Friday, November 26, 2010

Penang Port to be Privatised?

DAP seeks details on Penang Port takeover
UPDATED @ 05:11:46 PM 24-11-2010By Clara Chooi November 24, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 24 — DAP raised questions today over the widely-speculated takeover of the troubled Penang Port by tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary and demanded that the government disclose the full details of the privatisation process.

Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua pointed out to reporters in Parliament today that the port operations was already fraught with malpractice and irregularities, as underlined in the recent Auditor-General’s 2009 report, and was poised for a probe by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in about two weeks’ time.

Pointing to a speculative report carried in Singapore’s Business Times on Monday, Pua noted that if the takeover did take place, it would be yet another direct affront to the government’s many promises of transparency and public accountability as underlined under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s New Economic Model (NEM).

Pua described the move as another privatisation process “ala-Dr Mahathir” and questioned why the government had not conducted an open tender to allow the best bidder to develop the Penang Port.

“What we are disappointed so far with Najib, in terms of his economic policy and his privatisation policies, there has been zero change as government entities are being privatised despite various failures that have been carried out in the 1980s and the 1990s. We have seen failures in the LRT system, the bus system, water companies and unfair contracts with the Independent Power Producers (IPPs). The same way of privatising government entities are continuing... why isn’t there an open tender to see who can best develop the Penang Port? How much investment can they bring to the port, to upgrade it into a world-class port in the region?” he asked.

According to the news report, the government was likely to give the nod to port magnate Syed Mokhtar to take over ownership of Penang Port.

Syed Mokhtar is presently known as the biggest port operator in the country with his flagship company MMC Corporation, and owns two of the country’s busiest ports — Tanjung Pelepas and the Johor Port in Pasir Gudang.

Pua questioned the government’s agreement with Syed Mokhtar in the impending handover and demanded that all details be fully disclosed for public consumption.

“It seems now that all you need to do is know BN before you can get a contract. We do not know the terms and conditions of this privatisation process and we call upon the government to disclose all details. What type of site infrastructures will they have to pay, what kind of guarantee does Syed Mokhtar have to give and also, what type of guarantee the government has to give to Syed Mokhtar,” he said.

He noted that Najib was not sticking to his guns on his promises of transparency and accused the premier of carrying out policies similar to his predecessor in the government, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“We hope this privattisation will improve the performance of Penang, and not require assistance from the government, in terms of guarantees, letters of support and so on,” he said.

Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi said that the Penang government felt “insulted and shortchanged” that the handover of Penang Port was not being done via open tender.

“The first right of refusal of any form of privatisation should be given to the Penang state government,” he said.

Ooi also called for the suspension of Penang Port chief executive officer Datuk Ahmad Ibni Hajar over reports of malpractices and irregularities in the port operations.

“The Penang government has suffered and contributed a lot through concessions given to the port authority, including the valuable prime land that has been alienated to them... notably, the one that is at the North Butterworth Container Terminal.

“According to the A-G’s report, there were a lot of malpractices here and the failure of the management has contributed to the sorry state of affairs. We want the CEO to be investigated by the CEO and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission,” he said.

He added that Ahmad was also the Umno division chief for Tanjong since 2001 and between 1999 and 2001, he was also appointed the executive chairman of the company.

Penang Port’s board of directors chairman, he added, was Datuk Hilmi Yahya, the former parliamentary secretary in the Finance Ministry and a current state assemblyman in Pahang. Penang Port Sdn Bhd is a wholly government-owned subsidiary under the Finance Ministry.
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