Dr M fishes in Sarawak waters

THERE was quite a lot of hype ahead of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s visit to Sarawak, but everything went without a hitch.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Abang Johari Tun Openg knew the game that the opposition was playing – Dr Mahathir has gone from being the villain to the darling of Pakatan Harapan and barring him from entering would only give the Opposition an additional issue to play up.

Besides, he is the former premier even though the average Sarawakian is not wild about him.

Dr Mahathir is no stranger to Kuching but everything seemed familiar, yet not so familiar this time around.

The familiar part was that as he stepped down from his private jet, he was immediately ushered by airport security and officials to the VIP lounge.

The less familiar part was that the receiving delegation comprised top DAP leaders including Chong Chieng Jen, who is the state Pakatan and DAP chairman.

This the era of U-turns – enemies have become friends and things that were not okay are now okay for Dr Mahathir.

Lau: Dr Mahathir suffers from trust deficit among Sarawakians.

 

Chong, who used to be one of Dr Mahathir’s fiercest critics, seemed thrilled to bits to be meeting the elder man. The MP-cum-assemblyman is known for his sweet, boyish grin and he looked as though he had struck the Sports Toto jackpot.

Mahathir too was smiling away, oozing his usual charm. But his voice sounded rather nasal, as though he had a blocked nose, and he also seemed a little breathless because he had trouble completing some of his longer sentences.

But he sportingly fielded questions from the local media, telling them he would like to talk to the PBB leaders in the state government.

“But everybody is very shy nowadays. The last time I came, they visited me. Now (they are) a little bit strained,” he said with his typical wit.

The initial resistance among DAP leaders about Dr Mahathir seems to have evaporated and they are eager to jump on the Mahathir bandwagon.

One of the roles that DAP had envisaged was for Dr Mahathir to be the primary attacker against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The racial angle is deflected when you have someone like the former premier showing it is alright for DAP to take on Umno.

It softens the perception that a Chinese party is attacking a Malay leader or as the DAP leaders put it, “Malay screw Malay”.

Chong: He presented Pakatan Harapan’s election manifesto.

 

Dr Mahathir has lived up to the motto and many DAP leaders now realise how useful he is to their agenda.

Hours later on a damp and drizzly evening, Dr Mahathir arrived for the much anticipated ceramah at the commercial heart of an upper-middle class suburb.

There was a good turnout, although it was below the expectations of the organisers. The novelty factor was of course Dr Mahathir – it was the first time that Kuching residents were seeing him on the Pakatan stage and he did not disappoint.

He launched into what has become his standard performing act – he painted Najib as public enemy No.1, accused his government of kleptocracy, poked fun at his wife, explained why DAP is no longer his enemy and declared that Pakatan could form the next government.

And since he was on Sarawak soil, he made soothing sounds about restoring the state rights of Sarawakians.

He is not as sharp as he used to be and everyone noticed that he referred to Sarawak’s terms in the Malaysia Agreement as “16 Points” instead of “18 Points”.

He made the mistake during the press conference at the airport and several more times during the evening ceramah.

And as expected, he blamed his predecessor and successor for Sarawakians’ grievances over territorial sea rights and petroleum royalty. He was, of course, not to be blamed.

Tiang: Ex-premier not qualified to talk about what Sarawak wants.

 

“Mahathir is saying what the Chinese want to hear because in the urban area, they are angry with the Government,” said a retired Chinese professional.

Pakatan in Sarawak seems to have gotten its act together after the very public quarrel over seats during the state election.

Standing alongside Dr Mahathir, Chong also unveiled the party’s “New Deal, New Hope” election manifesto which promises equality, empowerment and full state rights to the state, as well as quality education and infrastructure development.

It was a rather hastily drawn up document and he promised to come up with more details closer to the election date.

DAP leader Lim Kit Siang was quite carried away by the whole thing and asked Sarawak and Sabah to deliver 40 of its 56 parliamentary seats to Pakatan.

But Dr Mahathir could not bring the tsunami mood to Sarawak. He looked old and sounded tired against the giant stage backdrop that was plastered with the “New Deal, New Hope” slogan.

The charisma is still there, but the days when he could walk on water are long over.

He carries too much baggage with Sarawakians and as Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing said: “I do not think he is sincere. In his 22 years as prime minister, he never bothered to touch on it (renegotiating the Malaysia Agreement), he refused to talk to us about it.”

One of the reasons why the state government did not bar Dr Mahathir was because they wanted to assess his impact and they now have the answer.

The saying that it is better late than never did not work in this case and the opinion out there is: Why now? Why didn’t Dr Mahathir do it when he had the power to do so?

Michael Tiang, the political secretary to the Chief Minister, let go a stinging open letter which basically told Dr Mahathir that he is not qualified to talk about what Sarawakians want and that since he retired as prime minister, Sarawak has been able to set up is own development bank, Debos, and its own petroleum company, Petros.

Besides that, Tiang expressed disappointment that despite being a statesman, Dr Mahathir’s attacks on the Prime Minister’s wife were no better than what cybertroopers do on the Internet.

“Your political partners like Lim Kit Siang do not deserve any welcome in Sarawak. He has criticised Sarawak for abusing our immigration powers. What do you mean abusing our autonomy? This is our autonomy since 1963!

“If Lim Kit Siang cannot accept the fact that we had this autonomy since 1963, Sarawakians should not believe there will be any ‘New Deal and New Hope’ for Sarawak,” said Tiang.

Sarawak has always had this peculiar thing about rejecting political parties from the peninsula, especially Umno, whom they view with great suspicion.

But there is also something rather hypocritical about it given the way peninsular brands like DAP and PKR have made inroads.

They do not like peninsular figures telling them how to run their state. They want to keep race and religion out of the Sarawak way of life.

They view Dr Mahathir as a primary cause of what the country is today and that is why many of them draw a line about his leading role in politics today.

“Dr Mahathir suffers from a trust deficit among many Sarawakians,” said SUPP assistant treasurer Robert Lau.

The hardcore Opposition supporters will go along with it. They will do anything to topple Barisan, whether it is supporting PAS like in the last general election or backing the “old dictator” this time.

However, local journalists think that riding on Dr Mahathir could backfire for the Sarawak opposition parties.

“I was not overwhelmed. What does it say about the Opposition that they have to bring him in?” said a Kuching-based journalist.

It is still quite difficult to figure out Dr Mahathir as the leader of the Opposition.

He is in danger of becoming a one-trick pony in his campaign against Najib. He started out with the grand strategy of bringing down Najib via the 1MDB issue. It worked beautifully among the urban voters, but failed to resonate with the rural base and he has stopped talking about 1MDB.

He has also stopped claiming that Malaysia is going bankrupt or that it is a failed state. Things could certainly be better, but economic figures show that the economy is growing steadily.

Malaysia recently moved up two places in the global competitiveness index, China is investing in a big way and the new MRT was the talk of the town.

The Asian Development Bank recently named Malaysia and Hong Kong as the “surprise growth nations”. Malaysia was also named one of the best places in the world to retire, prompting Najib to quip that “however, some people refuse to retire”.

Dr Mahathir’s cameo appearance in Sarawak was not a roaring success, but it was an important stop in his role as Pakatan’s “top dog”.

Will it be Sabah next?

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was supposed to be the X-factor in Sarawak Pakatan Harapan’s “New Deal, New Hope” launch last weekend but he has a trust deficit among Sarawakians and he failed to bring on the tsunami mood.

Source: https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/analysis/2017/10/01/dr-m-fishes-in-sarawak-waters/

CM: Bold initiatives vital to develop Sarawak

MIRI: Sarawak must take bold steps if the state wants to fast-track its development agenda, even if these bold moves are radical, said Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg.

He said the state government’s decision to set up its own petroleum company (Petros) and bank (Sarawak Development Bank) were neccesary to achieve its ambitious goals.

“To achieve all these, we have set up Petros to further our participation in the oil-and-gas sector

“We set up our own state bank to finance key projects.

“We are going big in the information technology, energy generation, transportation and services sectors.

“These new initiatives require us to be bold in our investment strategies,” he said in a speech read out by Sibuti MP Ahmad Lai Bujang at the closing of the Miri Maal Hijrah celebrations here.

Abang Johari said the Maal Hijrah celebrations gave Muslims the opportunity to remember the bold steps taken by Prophet Muhammad in advancing the spread of Islam.

He said Prophet Muhammad too took bold steps to develop Muslims in religion and economy.

“Muslims today must continue to emulate the brave moves taken by Prophet Muhammad, especially in the economic field.

“To face the new global challenges, we must have the emotional and spiritual strength and be equipped with the required technology,” he stressed.

Muslims young and old from various organisations in Miri took part in oratory presentations during the event.

Source: https://www.thestar.com.my/metro/metro-news/2017/09/25/cm-bold-initiatives-vital-to-develop-sarawak-petroleum-banking-and-digital-plans-necessary-to-achiev/

Higher inflation

THE already high cost of living is about to get higher in the coming months and Malaysians should brace themselves for it.

Why? Crude oil prices are rising. From June 21, when prices were at the lowest for the year, to Sept 14, Brent, the global benchmark, has jumped 21.56% while the US benchmark WTI has risen 16.13%.

When crude oil prices broke the US$50 a barrel level late last year and into this year, consumers felt the pinch. Headline inflation was at its highest led by transportation and fuel costs in March before tapering off as oil prices dropped into a trading range in the low to mid-US$40s.

Brent has gone back to above US$50 and should WTI break above the US$50 level, there is a possibility it will go back to the mid-US$50 trading levels. Transportation and fuel costs will rise in tandem and this will have a spillover effect on other prices.

Because of the high-base effect (inflation was rising late last year into this year), it looks like inflation is moderating when comparisons are made. But when volatile fuel and food prices are stripped off from the consumer price index, core inflation, which reflects the prevalence of inflation, is actually rising.

The grouses of consumers, despite the best efforts of policymakers to explain, are real where prices are concerned. The high cost of living, coupled with low wages, will mean that households that spend the better portion of their income on necessities such as food, housing and transportation, will feel the impact even more.

The economy looks like growing at a healthy pace this year versus the doom-and-gloom at the beginning of the year. But the growth rate is not reflected in consumer sentiment.

Will the unexpectedly good performance of the economy this year reflect in the wages of ordinary wage earners in the coming year? Because it is of no use to say that the economy is growing when the benefits do not trickle down to wage earners.

Samling, a trail blazer?

THE oil and gas (O&G) industry may not be exciting in Peninsular Malaysia, but it sure is sizzling in Sarawak.

The Samling group this week increased further its interest in Barakah Offshore Petroleum Bhd to 13.19%, underling its interest in the O&G company. It does not take much to guess the interest of Samling group in Barakah – it obviously has to do with the greater development of the O&G industry in the state.

Last month, the state set up its very own version of Petronas – Petros Sarawak. Petros is now actively looking for a chief executive and other key officials to drive the organisation.

All O&G-related jobs in Sarawak will likely be channelled through Petros.

As this is unfolding, obviously Sarawak-controlled O&G companies would stand a better chance to bag jobs from Petros.

At the moment, there are not many large O&G companies from Sarawak. And it would be futile to build one from scratch when there are many O&G companies that are going for a song.

Two years ago, nobody would have been able to buy into an O&G company such as Barakah at such low valuations. Today, it is very possible because the peninsula-based O&G companies are fighting for a small pool of jobs.

Margins are low and many have assets that are left idle with a bank loan to service.

The time is ripe for more merger and acquisition activities in the O&G sector.

For companies such as Samling that made its fortune in timber, switching focus to the O&G sector with the help of Petros is apt.

Timber is a tough industry, as the easy logging concessions have all been taken up. The O&G sector is not easy. But valuations are low and good companies with strong manpower are up for sale at a bargain.

So, is the Samling group’s move into Barakah just the start of a new acquisition trail?

A Geely CEO for Proton

TO those following the developments of Proton Holdings Bhd, they should not be surprised at the latest development.

The new chief executive of the company that produces the national model will be from Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co Ltd. The person will replace Datuk Ahmad Fuaad Kenali from Sept 30 onwards.

This will mark the first time that a foreigner would be holding the CEO’s post in Proton, a post that would effectively make him (or her) the head of production operations.

The other key positions such as chairman and the head of Proton Edar – the marketing and distribution arm of Proton – are still held by Malaysians.

As a 49% shareholder in Proton, Geely certainly is entitled to nominate its representative to Proton.

The automotive group from China has put in its money for its stake. It has the right to see that its interest is taken care of.

Not to be forgotten is that Proton was bleeding DRB-Hicom to the extent that the local automotive group had to seek financial assistance from the government. The losses were close to RM1bil per annum at a critical stage.

It was at this juncture that Geely came into the picture.

Going forward, if a change in guard at the helm can help Proton turn around, then it is something that should be welcomed.

After all, we have tried local talent and it has not worked.

So, let’s give the new strategic shareholder a chance, even if it means putting its representative as the CEO.

For long, Proton cars’ quality has been viewed unfavourably. That is one of the reasons why it has not been able to capture a bigger share of the local market.

Hopefully, with a new strategic shareholder and a new man at the helm – even though the person is a foreigner – the view on Proton cars will change, and the fortunes of the company with it.

Source: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2017/09/16/higher-inflation-samling-a-trail-blazer-a-geely-ceo-for-proton/

Petronas gets tested by Sarawak’s Petros

As higher oil prices lifted the profit of Petronas Nasional Bhd by more than 100% at the end of its second quarter, it does appear that the vagaries of the oil and gas sector have found some stability.

Oil prices have found stability of late after a period of volatility that saw a number of oil and gas companies endure pain none had seen for years prior to the crash in oil prices in 2014.

With profits on the mend, thanks in part to better cost management, Petronas declared a higher dividend of RM16bil to the Government after its second quarter financial results were announced last month.

With more money to dish out, it then appears the time has come for not only the service providers to ask for greater clarity in the jobs they can expect ahead, but also for states where oil is being produced from.

Sarawak, which has long asked for a greater share of oil revenues from production activities in the state, has decided to set up its own oil and gas company called Petroleum Sarawak (Petros).

Indications are that the state is looking for Petros, which was in the works for some time and before Petronas’ profits had bounced, to be an equal partner with Petronas for oil activities in the state, which will dramatically change the dynamics of the oil industry in the state and also the country.

But the move by Petros is not the first by a state in demanding a greater share of oil revenues from Petronas.

Terengganu, which has a big oil and gas industry, used to receive nearly RM6bil a year in royalties from Petronas but that was ended in the year 2000.

Reports are that the state and Petronas are back discussing the return of royalties to the state.

Apart from states asking for a greater share of oil revenue, the Government too has in the past made moves to expand to role of companies engaged in the oil and gas business in the country.

Jawala Corp, Crest Petroleum and Ranhill Bhd once formed a consortium to get involved in the country’s oil and gas space through the drilling in marginal oilfields.

The creation of the consortium came after the tabling of Budget 2004 where an approval was given to a private consortium to drill for oil in marginal fields.

The stance taken by Petronas then with regard to the consortium entering the oil and gas space was the same taken by the company when it deals with requests from states for more money.

It was reported that Petronas president and group chief executive officer Datuk Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin recently said that he welcomes any involvement by state government entities in the oil and gas (O&G) business, but it has to be within the Petroleum Development Act (PDA).

“We have a strong relationship with the Sarawak government, as such, we welcome its participation in the O&G industry.

“But we also have regulations in place, of which under the PDA, Petronas is the custodian and manager of the O&G resources in Malaysia,” he told reporters at a briefing on Petronas’ mid-year results recently.

Wan Zulkiflee adds in the report that the partnership with Petros could be similar to other Petronas partnerships, either as service providers or as a partner under the production sharing contract (PSC).

“Discussions are ongoing with the Sarawak state government,” he said when asked about the potential partnership between Petronas and Petros.

Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg officially announced last month the formation of Petros, with a target for the company to be operational in the first quarter of next year.

“The formation of Petros is an unprecedented step taken by the state government to enable Sarawak to actively participate in the extraction of oil and gas in Sarawak while still pursuing its request for a 20% royalty from Petronas,” he says.

The pressure Sarawak can put on Petronas has been evident in the past. As employees in Sarawak need work permits, even for those from Peninsular Malaysia, the state had in the past wielded that right as it pursued that in the past.

In August last year, Petronas issued a press release citing its concerns over a moratorium imposed by the Sarawak state government on all new applications for work permits for Petronas’ employees from outside Sarawak to work in the state.

“Petronas believes the decision, announced over the weekend, may have been made based on the misperception that Petronas’ recent group-wide business restructuring had unfairly impacted its employees from Sarawak.

“Sarawak remains a key investment state for Petronas, where its workforce requirement will continue to grow. Petronas expects the majority of the workforce required to meet the new manpower demand will constitute Sarawakians, as per existing recruitment practices. A number of positions is expected to be filled by experienced employees, which may include non-Sarawakians,” it said then in a statement.

Related story:

Search for Petros CEO intensifies

Source: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2017/09/09/petronas-gets-tested-by-sarawaks-petros/

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