RAH­MAN DAHLAN ON HOW SAUDI ARAMCO IN­VEST­MENT WAS SE­CURED

Min­is­ter in the Prime Min­is­ter’s Depart­ment Datuk Seri Abdul Rah­man Dahlan was in­stru­men­tal in mak­ing Saudi Ara­bia's King Sal­man Ab­du­laziz Al-Saud’s visit to Malaysia pos­si­ble last month. He tells TV3’s ‘Soal Jawab’ his role in help­ing to ce­ment the 60-ye

New Straits Times - - Front Page - Part Two of the in­ter­view will ap­pear to­mor­row I have had dis­cus­sions about the pos­si­bil­ity to cat­e­gorise eco­nomic sab­o­tage as a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. In my opin­ion, it should be cat­e­gorised that way. Giv­ing the im­pres­sion that the coun­try’s econom

Ques­tion: This is a new era for bi­lat­eral re­la­tions be­tween Riyadh and Kuala Lumpur. King Sal­man Ab­du­laziz Al-Saud’s re­cent visit to Malaysia has sent a clear sig­nal on our bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. What is your take on the visit?

Answer: We are thank­ful for his de­ci­sion to choose Malaysia as the first des­ti­na­tion of his Asian tour. He has told Prime Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Na­jib Razak of Malaysia’s big sig­nif­i­cance. The visit has many unique points. For one, the 600strong del­e­ga­tion is con­sid­ered huge and the visit’s du­ra­tion is long, con­sid­er­ing a leader of his es­teem.

Lo­gis­ti­cally, it is mind-bog­gling. Ren­o­va­tions — all borne by him — had to be done at the ho­tel where he stayed at to ac­com­mo­date his needs. If he had to get to a lo­ca­tion, there had to be a ramp and rail­ing. King Sal­man pos­sesses an ex­tra­or­di­nary aura. To me, he is a turn­ing point to our bi­lat­eral ties.

In my opin­ion, the Saudi gov­ern­ment, with its lead­er­ship, wants to be po­si­tioned as an in­flu­en­tial coun­try on the in­ter­na­tional stage, not nec­es­sar­ily in terms of mil­i­tary power, but, for ex­am­ple, be­ing a big voice in the Mus­lim world which can in­flu­ence geopol­i­tics.

This ex­plains his de­ci­sions to visit and in­vest in coun­tries in this re­gion and mak­ing the fight against ter­ror­ism and vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism as a main agenda to pro­tect Is­lam and to re­claim its im­age from ex­trem­ists.

He is send­ing a very sim­ple mes­sage, which is to say Saudi Ara­bia will op­pose them (ex­trem­ists)

in all as­pects.

Q: Malaysia has been de­scribed by cer­tain quar­ters as a ‘failed state’. Does King Sal­man’s visit ad­dress such ac­cu­sa­tion and the likes of it?

A: It cer­tainly deals with it as well as other severe ac­cu­sa­tions. We are not a failed state as we are still pay­ing off debts ac­cord­ing to sched­ule. Our growth is pos­i­tive and we are seen by many par­ties as a coun­try that is de­vel­op­ing well.

Strangely, those who claimed that we are a failed state are the op­po­si­tion, when, in fact, many rat­ing agen­cies — such as Moody’s, Fitch, the World Bank and the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund (IMF) — have con­sid­ered Malaysia as an ad­vanced de­vel­op­ing coun­try.

These ac­cu­sa­tions are no longer part of the po­lit­i­cal polemics. At a cer­tain stage, the re­lent­less ac­cu­sa­tions thrown at the gov­ern­ment by the op­po­si­tion have be­come an at­tempt to sab­o­tage the econ­omy. It must be seen as a shared prob­lem by all Malaysians. It is not solely po­lit­i­cal.

It is fine if the op­po­si­tion wants to scru­ti­nise gov­ern­ment projects or ac­tions. We are open and they ask (us) dur­ing par­lia­men­tary sit­tings. How­ever, to taint the na­tion’s rep­u­ta­tion is to jeop­ar­dise its eco­nomic growth.

For ex­am­ple, in the con­text of King Sal­man’s visit, we know that the big­gest agree­ment was be­tween Petronas and Saudi Aramco, which is val­ued at US$7 bil­lion (RM31 bil­lion). We also know that the progress of this joint ven­ture at one point, specif­i­cally to­wards the end of last year, had been slow due to ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal fac­tors that needed to be ironed out by both par­ties.

The de­ci­sion to in­vest was made a bit late due to Saudi Aramco’s con­sid­er­a­tion of coun­try risks, which is an el­e­ment that takes into con­sid­er­a­tion be­fore mak­ing any in­vest­ment. When I talked to Saudi Aramco of­fi­cials, they told me that Malaysia is seen as a high-risk coun­try due to neg­a­tive sto­ries about the coun­try.

I was tasked to go to Riyadh a few times to meet En­ergy Min­is­ter Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mo­ham­mad Sal­man Al-Saud and King Sal­man to con­vince them that their in­vest­ments will be safe in this coun­try. If I had failed, we would have lost US$7 bil­lion worth in­vest­ments from Saudi Aramco.

When the op­po­si­tion plays up is­sues that are too ex­treme, for ex­am­ple, by say­ing that the Em­ploy­ees Prov­i­dent Fund (EPF), Tabung Haji as well as the coun­try will go bank­rupt, all these sto­ries will be heard by the rest of the world and these sen­ti­ments will in­flu­ence in­vestors’ de­ci­sions.

Pri­vate com­pa­nies that have noth­ing to do with the gov­ern­ment and had the in­ten­tion to in­vest in the coun­try will see our coun­try risk is high based on what they heard.

The neg­a­tive tales were spun by the op­po­si­tion so that they could blame the gov­ern­ment af­ter we failed to at­tract in­vestors. This eco­nomic sab­o­tage could leave neg­a­tive im­pacts not only on the rul­ing coali­tion, but also on every­one, as there will be missed job and busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties, among oth­ers.

Q: Does this mean that you sensed this shaken con­fi­dence (in Malaysia) dur­ing your vis­its to Riyadh?

A: They said the coun­try risk is an im­por­tant com­po­nent and when we told them that Malaysia is a peace­ful and sta­ble coun­try, the coun­try risk is low­ered, which had caused the bot­tom-line fig­ure to be­come more at­trac­tive to them.

Other con­tribut­ing fac­tors in­clude their con­fi­dence in our coun­try’s lead­er­ship un­der Prime Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Na­jib Razak as well King Sal­man’s visit to Malaysia.

My point is that eco­nomic sab­o­tage is not a triv­ial mat­ter. We can go pol­i­tick­ing, but if your ar­gu­ment can pose a threat to the econ­omy, then it will be­come a prob­lem for us.

Q: Was the US$7 bil­lion deal inked be­cause of im­proved Kuala Lumpur-Riyadh ties, thanks to your ne­go­ti­at­ing ef­forts or be­cause of their con­fi­dence in our ex­per­tise and pro­fes­sion­al­ism in han­dling in­ter­na­tional projects?

A: It is both. I do not want to take credit be­cause we moved as a team. We had (De­fence Min­is­ter) Datuk Seri Hisham­mud­din (Hus­sein), who main­tains close ties with the Saudi de­fence min­is­ter, who is also the deputy crown prince, (For­eign Min­is­ter) Datuk Seri Ani­fah Aman, who pro­vided a good pas­sage for us to go to Saudi Ara­bia, and Na­jib, who was very con­cerned about the Aram­coPetronas re­la­tion­ship.

The prime min­is­ter gave his guid­ance to both com­pa­nies and voiced his in­ten­tion in get­ting the deal sealed. Ev­ery­thing was an­swered (by him), in­clud­ing is­sues about 1Malaysia De­vel­op­ment Bhd (1MDB) and the RM2.6 bil­lion scan­dal.

In my opin­ion, the Saudi gov­ern­ment, with its lead­er­ship, wants to be po­si­tioned as an in­flu­en­tial coun­try on the in­ter­na­tional stage, not nec­es­sar­ily in terms of mil­i­tary power, but, for ex­am­ple, be­ing a big voice in the Mus­lim world which can in­flu­ence geopol­i­tics.

The fact that King Sal­man de­cided to visit Malaysia de­spite the op­po­si­tion’s claims that the Saudi gov­ern­ment was en­gaged in ill-favoured mat­ters clearly proved that their al­le­ga­tions were base­less. Q: There are claims that the gov­ern­ment is “sell­ing off ” the coun­try to China due to cer­tain projects. Some have also de­scribed the Re­fin­ery and Petro­chem­i­cal In­te­grated De­vel­op­ment (Rapid) pro­ject in Pengerang, Jo­hor, with Saudi Aramco as syn­ony­mous with the gov­ern­ment’s projects with com­pa­nies from China. The pub­lic had been told that the money in­jected into the Rapid pro­ject was an in­vest­ment in­stead of a loan. Can you clar­ify this?

A: The sto­ries that came from the op­po­si­tion will not cease. They will refuse to ac­knowl­edge any ef­fort done by us even though it is clear that our ac­tions and de­ci­sions are for the bet­ter­ment of our coun­try and the peo­ple.

When we went to China and gave birth to a co­op­er­a­tion in­volv­ing RM144 bil­lion, we were ac­cused of sell­ing our sovereignty to China.

How­ever, when we went to Saudi Ara­bia, there were claims that we had sold our dig­nity to them. An in­flu­en­tial op­po­si­tion leader even went as far as say­ing that the Saudi del­e­ga­tion was here to re­ceive some­thing from Na­jib. How long should we con­tinue pol­i­tick­ing like this?

On April 1, Na­jib will take a busi­ness del­e­ga­tion to In­dia. I am go­ing to wait for the sto­ries that will come out of this trip. Are they go­ing to say that we are giv­ing away our sovereignty to In­dia?

We have to un­der­stand that Malaysia is a na­tion of com­merce and we trade with ev­ery­body. Bear in mind that these al­le­ga­tions can threaten in­vestors’ con­fi­dence.

I have had dis­cus­sions about the pos­si­bil­ity to cat­e­gorise eco­nomic sab­o­tage as a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. In my opin­ion, it should be cat­e­gorised that way.

Giv­ing the im­pres­sion that the coun­try’s eco­nomic sta­tus is de­plorable could also be a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity, not just vi­o­lent acts.

Hence, I would like to pro­pose to the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (NSC) that they should not only look at ter­ror­ist at­tacks, but also acts of sab­o­tage to the econ­omy. This is also im­por­tant and NSC has to have a mech­a­nism to ad­dress this is­sue. If there is a per­son who makes state­ments, such as EPF is go­ing bank­rupt or the coun­try can­not pay civil ser­vants, then we should sum­mon this per­son.

NSC must have a mech­a­nism to warn or ad­vise such a per­son as this in­volves the coun­try’s se­cu­rity. Q: How would this mech­a­nism to ad­dress eco­nomic sab­o­tage play out against the very con­cept of democ­racy? This prob­lem is not only faced by Malaysia, but also the rest of the world. Would they need to use the same mech­a­nism?

A: We don’t have to fol­low the rest of the world. The 1MDB and RM2.6 bil­lion is­sues have al­ways been top­ics that op­po­si­tion mem­bers of par­lia­ment would bring up dur­ing par­lia­men­tary ses­sions and de­bates in the me­dia. This is not a prob­lem. It is just checks and bal­ances.

The prob­lem is when they say that Malaysia is a failed state or that EPF is go­ing bank­rupt. EPF is the sixth big­gest pen­sion­ers’ fund in the world and it has in­vest­ments all over the world.

When such “story” is out, EPF will be con­sid­ered as a failed or­gan­i­sa­tion that can­not be taken se­ri­ously on the global busi­ness stage. It is not a prob­lem if you ques­tion Tabung Haji’s projects or where it in­vests its funds, but if you say it is go­ing bank­rupt, which causes a ma­jor­ity of de­pos­i­tors or in­vestors to with­draw their funds, then the bank­ruptcy will be real. This is be­cause there will be an ero­sion of trust among the de­pos­i­tors and in­vestors, or even worse, it will be costly and risky for Tabung Haji to take loans.

This is what they (the op­po­si­tion) wanted. If Tabung Haji fails, they will use this se­ri­ous and sen­si­tive is­sue to fur­ther their po­lit­i­cal agenda. This is where we should draw the line. In Malaysia, where the po­lit­i­cal world is hap­haz­ard, we face these is­sues. Q: How will the Petronas-Saudi Aramco deal strengthen Pengerang’s po­si­tion to be­come Asia’s largest oil and gas hub? What could be the spillover so­cio-eco­nomic ben­e­fits that Malaysians, specif­i­cally the peo­ple of Jo­hor, could en­joy? A: This is a big in­vest­ment that in­volves re­fin­ery and cracker and it is a com­po­nent that makes up the Pengerang In­te­grated Com­plex (PIC).

The deal is part of the var­i­ous eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties and when Saudi Aramco de­cided to in­vest in re­fin­ery and cracker in Rapid, it is a tes­ti­mony to their con­fi­dence in Petronas, Jo­hor and Malaysia.

The spillover ef­fects to the peo­ple of Jo­hor are very clear. There are 42,000 work­ers in Pengerang in this con­struc­tion and this is go­ing to in­crease up to 60,000 this year.

When it starts to op­er­ate, PIC will gen­er­ate 8,000 new jobs. Saudi Aramco has agreed to sup­ply 70 per cent of our needs in the re­fin­ery and cracker.

We will be­come one of the world’s big­gest play­ers. The peo­ple of Jo­hor will ben­e­fit from the eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties there. But, when Petronas re­ceives profit and in turn the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment re­ceives big div­i­dends, these will be used to de­velop the coun­try, in­clud­ing for in­fra­struc­ture and fed­eral fund­ing in Jo­hor.

FILE PIC

Datuk Seri Abdul Rah­man Dahlan says King Sal­man Ab­du­laziz Al-Saud’s visit to Malaysia proves that the op­po­si­tion’s al­le­ga­tions are base­less.

FILE PIC

When the Pengerang In­te­grated Com­plex starts to op­er­ate, it will gen­er­ate 8,000 new jobs, says Datuk Seri Abdul Rah­man Dahlan.

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