KL, 23 May: The future of Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) hinges on a meeting of its Board of Directors this week. The directors are supposed to decide on a proposal by a well-connected construction tycoon to take over the Subang airport from MAHB under a lease that will last till 2092. All we know of Desmond Lim's plans are from news reports that said he planned to turn Subang into a city airport.
Everybody is against the proposal. Everybody except the Transport Ministry.
"Simply put, it's a land grab. Asset-stripping," a consumer activist told me.
Malaysia Airports chairman Zambry Abdul Kadir, who will chair the crucial Board meeting, has said in public that he was against the proposal. But his own trade union leaders are not all that comforted by his assurance.
"He's a politician," a trade union leader told me.
Which is a fact. Zambry, a former Menteri Besar of Perak, is one of the politicians appointed to GLCs by PM Muhyiddin Yassin after his little coup in March last year that brought down Mahathir's flailing coalition. The unionists believe Zambry will say yes to whatever the Prime Minister wants.
Which is why the main union of Malaysia Airports is planning to submit a memorandum to the PM directly to get his assurance that Subang will remain with MAHB. The union, which represents over 2,000 employees in the Peninsular, have the support of its sister unions in Sabah and Sarawak. In fact, Zambry's "assurance" had come after the three unions had put pressure on him to make a stand against the takeover.
Public Transport Users Association (4PAM) is throwing its support behind the airport workers. Ajit Kohl, its president, said Wee Ka Siong, the Transport Minister, should have shot down the takeover proposal already. The government should not even consider such proposal as the operation of an airport should be left to experienced parties.
"Taking over an airport is a serious issue, and has many ramifications, from passenger safety and security and compliance to international standards, strict regulations and enforcement," he said (Shoot down proposal to redevelop Subang airport, Wee told).
Ajit Kohl has been know to tell associates that he even thinks Senai airport in Johor, which was given by Mahathir to tycoon Syed Mokhtar AlBukhary to run, should be given back to MAHB.
“MAHB has a national duty to ensure all 39 airports are running, and 4PAM has been made to understand that not all the airports are profitable, making cross-subsidisation vital to ensure air connectivity is maintained across the nation.”
Zambry surely didn't sign up for this when he agreed to accept the chairmanship of Malaysia Airports. But here it is, his biggest test yet. If he fails this, even his future as a politician may be over.
Newsbreak: Future revenue loss of RM11.9 bil if MAHB loses Subang Airport, information memo reveals