The race is on to grab Penang Port Sdn Bhd from public ownership as the spotlight falls on private corporations expressing interest. But is serious consideration being given to the Penang state government’s interest in taking over the port?
At first it was reportedly just Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary and parties close to him. Now, the Edge reports that another consortium has entered the picture: Oriental Pearl Harbour Sdn Bhd.
Oriental Pearl Harbour has apparently submitted a preliminary proposal to the federal government. Its directors are Rosli Abdul Latif and Mohd Ramli Abu Bakar, a former Navy chief. No information on shareholders or accounts is available as the company was only registered this month.
The latest Edge makes no mention of the Penang state government’s interest in taking over the port.
The business weekly quotes sources as saying that Oriental Pearl Harbour is led by Siew Ka Wei, who is partnering firms under the China Shipping (Group) Co Ltd. The group includes China Cosco Holdings Co Ltd, which is involved in container shipping and terminal leasing and other firms involved in related fields. Another source points out to the Edge that the consortium would hold a majority stake (a figure of RM500 million was mentioned in the report) and the Malaysian government would hold a golden share; so there is “no danger of foreigners controlling local assets”. (I thought the upgrading work alone so far amounts to close to a billion ringgit? Will the port assets be properly valued at market price and not sold off cheaply to private corporations?)
Actually this issue is not just about foreign or local control. Rather it is about public vs private control of infrastructure, built using public funds, and that is vital for the economy, public transport and the state. What will become of the ferries – an important means of public transport with affordable fares – if a private corporation were to take over Penang port? Will the port itself be run in the best interests of Penang or will profit maximisation for the shareholders be the overriding objective?
Siew is the major shareholder of Ancom Bhd, Ancom Logistics Bhd and Nylex (M) Bhd. Ancom controls Red Berry Media, which owns Bernama TV, publishes newspapers and has billboard rights at KLIA.
Another company reportedly playing a role is PFI Marines Sdn Bhd, controlled by Rosli and Othman Talib, a former Penang police chief.
There is no good reason why the Penang state government cannot take over and manage the port, harness and hire expertise, and tap into available sources of internal and external funding.
Singapore’s port remains government owned and under public control as it is an integral part of the Singapore economy – just as Penang port plays a vital role in the economy not only of Penang but of the entire northern region.
This is how Singapore structures its port, according to the PSA’s website:
PSA was formerly the Port of Singapore Authority, a statutory board regulating, developing, operating and promoting the port of Singapore’s terminals. In 1996, PSA’s regulatory functions were handed over to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. PSA Corporation Limited was subsequently incorporated in 1997 as the corporate successor to the Port of Singapore Authority to manage and operate its terminals and related businesses. In December 2003, PSA International became the investment holding company for PSA’s businesses in Singapore and world-wide. PSA International is fully-owned by Temasek Holdings.
PSA’s operating entities are organised into five business regions – Southeast Asia, Middle East South Asia, Northeast Asia, Europe and Mediterranean, Americas – each headed by a regional chief executive officer responsible for its business performance. The regional CEOs report to the group CEO who is assisted by a small team of senior executives at the Corporate Centre.
Employing the finest talents in the industry, PSA delivers reliable and best-in-class service to its customers…
Notice, it remains solidly under government/public control and ownership.