By Ida Lim
KUALA LUMPUR, July 28 ― Seaport Terminal Sdn Bhd, the winning bidder for the Penang Port privatisation project, has moved to fend off claims that it plans to scuttle the cargo hub, local dailies reported today.
The Seaport takeover had sparked fears that the northern shipping hub will be reduced to playing a minor role, with more focus on the company’s ports in the south.
Logistics tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary owns Seaport, which also operates two ports in Johor ― the Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP) and Pasir Gudang port.
“We categorically deny allegations that we intend to relegate Penang Port to a feeder port and there are also absolutely no plans to transfer Penang Port’s cranes to Pelabuhan Tanjung Pelepas (PTP) in Johor as alleged,” Seaport in a statement published in English-language papers The New Straits Times and The Star today.
“We will deepen the navigation channel according to the needs of the port. Therefore, allegations that no dredging works will take place are unfounded,” it added.
Seaport said it “was chosen as the preferred bidder based on the strength and merits of its proposal”, adding that it had placed a bid in 2011 upon invitation to do so.
“Both PTP and Pasir Gudang Port have played an important role in catalysing the economic growth of Johor as well as the country. We are confident that we will be able to do the same in Penang,” said Seaport, and pointed to its track record in the management of the southern ports.
Seaport’s statement comes after the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce (PCCC)’s announcement of the forming of a new consortium to place a rival bid.
However, PCCC will still need the approval of the Ministry of Finance (MoF) to proceed with its bid.
PCCC president Tan Sri Tan Kok Ping had claimed that relinquishing Penang Port to Seaport Terminal was against the Competition Act 2010 and potentially an anti-trust violation.
Seaport Terminal is one of the many firms controlled by Syed Mokhtar, who is seen to be expanding his control over the country’s logistics sector. He already controls several ports and Pos Malaysia.
The tycoon is also reported to be working on a takeover of national railway Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB).
The Pakatan Rakyat-led Penang government had demanded that the federal government, led by political rival Barisan Nasional undertake a promised RM353 million dredging project crucial for the port’s expansion.
Putrajaya had in June confirmed that Seaport had won the bid to take Penang port private, saying that the firm must foot the bill of dredging work although it was not specified if dredging would be compulsory under the concession.
Last month, Penang business groups and the port’s workers signed a memorandum last month rejecting Putrajaya’s proposal to privatise Penang Port.
There has been surprising resistance to the deal from Penang BN, with chairman Teng Chang Yeow also urging the federal government to review its decision to privatise the island’s port, saying that many industry groups were opposed to the move and it was also counter to the sentiment of the Penang public.