Friday, August 12, 2011

MAS - Airasia deal: When politicians plot, public gets shafted

As an investor in Airasia, perhaps I can show my disgust by reproducing the below article by Mariam Mokhtar. I have to say I totally agree with her as I do not think Tony Fernandez and gang can turnaround MAS, and if they are able to do so, why should they.

Tony, as a CEO of Airasia, just concentrate on building Airasia. You are not a superhero.

When politicians plot, public gets shafted

The fly-by-night people in charge of MAS are no better than a posse of cowboys. Why do we continue to tolerate the wasteful antics of our politicians who indulge in a game of real-life Monopoly and who use taxpayers’ money to bail out ailing companies?

In a perverse reversal of the saying “King Midas and his golden touch”, it appears that whatever BN-Umno politicians “touch” will always turn to dust and ashes.

This deal that is struck with MAS and AirAsia is another smack in the face for the public. What sort of responsible government allows such a merger to take place? By agreeing to this merger, the government has neglected to address healthy competition which in essence should benefit the airline customers, companies and the Malaysian economy.

What about fair trading practices? Or conflict of interest? Or share prices? Maybe the Securities Commission should start probing both AirAsia and MAS about insider trading or any other irregularities. What about the jets each carrier uses, the agreements and maintenance contracts signed with Boeing and Airbus? Who honours what?

However, the most scandalous revelation is that all government-linked companies, have been instructed by Nazri Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister’s department, to cease all civil suits against Tajuddin Ramli, the former chairman of MAS and settle out of court.

Yet again, Tajuddin has been let off scot-free and the public, denied justice. Any court revelations now would not look good for Barisan Nasional, especially as the general election draws near.

With this latest defrauding of the public purse, how much of the taxpayers’ money has gone unaccounted for? This government is neither transparent nor accountable. It does not adhere to its own catch-phrase, “People First, Performance Now”. It doesn’t even match up to its own Key Performance Indicators.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, working for MAS was both a privilege and carried great prestige. Today, there is a different portrait of the MAS employees. Many are unhappy and morale is at an all-time low. Disaffection with MAS is felt by cabin, flight and ground crews including engineering and maintenance staff.

Jala’s forte

When Singapore Airlines (SIA) and MAS emerged from the ashes of the now-defunct Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA), SIA went from strength to strength while MAS was left in the doldrums.

When former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad gave his blessing to Tajuddin to be installed as the chairman of MAS, the airline started to go downhill. Tajuddin received the support and protection from his influential patron, the former finance minister, Daim Zainuddin, which spelt further doom for MAS.

In these days of rising fuel costs and tight profit margins, the airline industry is more competitive than ever. However, the Malaysian Cabinet denies putting government officials in charge of a global brand.

These officials are clueless about most things and have no experience of running an airline. The first thing to effect a turnaround should have been to disband the senior management, all of whom are mere government puppets.

If there was one brief moment of respite for MAS staff, it was when Idris Jala took over and was “praised” for turning the company around. But even simpletons realise that selling your best assets just to make the books look good, is not financial wizardry. Many in MAS are still angry with Jala.

Asset stripping was Jala’s forte. He also engaged in cost-cutting by reducing many of the privileges enjoyed by the staff without addressing the problems created by Umnoputras and BN politicians who treated the airline like it was their own private transport.

Jala, having collected his performance bonus, then entered the government’s bloated political √©lite club via the back door and became a senator and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

So if Jala has turned MAS around, why is the MAS-AirAsia merger necessary? Was it to help MAS or AirAsia? No one really knows as this deal is shrouded in mystery.

Mahathir remarked that the MAS-AirAsia merger was a “very good idea” as “AirAsia can learn about the experience of MAS and MAS can learn how to reduce costs as done by AirAsia”.

How prophetic. Anyone with half a brain will know that MAS is run along government lines. “You do as we say” is the norm and the person who kowtows to the government will be rewarded with a title and other benefits. And if others want to haul you to the court for non-payment of debts, the government does a good service in whitewashing and “proving” your innocence.

Being held accountable

When will we have a head of MAS who is brave enough to say “No” to the government? MAS was a fine airline decades ago and many Malaysians were proud to fly with it. These days, MAS is overpriced and uncompetitive.

AirAsia is nothing to shout about. Customer service is non-existent and it is not cheap flying AirAsia on some long-haul flights. The merger will be another nail in the coffin with regard to competition.

Billions of ringgits of taxpayers’ money are unaccounted for. The scandals of Bumiputra Malaysia Finance, Bank Bumiputra Malaysia Berhad, Felda, Defence Ministry, Perwaja, PKFZ, Proton, Sime Bank/UMBC are a few from a long list.

Perhaps Islamic institutions like JAIS should start condemning and investigating these criminal acts against the rakyat rather than running around and meddling in charity dinners like a blue-arsed fly, in the recent allegation of proselytisation.

Tajuddin must be tried, and if found guilty, punished by the courts for his alleged corruption when he led MAS. His alleged accomplices – ministers, former prime ministers and the current PM – should also be held accountable.

Maybe pigs will fly before there is any sign of judicial retribution.

Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist

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