Soi Lek insists on Penang port privatisation, calls Guan Eng ‘ignorant’

(The Malaysian Insider) – Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek stuck to his guns today in promoting the government’s highly-criticised privatisation plans for Penang Port, insisting here that it would boost its incoming cargo and profits.

The Penang Port Commission (PPC) chairman called Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng “ignorant” for failing to see the benefits that the privatisation exercise would bring to the port, which he pointed out is presently only a feeder port.

“Ask anyone who is running a business, they will tell you that privatisation is the best way to increase business and competitiveness.

“All the other ports that have been privatised are doing well. Only Penang port has not been performing and is not compatible to its peers,” Dr Chua said today during a debate with Lim organised by the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) at the Sunway Convention Centre.

“If you don’t know this, please go and check,” he added.

“No flight would go to Penang because it’s a regional port, not an international port,” he said, adding that privatisation of the port would increase productivity and profit.

Lim, however, expressed disappointment in his political rival.

“Penang port is in Penang. Why wasn’t the decision made by the people of Penang?” he asked.

“This is not privatisation, but piratisation.”

Last month, it was reported that Penang Port Sdn Bhd’s (PPSB) had made a net profit of RM15 million last year, contradicting Dr Chua Soi Lek’s assertion that it only earned RM180,000.

PPSB managing director Datuk Ahmad Ibnihajar said that dredging the port to 14.5 metres to approach channel depth from the current 11.5 metres, a project that has been shelved by the federal government, would be a key driver to increase transshipment services from five to 20 per cent.

Lim today called on Dr Chua to “implement the RM350 million dredging works”.

“If you don’t know how, give it to us. We will show you how it is done.”

Dr Chua had previously told Penang not to “sabotage itself” by refusing to cooperate with the federal government’s plan to privatise Penang Port, a move he insists would increase its competitiveness.

The PPC chief warned Lim’s administration that its decision to reject the privatisation of PPSB  and implied threat to derail the move “would just mean the whole port won’t work.”

The Penang government has resolved to reject the privatisation of PPSB to Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar al-Bukhary’s Seaport Terminal and demanded Putrajaya undertake a promised RM353 million dredging project crucial for the port’s expansion.

Lim, who is also DAP secretary general, also warned that the privatisation plan would be “disjointed” as “strategic portions of land” in the port belong to the state.

Dr Chua has also repeatedly said that while he did not know if dredging was a pre-requisite to the privatisation deal, it would not make good business sense to take on PPSB’s RM1.3 billion debt without making the necessary investment to build the business.

The former health minister pointed out that PPSB still had a long way to go, claiming it only made about RM180,000 in profit last year as compared to Seaport Terminal’s Johor Port which made RM185 million.