Asas Serba to brief Najib on Plus acquisition

(The Malaysian Insider) – PUTRAJAYA, Sept 29 — A proposed RM50 billion takeover of Malaysia’s highway concessionaires has taken on a new twist with its promoters now cleared to brief Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on their plans sometime this week.

Only a month ago, the plan appeared doomed after Najib publicly squelched the plan, telling reporters that state investment agency Khazanah “has no plans” to sell Plus Expressways. Plus is the largest of the country’s 22 highway concessionaire companies and Khazanah, through wholly-owned United Engineers Malaysia, holds 64 per cent of the highway firm.

Rising tolls nationwide have been massively unpopular and Najib’s administration had been looking for ways to solve what could potentially be a threat to his government’s popularity in the next general election slated for 2013. One way, which was being actively studied by the Economic Planning Unit, was for the government to take over some of the more busy highways including Plus.

According to the firm’s allies, Najib is now interested because Asas Serba’s bid could be cheaper than the government’s. In addition, its entry would mean that the government, which is facing a budget deficit, would walk away with money. Finally, Asas Serba’s allies argued that the government has no business getting involved in mature businesses and, instead, should concentrate on infrastructure projects that create new jobs and spin off new businesses.