A reply to Khazanah’s accusations against Focus Malaysia

By P Gunasegaram, editor-in-chief

KHAZANAH Nasional Bhd, in a media statement Friday (Feb 7), requesting Focus Malaysia not to publish articles on Malaysia Airlines Bhd based on confidential documents, made a few accusations which need to be replied to.

As the person approving the articles, which were written accurately, fairly and might I add, well, by our senior writer Emmanuel Samarathisa, it is necessary for me to publicly rebut the unfair and unfounded allegations publicly made against us one by one. 

Let me reproduce the various charges/statements which are marked in bold italics and then give our response to each of them. 

Khazanah fully respects the principles of transparency and accountability, and the importance of press freedom and independence. 

When it came to Malaysia Airlines, it did not. After six years and RM6 bil, its last rescue plan did not work. But where was the transparency and accountability that since 2014 things were not improving, that good money was being thrown after bad? The promised quarterly reports on its progress after Malaysia Airlines was delisted got skimpier and skimpier and the information less and less. The problems were being hidden from sight. We were shocked and alarmed when we saw the documents indicating Khazanah’s own assessment that RM21.5 bil more would be needed to run Malaysia Airlines until it broke even some five years later, if at all. Why was this not disclosed before? Where was Khazanah’s transparency and accountability that it now advocates?

However, these freedoms must be upheld together with some sense of responsibility and restraint by the press when it comes to a corporate entity conducting an on-going corporate exercise that is genuinely commercial in nature. The press has duties of confidence regarding any information that it uses and publishes for public circulation.

When the press comes across information which has been hidden from the public for a long time as to the true extent of the problems facing Malaysia Airlines and the kinds of costs that will still be incurred to continue to run the airline and even to sell it to AirAsia Group Bhd and others, then it has an obligation to disclose such information to the public. Any self-respecting press would do the same.                                                           

Focus Malaysia’s recent articles have negatively impacted the corporate exercise, and this has affected the potential for Malaysia Airlines to achieve sustainable growth and profitability. 

This is really too much. Khazanah, as the sole owner of Malaysia Airlines, had the opportunity and the money to achieve sustainable growth and profitability for the last six years. Instead, it chose the wrong strategies, shrinking Malaysia Airlines to an extent that revenues could not be recovered and losing its 5-star status in the process, hiring incompetent foreign CEOs without proper service agreements who were more interested in their own advancement, and not identifying ways to get more for the 5-star service it was providing. 

Now, they accuse us of negatively impacting their commercial efforts when they have wasted six years and RM6 bil in the rescue effort. We are merely laying out what’s on the table in terms of the deals. Later we offered opinions on what could be done. What’s wrong with that? How does it affect Malaysia Airlines’ future potential? If anything, it will benefit from a healthy public debate over the difficulties and solutions contemplated and help Khazanah arrive at a more informed decision instead of one which could be blinkered by internal preferences and prejudices.

The articles have also undermined trust and confidence in our integrity as a professional corporate partner and harmed our reputation, consequently impairing our ability to undertake business transactions in the future.

Those documents we sighted are available to many people. The possible deal with Japan Airlines Co Ltd was at least six months old. Six months is really a long time to make a deal. Khazanah needs to learn to move much faster than that. Any loss of trust is Khazanah’s own fault, not ours.

We fail to see how the integrity and reputation of an organisation are affected by a leak, so long as the organisation has been upfront in its representations to its potential partners, which any ethical organisation must be. Keeping deals under wraps and completing them in a timely manner are Khazanah’s and its partners’ responsibilities, not ours. If you take too long, information is more likely to be leaked.

Let me remind Khazanah that in the previous deal that it was doing with AirAsia for Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia executive chairman until a few days ago Kamarudin Meranun entered into a settlement on April 2 last year with the Securities Commission for RM3.64 mil for insider trading of MAS shares in August 2011. How is it that Khazanah was even thinking of doing a deal with the same airline when the same person was still executive chairman? Shouldn’t Khazanah do a proper audit of its potential partners? Isn’t Khazanah’s reputation marred by this lack of due diligence more than our articles? Instead, it maligns us with unfounded accusations and cast aspersions on our integrity via a public announcement of its letter to us.

Accordingly, we have requested for Focus Malaysia to stop publishing any information regarding the corporate exercise that would typically be considered confidential that comes into its possession.

Focus Malaysia will do a careful examination of the content of the disclosure before we make a decision on publishing as we did with the earlier series of articles. When it is of great public concern and contains information which should be disclosed in the national interest, we as responsible journalists are obliged to do so.

I would like to point out again that Khazanah made a police report over the publication of the articles and sent us a lawyer’s letter after that. But really, would it not be more appropriate for Khazanah to confirm or deny the contents of the articles and what it proposes to do as far as Malaysia Airlines is concerned?

Instead, it seems to be more interested in intimidating not just Focus Malaysia but the entire press fraternity and other parties with its veiled threats (the lawyer’s letter said it reserves the right to take action against us) when we publish articles about Malaysia Airlines from what it deems to be confidential documents. It seems to be more interested in the leaks than the well-being of Malaysia Airlines. And it is expending public money – our money – to try and suppress the leakage of information which should be in the public domain, such as up to RM21.5 bil more for Malaysia Airlines’ further rescue.

What a pitiful state of affairs. – Feb 10, 2020

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