.

There will also be less money for medicine supplies, housing, scholarships and other forms of educational support.

Federal Government is overly optimistic on its 2017 revenue projections

Finally, the only reason the Government was still able to project a “moderate” 3% budget deficit for 2017 was by giving an optimistic projection in its tax revenues.  Despite a significant drop in the estimated Petroleum Income Tax (PITA) from RM11.6 billion in 2015 to RM8.5 billion in 2016, the Government is assuming higher oil prices and demand for 2017 to collect RM10.6 billion.

The Government also assumes an increase in Corporate Income Tax (CITA) despite no corresponding assumption in a higher economic growth rate. CITA actually declined marginally in 2016 to RM63.2 billion from RM63.7 billion in 2015.  However in 2017, the Government has inextricably projected that it would receive RM69.2 billion.

Similarly, despite a declining trend of Goods and Services Tax (GST) collection in the recent quarters, the Government is still projecting an increase in collections of GST from RM38.5 billion in 2016 to RM40 billion in 2017.

All the above goes to prove that the Government is running out of cash very quickly and is struggling to balance its revenue and expenses.  The Government’s excesses of the past – including increasing the civil service hires to reduce graduate unemployment, excessive borrowings to finance inefficiency, corruption and wastages have severely constricted the Government’s ability to allocate expenditure today.  

Hence when the overly optimistic projections in government revenue collection fail to materialise, we can expect 2017 to be a very painful year for ordinary Malaysians.