GEORGE TOWN: The Federal government should look at ways to enhance the management of Penang Port Sdn Bhd instead of selling it to a firm held by tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, says BN Penang chairman Teng Chang Yeow.
“The privatisation should not have taken place in the first place. If the federal government thinks that the present management does not live up to the expectations of a commercial entity, it should look at ways to enhance its performance,” he told The Edge Financial Daily (TEFD) in an interview.
“If the current management’s hands are tied by rules and regulations of the Ministry of Finance (MoF), we should look at ways to disentangle these ropes,” he said. Earlier this year, the government announced that Penang Port would be privatised to Seaport Terminal Sdn Bhd, which is controlled by Syed Mokhtar.
However, the move was met with opposition from local business groups, logistics operators and political leaders on fears that the privatisation would lead to Penang Port being reduced from a shipping hub for the northern region to a feeder port to the Port of Tanjung Pelepas and Johor Port, which are operated by Seaport Terminal.
Teng pointed out that as ports are strategic facilities, due attention should be paid to issues of control. “All key areas should not be dominated by the private sector.
If Penang Port is a profit-making venture, why give it away? We should look at ways to enhance it. I do not see Penang Port as a losing venture,” he said. He said the BN component parties have requested the National Economic Council to review the privatisation.
However, he said he is not against the privatisation of Penang Port if a capable Penang company could take it over. The Penang government as well as local groups have come out strongly against the privatisation.
Earlier this month, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng held a roundtable discussion with 42 local groups and passed five resolutions to reject the privatisation to Seaport Terminal.
The groups, which consist of business groups and port industry contractors, said the privatisation was done to an “outsider without the consultation of the people of Penang” and insist that Penang Port should be run by locals.
Last week, MoF, which wholly owns Penang Port, had summoned its management for a meeting in Putrajaya. Penang Port has declined to comment on queries by TEFD. Teng said Seaport Terminal should explain its plans for Penang Port to the public.
“The problem with government privatisation is that sometimes no comprehensive details are made known, and this leads to a lot of unnecessary speculation,” he added.
This article appeared in The Edge Financial Daily on July 23, 2012.