07Ogos2020

Agenda Daily

DELIVERING THE GOODS

While on the one hand the government’s recent win in the Hulu Selangor by-election shows that the people are still behind it, there are other areas in its efforts to make good the promise of transparency and accountability that are still lacking, as indicated by the recent boo-boos concerning the mysterious handing over of two blocks of petroleum concessions off the coast of Sabah to Brunei and the shooting dead of a 15-year-old boy in Shah Alam by the police.

 

IT’S TIME FOR THE MIC PRESIDENT OF 31 YEARS , Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu, to make good his promise to turn the party over to his anointed successor, Datuk G Palanivel.

Given the boost enjoyed by the MIC in recent weeks, sans his active participation, the passing of the baton now should give the party enough time to regroup and recoup lost ground.

Samy Vellu has no more reason to whine and delay his departure. Thanks to the correct choice by the Barisan Nasional (BN), the MIC novice candidate, P Kamalanathan, successfully recaptured the Hulu Selangor Parliamentary seat.

Though Kamalanathan was not Samy Vellu’s choice, his victory over Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s Datuk Mohd Zaid Ibrahim was a strong indication that the MIC still has a role to play in the BN.

The BN, in particular Prime Minister Datuk Sen Mohd Najib Abdul Razak, did not altogether ignore Samy Vellu’s wishes, when Palanivel was made a Senator and may soon be given a government post.

If Samy Vellu makes a graceful exit now, there is still time for the MIC to strengthen itself and regain the support of the Indians in the three years before the next general election.

I am sure if he makes a graceful exit, the Prime Minister will show the government’s usual appreciation by suitably honouring him like other retired heads of BN parties.

After three decades of a tumultuous leadership, which saw him edging out countless promising MIC leaders, and finally suffering a rout in the 2008 general election, the time could be running out for the party, unless Samy Vellu makes way for younger and untainted leaders.

Kamalanathan’s victory showed that Malay and Indian voters were more amiable towards a younger MIC leader than Samy Vellu’s ally Palanivel.

If the outcome of the Hulu Selangor by-election is any indication, then the ties between Umno and the MIC are a binding one.

That the Malays, who form 54% of the voters, would support an MIC candidate at a time when the Chinese support for the DAF was becoming entrenched, should not miss the attention of the BN leadership.

The Malays, Indians, the Orang Asli and the natives of Sarawak and Sabah have many things in common — the most prominent being their inferior economic status and widespread poverty.

Also, given the higher birth rates and lower tendency to migrate, the Malays, Indians, the Orang Ash and the natives of Sarawak and Sabah will in future form a much larger proportion of the population.

The New Economic Model (NEM) and all other policy initiatives of the government cannot be considered to imbue the spirit of iMalaysia if the interest of these communities are not safeguarded and promoted.

TAKING A TOLL

AFTER a year of privately making an approach to the Prime Minister to take over all the toll highways in the country, the promoter, Asas Serba Sdn Bhd, on May 3 made public its proposal.

It held a Press conference in Kuala Lumpur to explain its RM50-billion takeover offer.

Its director, Ibrahim Bidin, revealed that the proposal had been submitted to the Ministries of Finance and Public Works, and to the Prime Minister’s Department.

With a promise of relieving the taxpayers of massive debts and offering the highway users lower toll rates, the proposal can no longer be dismissed as outrageous.

It is now incmnbent upon the government to study the proposal seriously to determine the validity. For the company, its strongest affies are the highway users.

Asas Serba, among other things, promised an immediate 20% discount on existing toll rates and no further toll increases.

Users will pay 11.97 sen a km for using the North- South Expressway as opposed to the 2002 rate of 12.36 sen, over the next i8 years, which is the tenure of PLUS Expressways Bhd’s concession.

For the taxpayers in general, it promised that the government would no longer have to bear the burden of toll rate subsidies since there would be no rate increases.

Ibrahim, a former senior executive of PLUS Bhd, the operator of the North-South Highway, said the savings on subsidies payable by the government could be as much as RM114 billion.

The North-South Highway toll has not been raised or only partially due to public objections for several years now. This means that the Government has been using taxpayers’ money to compensate PLUS and other affected highway operators.

Last year, the compensation to PLUS alone amounted to RM813 million — rising steadily from RM171 million in 2005. Between 2005 and 2009, the compensation to the North-South Highway operator amounted to a whopping RM3.06 billion. Under the concession agreement, the toll rates would climb to almost 30 cents a km by 2029.

In other words, although concession companies show healthy profits and pay reasonable dividends, a large chunk of their revenue comes from compensation. It’s unfair to continue to burden the taxpayers, as not all of them are toll highway users.

As for the fear that the issuance of bonds by the new concession company (NCC) would flood the local bond market, Asas Serba sources argue that the proposed exercise would merely ‘recycle’ the existing bonds of the various concession companies as one mega dividend bond.

What Asas Serba is promising is a higher bond yield of between 9% and 12% as opposed to the 6% to 7% currently paid by PLUS.

As for the shareholders of the various concession companies, they may choose to cash out or stay as investors in the NCC. It is estimated that at the prevailing market price, Khazanah Nasional Bhd stands to earn some RM10 billion if it cashes out. But it may not.

Bursa Malaysia maybe affected initially as the listed concession companies are taken off the bourse. But the bond market will gain from the infusion of the NCC’s dividend bonds.

The shareholders ofAsas Serba are the Kuala Lumpur Malay Chamber of Commerce President Datuk Syed Amin Aljeffri, Sepang Aircraft Engineering Sdn Ehd Chief Executive Officer Syed Budriz Putra, and the former director of Babcock & Brown and Fieldstone International Wan Kamaruddin Wan Mohamed Au.

With the government harping on innovation and the progressive reduction of budget deficit, Asas Serba’s proposal merits close examination, and should be fully endorsed if it meets legal and financial criteria.

Above all, the government has to be open with the people because Asas Serba is offering to lighten their financial burden. What sounds outrageous to the simple ears may not necessarily be invalid or unviable.

STICKY BUSINESS

IT WOULD appear that the government and its agencies are yet to rid themselves of the public relations kinks in their efforts to make good the promise of transparency and accountability.

Two recent incidents, namely, the mysterious handing over of two blocks of petroleum concessions off the coast of Sabah to Brunei and the shooting dead of a 15-year-old boy, Aminnirasyid Amzah, by the police in Shah Alam are examples of serious public relations failures.

This has happened at a time when the government is supposed to have beefed up and upgraded its public relations machinery.

In addition to a retinue of official media advisers and friendly editors, the government and its agencies have also signed up local and international public relations companies to assist in developing and implementing public relations programmes.

But going by the amount of confusion, cynicism and skepticism among members of the public over key policies and programmes such as iMalaysia, the NEM and the Government Transformation Programme, their handy work is yet to show convincing results.

The controversy over the oilflelds would have not arisen had the government of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi been truthful in explaining the outcome of the exchange of letters he made with the Sultan of Brunei on March 16, 2009.

Nothing was said about the handing over of the oilfields to Brunei. What Abdullah did was to claim that as a result of the agreement, the longstanding issue of Bmnei’s claim over Limbang in Sarawak had been resolved.

Two days later, the Brunei government via its Foreign and Trade Minister, Lim Jock Seng, was quoted by The Brunei Times as saying that the issue of the claim over Limbang was not ‘discussed’ in the agreements signed between the Sultan and Abdullah. Ironically, neither Abdullah nor Wisma Putra refuted the Brunei statement.

The news that Malaysia had lost control of the oil fields surfaced only when The Edge newspaper quoted American oil contractor, Murphy Oil Corporation as saying that its contract with Petronas to produce oil in two blocks, designated Land M, had been terminated ‘because they no longer belong to Malaysia’.

Petronas signed two Production-sharing contracts with Murphy Oil and Petronas Carigali on Jan 16, 2003 to develop the two deepwater blocks.

The media revelation prompted former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is also Petronas adviser, to write in his blog demanding an explanation and claiming that the national oil company was not represented in the negotiation between Abdullah and the Sultan of Brunei.

His scathing attack sent Abdullah, the government Wisma Putra and Petronas scrambling for cover. Soon, stories were spun that the handover was a win-win decision.

In the business of public relations, delayed information is a sure way of creating suspicion. Had Abdullah and his media spinners informed the public and explained the rationale for the handover, the reaction might not have been this negative.

But how could they when they handed over the oilfields to Brunei believing that the latter would renounce its claim over Limbang, but did not.

Having been implicated byAbdullah in the agreement he signed with the Sultan of Brunei, Mohd Najib’s administration has no choice but to come up with excuses to justify the handover.

Wisma Putra, for instance, claimed that the blocks are in Brunei’s Exclusive Economic Zone while Petronas said that the invitation to co-develop them was a win- win formula.

Abdullah claimed that he received the approval of the Cabinet to enter into an agreement with the Brunei Sultan.

REPAIRING THE IMAGE OF THE POLICE

AS for the tragic incident of the police shooting dead the 15-year-old boy, who allegedly failed to stop the car he was driving, the subsequent public relations response was nothing short of a disaster.

Soon, the public ignored the fact that the boy, being underage, was driving illegally and was roaming the streets at 2am with a friend of the same age, and blamed his death squarely on the police instead.

Apart from the nagging suspicion that there are one too many trigger-happy policemen patrolling the streets, the way the police top brass explained the incident heightened public indignation.

The Royal Commission for the Enhancement of the Operations and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police in its 2005 report and during its sitting had repeatedly urged the police to be careful in discharging firearms and to be diplomatic and courteous when dealing with the public.

Although the government recently claimed that all the 125 recommendations of the Commission except one had been implemented it is obvious that they are yet to significantly improve the operations and administration of the police.

Perhaps the Home Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, should consider reassembling all or several former members of the Commission to monitor the implementation of the report.

The appointment of three of them — Tun Mohammed Hanif Omar, Datuk Michael Yeoh and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria — to be among the members of the panel investigating the killing of the 15-year-old schoolboy, could be a start.

Other members of the panel are lawyer Datuk Seri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) lecturer Prof Madya Datuk Abd Halim Sidek and criminologist Kamal Affandi. Deputy Home Minister Datuk Wira Abu Seman Yusop is chairman, while Deputy Secretary General(Security) of the Home Ministry Datuk Ahmad Fuad Ab Aziz, secretary. Hishammuddin may want to make the establishment of the long-delayed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) his legacy as the minister responsible for the police.

Without outside interference and monitoring, it is difficult to patch the tattered image of the police and bring back public confidence.

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