(Petaling Jaya, Friday): It is another great blot on Malaysian journalism that the shocking revelation by Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli that the government had not carried out any independent professional valuation when it ageeed to pay a hefty premium for his 29.09 per cent block of shares in Malaysian Airline System (MAS) was blacked out in the local mass media, both printed and electronic, and that this story had to be broken by the foreign media, the Singapore Business Times, more than a fortnight later after the disclosure.
The Singapore Business Times reported yesterday that Tajudin made the revelation that no independent professional valuation was ever done when the government agreed to pay RM8 per share representing a premium of RM4.32 or 117 per cent over the closing market price at RM3.68 per share when the deal was signed on 20th December 2000.
It reported that Tajudin told minority shareholders of Naluri Bhd, in which he owns 47 per cent, in a circular dated Jan 22, 2001: "No independent valuation was carried out for the said sale consideration". Naluri owned 29.09 per cent of the national carrier.
Naluri Bhd expects to realise a loss of about RM4.8 million from the proposed disposal of its 29.09% stake in MAS to the government. Ramli said in the circular to shareholders that the audited net book value of the shares at Dec. 31, 1999 was about RM1.796 billion while Naluri has proposed to dispose of the MAS stake for about RM1.792 billion.
The proceeds of the proposed sale, for which the company will seek shareholder approval tomorow, will come in handy for debt-laden Naluri - RM927.4 million will be used to retire Naluri's debts, while the balance of RM864.5 million will be for new business ventures. In the meantime, Naluri will place the remaining proceeds in banks and earn RM24.2 million a year -- more than the loss of RM4.8 million from the disposal.
The Star reported Tajudin's circular to shareholders on Tuesday, but it conspicuously omitted the vital information that the government had not carried any independent valuation when it decided to overpay Tajudin by 117% over the market price in the RM1.79 billion bailout of his 29.09% stake in MAS.
It is such self-serving self-censorship by the mainstream media in the country to avoid highlighting scandalous government decisions or misjudgements which are the cause for the low public esteem and credibility of Malaysia's muzzled press.
Malaysians, as taxpayers and voters, are entitled to know on what basis the government decided to overpay Tajudin by 117% over the market price in the RM1.79 billion buyout bailout of his 29.09% stake in MAS without any independent professional valuation - and whether this is purely at the whims and fancies of the few key government decision-makers and if so, whether there had been any criminal breach of trust in the misuse of public funds to overpay by 177% the MAS stake when compared to the market price.
The new Attorney-General Datuk Ainum Mohamed Saaid should consider whether crimes such as criminal breach of trust had been committed in overpaying Tajudin Ramli by 117% over the market price in the RM1.79 billion government buy-out of his 29.09% stake in MAS without any independent professional valuation, whether prosecutions should be initiated and pending the Attorney-General's decisions, the government's bailout of MAS should in the meanwhile be suspended.
Ainum should be fully aware that her powers as Attorney-General under
Article 145(3) of the Malaysian Constitution to "initiate, conduct or
discontinue any proceedings for an offence" are purely personal and
discretionary and not subject to any influence by any other person, whether
Cabinet Minister or Prime Minister, and that one of her greatest challenges
as Attorney-General is to restore full public confidence in the independence,
integrity and professionalism of her office which had
suffered unprecedented erosion in the past seven years.
The Attorney-General should not be guilty of the sin of selective prosecution and must be prepared to prosecute without fear or favour - and if there is the offence of criminal breach of trust in the RM1.79 billion MAS deal in the 117% overpayment of public funds for 29.09 per cent stake in MAS, Ainum must not shirk from such prosecution as the No. 1 custodian of law in the country.
The RM1.79 billion MAS bailout, which will saddle Malaysians with MAS' RM9.4 billion debts, also stinks because it violated the government's own rules for rescuing industries and companies as laid down by the National Economic Recovery Plan (NERP) formulated by the National Economic Action Council that "In the event of a rescue involving public funds, private investor and lenders must take their appropriate 'hair-cuts'".
In the RM1.79 billion buy-out bail-out of Tajudin's MAS shares, there was not only total lack of transparency and accountability undermining government credibility and public confidence, Tajudin is spared from taking his "hair-cuts".
Instead, Tajudin has been given a bonanza at taxpayers' expense to reward for his mismanagement of MAS by being given 117% premium for the MAS shares over the market price, transforming it into a personal rescue for Tajudin instead of a public rescue for MAS.
The national and international outrage at the MAS deal is that it is not Tajudin who had to take his "appropriate hair cuts", but the taxpayers who have to suffer "hair cuts" for the benefit of Tajudin!
Naluri is having its shareholders' meeting tomorrow to seek approval for the RM1.79 billion MAS deal.
Will there be Naluri minority shareholders who could subordinate their personal interests to national interests by blocking the MAS deal and demand that in the larger public interests, the whole MAS deal should be subject to an independent professional valuation before any approval is given by Naluri shareholders or by the government?
It will be asking a lot of Naluri minority shareholders to reject the RM1.79 billion MAS deal, when they have so much to gain from it, but if there are Naluri minority shareholders who could put national interests above personal interests, they would be exhibiting a brand of Malaysian nationalism and patriotism which would put political leaders and the entire Cabinet to shame and become role models for the new Malaysia in the new millennium.