By P Gunasegaram
Apr 29, 2015
QUESTION TIME Perhaps, just perhaps, 1Malaysia Development Bhd or 1MDB does not understand what it needs to do to convince the public all is well with it. To help it along, here are 10 things that we feel our national self-styled strategic development company can do to soothe frazzled nerves and convince us Malaysians our money is safe.
CIMB Group chairperson and the prime minister’s brother Nazir Razak is not the only one who has been urging 1MDB towards greater disclosure, but he does make some pertinent points.
“I have no solution to it (IMDB) but I think we probably should know – disclose what needs to be disclosed in order for people to have a full picture and allay their worst fears.
“I just said it’s something that’s there, everyone is concerned about it, so you need to allay concerns. Put concerns to rest, that is all,” he told a press conference recently.
Considering that 1MDB continues to assert that everything is okay it really should not take too much for it to allay public concerns over how it started, raised money, invested, its links to various businessmen, etc.
But in case it is stuck for what to disclose, we give below a checklist of 10 things, which will be good place to start. And like Maria said in ‘The Sound of Music’, “Let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place to start.”
Some background first. Let’s extract 1MDB’s mission and vision statement from its website. Mission: A strategic enabler for new ideas and sources of growth. Vision: To drive sustainable economic growth by forging strategic global partnerships and promoting foreign direct investment. It’s a self-styled strategic development company, as described by its latest CEO, its third.
Now let’s look at its business. Property development at two prime sites acquired cheaply from the government – the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) and Bandar Malaysia. And Energy; buying over established Malaysian power companies, Tanjong Energy, Genting Sanyen and Jimah Energy. And, that’s it.
Next a quick look at its financials from its annual reports: assets of some RM51 billion, liabilities of RM48 billion, borrowings of RM42 billion (RM46 billion if we include some forms of payables which look like debt) as at March 31, 2014. If not for revaluation of properties – acquired cheaply from the government – by some RM4 billion over the years, it would not have made profits at all.
Onwards to Jho Low, the whizz-kid (who may no longer be much of a kid any more) billionaire who has so much influence over 1MDB decisions, according to e-mail revelations by Sarawak Report which have not been denied by 1MDB yet and whose companies reportedly received at least US$1 billion from 1MDB.
The other development from Sarawak Report is that some US$1.1 billion in 1MDB’s funds from Cayman Islands, said to be kept in Singapore, may not be there because the records for those are said to be falsified.
That should be enough background. On to what 1MDB should be disclosing
*Explain why there was a need to borrow RM42 billion at least when the energy assets only cost some RM13 billion and TRX and Bandar Malaysia are merely in the development stage.
*Reveal exactly where and at what rates of return are the rest of the money of RM29 billion at least being kept, including the Singapore/Cayman funds. Tell us what is the amount recoverable from this and how you propose to recover them. Also explain why 1MDB was scrambling for cash to repay a loan of RM2 billion recently to local banks. Tell us too what was tycoon T Ananda Krishnan’s role in all of these.
*Explain why such high fees of several hundred million US dollars was paid to Goldman Sachs for bonds floated and what was the nature of their role in such deals. While normal rates for arranging such financing is closer to 1 percent, why the need to pay 10 percent for these?
*Explain how keeping RM29 billion in deposits and for-sale assets overseas is strategic and helps in bringing foreign direct investments or FDI into Malaysia.
*Was there hanky panky in the fundraising process whereby bonds were mispriced, allowing those who got the bonds to cash out in the secondary market to gain billions of ringgit? Was this the reason why the debts were ramped up repeatedly? If not explain why the bonds were mispriced and who were the beneficiaries, in other words who got first bite at the bonds.
*With RM42 billion of borrowings and an average interest rate of 6 percent, annual interest payments before repayments amounts to over RM2.5 billion. Considering that 1MDB has been making cash losses since inception, explain how 1MDB proposes to obtain the interest payments and repayments in future especially since energy assets are now worth below cost.
*Explain the business model for 1MDB. How does it propose to get decent returns when its cost of borrowing may be 6 percent or higher, especially for huge borrowings of at least RM42 billion and as high as RM46 billion.
*Explain how the property developments are “strategic” and why we need foreign partners to develop these when Malaysia has considerable expertise in property development. What about causing a glut of office space in Kuala Lumpur and squeezing out private developers? Explain how that is strategic.
*Explain to us what is the oversight of the board and senior management over all these issues, especially in the light of Sarawak Report disclosures – which have not been firmly denied – that outside parties played crucial roles in decision-making.
*Tell what exactly was Jho Low’s (right) role in 1MDB, when it started, how big was it and at whose behest did he have such a powerful pull over decisions made at 1MDB.
If 1MDB can provide full and satisfactory explanations to all of these, then they should do so immediately to allay the sizeable public concern and speculation, which has affected the value of the ringgit and our sovereign rating. At the same time it will relieve the considerable pressure on the prime minister to step down.
If 1MDB can’t answer satisfactorily even one aspect of these 10 disclosures, then it is incumbent upon the board of 1MDB and the government to immediately commission a forensic audit, put the organisation under a completely new caretaker management comprising people of impeccable character and get to the bottom of the entire issue.
The forensic audit will have a mandate to not only recover fully all assets but to hold to account all those responsible for wrong-doings inside and outside the company and bring them to book. It will also look into taking action against all financial advisers and claim damages from them for anything that they may have done to injure 1MDB.
P GUNASEGARAM is founding editor of business news and views portal KiniBiz.