Privatisation of Government Land: Ways of Skinning the Cat

A Kadir Jasin

THERE are many ways to skin a cat, so goes an English saying. Since a fair number of today’s political bigwigs are English educated, some spending many years in England, I believe they know its meaning.

I believe that the cat refers not to our lovable tabbies at home but to the big cats that the colonials loved to hunt – the tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs and jaguars.

So when the government granted the privatisation of a 223.33-acre military land in Bukit Raja, Selangor, to a little-known private company, Awan Megah Sdn Bhd, which belongs to the Selangor Wanita Umno chief, Raja Ropiaah Raja Abdullah, turned into a mischief, it appears that it had not skinned the cat the right way.

And its silence on the vicious allegations that the family of the Prime Minister, Mohd Najib Abdul Razak, was involved with carpet dealer, Deepak Jaikishan, is deafening.

The spat between the Umno bigwig and Jaikishan, who claimed ownership of the land, saw the ghost of murdered Altantuya Shaariibuu and the second statutory declaration by the mysterious PI Bala being brought to live just as the general is around the corner.

In the process, carpet trader sued his business partner Raja Ropiah (which he recently claimed had been withdrawn) and published an online book about the deal in which dragged members of Mohd Najib’s immediate family into the cesspool — something that the opposition loves to embrace and the Barisan Nasional could not afford as the GE looms.

The sad thing is, the iconic Armed Forces Fund Board (LTAT) had been dragged in as well or, more appropriately, had been used solve the problem of the smelly carcass of the badly skinned big cat.

Its property development arm, Boustead Holdings Berhad, had stepped in to by the land and the concession that goes with it for a combined price tag of RM160 million.

I would not dare claim to know much about land appropriation and property development. But when I was briefly involved (as a junior partner) in the management buyout (MBO) of the New Straits Times Press Berhad (NSTP) and Sistem Televisyen Malaysia Berhad (TV3) back in the early 1990s, we were involved in the privatisation of the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station land that is today known as KL Sentral via the Bursa Malaysia-listed property developer, the Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad. Today, MRCB is owned by the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and KL Sentral has become the showpiece of urban renewal. (I left NSTP and severed all relationship with MRCB/NSTP/TV3 groups in 2000).

Better Ways Of Privatising Government Land

There are certainly other better ways of privatising the Bukit Raja land and, for that matter, all military and government-owned landed properties. I have seen companies offering better terms for military land. For instance, from the outset they roped in the LTAT by forming or prosing to form joint venture companies in which the LTAT is the majority shareholder. The private sector companies that made these proposals are reputable Bursa Malaysia-listed companies.

In one case that I came across, a Bursa Malaysia-listed property developer proposed to acquire a piece of Ministry of Defence land and replace it with a piece of land of equal size elsewhere and build on it whatever is required by Mindef.

It also pledged to build a military enclave on the privatised site whereby serving and retired military personnel would be offered special discounts to buy houses and apartments.

But they were not always successful. People linked to political parties or have access to the inner circles were more likely to receive the privatisation and they would then sell the projects to developers for quick profits.

In the case of the Bukit Raja land, it was sold to Boustead. If indeed Boustead had been eyeing the land since 2005, as it was reported telling Bursa Malaysia, it should have made the bit itself instead of buying it from a vendor.

The moral of the story is, you either skin the big cat well or you will get scratched. In the worse case scenario, the dying cat may bite off your head.