DAP calls for a national referendum as to whether the government should sell back the 29.09 per cent stake in MAS to Tajudin Ramli at RM8 per share for RM1.792 billion

Media  Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The long reply given by the Finance Minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin, in Parliament on Wednesday on the government’s RM1.792 billion buy-back of Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli's 29.09 per cent stake in MAS had failed to address or  answer two most important questions about the buy-back “bailout”:

Daim was most irresponsible when without producing any supporting evidence, he popped up the figure of RM15 for the first time ever and  gave the impression that Tajudin was quite reasonable in wanting to release his MAS stake to the government at not less than RM15 and that there was foreign investor interest in MAS at this price.

This is particularly outrageous as  Tajudin had told a foreign news agency  when the deal was concluded that he was lucky in getting a  good price of RM8 a share, as it would  enable him to settle Naluri’s entire debt of RM927.4 million,  while the balance of RM864.5 million will be for new business ventures but are in the meantime placed  in banks and earn RM24.2 million a year.

Daim should lay in Parliament documentary evidence to prove foreign investor interest in the MAS stake at RM15 per share - or even at RM8 or above - or he is guilty of very irresponsible parliamentary conduct in giving currency to the impression that there were  foreign investor interest to buy Tajudin’s MAS stake even at RM15 a share but this has to be blocked by the government in the national interests to save the national carrier from falling into the  hands of foreigners!

Daim said: “With additional positive input like more effective management and solid support from the Government, the share value will be more than RM9, according to several international investment banking institutions and investment houses.”  Why didn’t Daim present these valuations to Parliament together with his parliamentary reply?

Daim made a great flourish in Parliament of his statement: “The purchase is not to save Tan Sri Tajudin or Naluri but to save MAS. It is a question of national pride.”

Unfortunately, Daim couild not achieve the impact he wanted as Malaysians at large are convinced that the MAS buy-back was designed more to save Tajudin  than to save  MAS.

If Daim wants Malaysians to believe  that the purchase was not to save Tajudin or Naluri but to save MAS, then let him  produce proof to show that Tajudin had been offered more than RM8 by foreign interests and that the government had to move in to save MAS and that Tajudin had made great sacrifices for  the sake of the  nation in foregoing making great profits from such a sale to  foreigners by being a “reluctant seller” of the MAS stake to the government at only RM8 per share!

There is clearly an urgent national need to save MAS from Tajuddin’s mismanagement of the national carrier. The new MAS managing director Datuk Md Nor Md Yusof announced last  Thursday that he envisioned MAS turn-around and return  to the black within two years by reorganising its debt and trimming costs.  He said the timeframe was a “fair assessment” as other airlines in a similar situation had taken one to two years to turn-around.

MAS has debts of about RM9.4 billion and is headed for a  fourth straight year of losses. The question is why the former whiz-kid Tajudin could not come up with a two-year turnaround programme for MAS when  the “new kid on the block” could put in place a two-year turnaround  programme although only a month after his appointment as MAS managing director?

Far from being “a national pride”, the MAS buy-back has  become “a national shame”, as together with the RM6 billion bailout of two Light Rail Transit companies, PUTRA and STAR, and the latest RM1.88  billion Time dotCom IPO bailout scandal, it has joined the cluster of  government mega-bailouts which are standing advertisements  to the people and the world about  what is terribly wrong with corporate governance, government accountability and integrity in Malaysia.

Daim said that “If the people and MPs are not happy with this purchase decision, the Government can sell the shares back to Naluri. However, I must remind you that after this, the Government is no longer entitled to stop Naluri from selling the shares to anyone they wish.”

At a press conference at the Parliament lobby after his statement, Daim was further questioned on this statement:

“Q: Tun said the Government was willing to sell back its stake to Naluri.

“D: If the rakyat wants us to, if all MPs agree, we will.

“Q: Who has the say in MAS? Shareholders or MPs?

“D: Shareholders, the rakyat.  If the raktyat wants, we sell.  If the rakyat doesn’t want…”

A responsible senior Minister would not indulge to empty rhetorics in Parliament. Daim must expect his statement that the government would sell back the MAS stake to Tajudin “if the people are not happy” with the terms of the government’s buyback of the MAS shares to be taken seriously.

Having made such a statement, the government must allow the people the opportunity to express their support or opposition to the buyback of the MAS stake from Tajudin at such an exorbitant price.
DAP therefore  calls for a national referendum as to whether the government should sell back the 29.09 per cent stake in MAS to Tajudin Ramli at RM8 per share for RM1.792 billion.

Such a referendum will provide  invaluable lessons to both the government and the people about accountability, transparency, integrity and democracy.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman