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Wrong to use public funds for privatised airports

The government should not be using public money to fund a privately owned facility

Penang International Airport - GINSON LIM/WIKIPEDIA

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By Rosli Khan 

Investment, Trade and Industry Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz’s recent announcement that the government intends to enhance the Penang International Airport’s infrastructure to facilitate semiconductor exports has sparked significant concern.

The plan, disclosed in the House of Representatives, aims to improve Malaysia’s airport capabilities, especially for high-tech exports.

Astoundingly, none of the opposition MPs voiced any objection to the proposal.

It is important to note that Penang airport is owned by Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB), which manages 38 other airports in the country, including those in Sabah and Sarawak.

On the same morning of Zafrul’s announcement, the finance minister, who is also the prime minister, revealed the government’s decision to privatise MAHB in a scheme that involves Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), a company linked to BlackRock.

The process will see 30% of MAHB’s equity sold to GIP, apparently without the need for any tender or cabinet decision. It was also reported that BlackRock, a major US investment firm, will eventually take over GIP by the end of this year.

Controversial decision

The decision announced by Tengku Zafrul to upgrade Penang airport has generated controversy, particularly because the government now plans to use public funds for an airport that it intends to privatise.

The decision is, in my view, shockingly unethical. Using taxpayers’ money to subsidise a privately owned company, which will also include foreign owners like GIP, contradicts the principles of any privatisation policy.

It goes without saying that the main reason why certain infrastructure projects are privatised is to reduce the financial burden of the government.

Such savings in public funds could be better used in sectors that are more beneficial to the people, such as schools, hospitals, housing and other important utilities like water, electricity and flood mitigation.

Bizarre

It is equally bizarre and outrageous that the opposition has not addressed this issue.

In fact, Tengku Zafrul also mentioned that Johor’s Senai Airport, privatised almost 30 years ago and owned by Syed Mokhtar Albukhary’s MMC Corporation Bhd, also requires infrastructure upgrades.

Again, the government should not be using public money to fund a privately owned facility.

This situation raises several important questions about the proper use of public funds and the potential conflict of interests that arise when supporting private enterprises.

In my opinion, allocating taxpayer money for infrastructure that benefits a partially foreign-owned private entity is a misuse of public resources.

The Malaysian government must clarify this issue, reconsider its decision and abandon this unacceptable approach.

It must maintain public accountability by ensuring that all public funds are used transparently and ethically.

Government expenditure, collected via taxation, should be directed towards initiatives that offer clear and equitable benefits to the Malaysian public. – Free Malaysia Today 

Rosli Khan, a traffic planning consultant, has a masters in transport planning and a PhD in transport economics from Cranfield University in England. 

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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