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Mahathir: Privatisation not the solution for Malaysia Airlines

Publication Date : 13-08-2014


While certain quarters are for Malaysia Airlines’ (MAS) privatisation, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the move might not change anything to revive the ailing airline.

In his blog, Dr Mahathir said he was “mystified” by the proposed privatisation of the ailing national carrier.

“If a company is fully acquired by a government company, is it privatisation or nationalisation?

“Yes, a company that is owned 100 per cent by one entity is not a public company. It is a private company. But if that person or entity is the government, can it be said to be private?” he questioned yesterday.

Last Friday, state-owned Khazanah Nasional Bhd had proposed a buyout of MAS at 27 sen a share, or 1.4 billion ringgit (US$438,600 million), in a bid to delist and overhaul the loss-making flag carrier.

Khazanah currently owns about 70 per cent of MAS shares, which means it has almost absolute control over the airline, Dr Mahathir said.

“So, Khazanah has been in full control of MAS all this time. And all this time, MAS has been bleeding profusely. In 10 years, it has lost 10 billion ringgit ($3.13 billion) in terms of capital injection,” he said.

He then questioned how having full control of MAS would change things.

“I may be wrong but I think Khazanah’s 100 per cent ownership of MAS will not be much different from its 70 per cent ownership.

"We are going to see a lot of new people who will receive huge salaries, allowances and bonuses and not much else. That I believe is how Khazanah operates,” Dr Mahathir said.

In fact, he explained that with no one to check and give concerned criticism as when there were minority shareholders, the MAS (turnaround) could go very wrong indeed.

In a true privatisation, Dr Mahathir pointed out that the fear of losing money on the part of the private owner would force him to scrutinise the management and check the balance sheets frequently.

“But the government as the owner would be less concerned. The government is about spending money. Any shortages (or losses) can be overcome by increasing taxes or borrowing money.

"The way money is being spent nowadays doesn’t indicate the kind of careful financial management and scrutiny that MAS would require in order to turn around,” he said.

In retrospect, he recalled that MAS had once appointed a new CEO some years ago and registered some profit via the sale of assets.

“How much more assets can MAS sell?” he questioned.

Another concern of Dr Mahathir was on the catering contract. “Catering was given to a company with a very long-term contract and even as MAS loses money, the contractors seem to be doing well,” he said.


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