One afternoon some time in early 1984, as president of the Klang Port Authority's Senior Officers' Association (SOA), I was summoned for a meeting with the then prime minister Dr. Mahathir at his office in Kuala Lumpur. Also with me were fellow presidents Ruslan Zainal of the Port Authority Staff Union (PASU) and Mohd. Nor Katim of the Harbour Workers' Union (HWU). The Government had then announced a 'privatisation policy' involving GLCs and other 'national assets' and the PM wanted to formally inform us of the intention to privatise (only) the port's container terminal.
Probably expecting some opposition on being made "guinea pigs" or whatever, Dr. M immediately took us to task in his usual style, but we just played it cool. We were actually quite enthusiastic about the idea and did not think that anything could possibly go wrong because the terminal, the country's first, was already then quite efficient and making money, lots of money. There was also talk that even staff not involved in the exercise would be given "pink forms' to acquire shares when the new company, Klang Container Terminal Sdn Bhd. (KCT), finally gets listed at the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange. KCT was fully privatised in March 1986.
I have now come to believe that with very few exceptions, as in above KCT case, privatisation as a whole in this country as initiated by Dr M, has failed miserably. The objective which was supposed to ease the government's financial burdens, increase productivity and lower costs have not been achieved. Instead, we have expensive bailouts due to corruption and cronyism, more complaints about inefficiency and the expected reduced costs have not been felt by the rakyat. Obviously, the intention was good but the implementation half-assed.
It took some agitation by a few bloggers, here, and the public at large, for Sime Darby to finally jettison its intention to privatise the Institut Jantung Negara (IJN) yesterday. (Read the Malaysiakini report, here). Why the proposal was even ever considered by the government has never been fully explained. One can only guess at the outcome that perhaps its because we have all become very disillusioned especially when there is lack of transparency in the whole process. Perhaps we just need change and perhaps also it is time we should now seriously consider "nationalisation" instead?
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