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Clean up EPF investment dealings

There are so many irregularities in the Barisan Nasional administration that a total re-engineering is required to clean up the mess. The Malaysian government needs dedicated and talented technocrats to repair the damage done over the last 22 years due to mismanagement and irregularities.

The speculation on the appointment of Khairy Jamaluddin as the chief operating officer (COO) of Khazanah Nasional Berhad (KNB) is certainly encouraging news. Khazanah needs a total spring cleaning. There are many dirty laundry jobs awaiting the new chief executive officer (CEO) such as:

- Country Height Holdings Berhad's debt for equity swap, a bad deal in which Khazanah went beyond its investment objectives.

- the irregularities in Petronas procurement and overseas investments that have cost the country more than RM250 billion since 1986 also deserves immediate attention.

- the costing of the current US$1 billion 374km Petronas CPTT Thai-Malaysia joint development pipeline project supported by the former prime minister also deserves immediate attention before overpriced projects are awarded to undeserving cronies.

As well as Khazanah, the Employee Provident Fund (EPF), which is responsible for the old age savings of 10.4 million members, also requires a thorough clean up. Malaysian Building Society Berhad, a 67%-owned subsidiary of the EPF, lost more than RM1.2 billion in overvalued property deals.

It was also involved in the RM110 million debt for hotel deal in Melaka that makes MBSB an investor in the overpriced Golden Legacy Hotel.

The acquisition by the EPF of MAS's 29.2% share from Technology Resources Industries (TRI) caused the immediate paper loss of more than RM900 million. Time Dotcom's RM500 million scandal in debt for equity deals also should not be overlooked.

The latest development in the multiple conflicts of interest involving EPF's investment panelists' concerns Malakoff. The EPF has been shut out all together.

The issuance of the RM5.6 billion Islamic Intisna bonds contains many irregularities whereby the power producer (Malakoff) was rated above the power purchaser in defiance of international rating standards.

Our EPF continues to deny irregularities and multiple situations of conflicts of interests in its top management as well as with the bond underwriters and bond issuers.

EPF has also initiated many cover-ups through evasive media strategies to avoid public scrutiny of its RM216 billion investment portfolio. These include the goal-oriented survey report by AC Neilson which aims to gain the confidence of ignorant, young EPF members.

Malaysia needs more dedicated and talented patriots to act without fear to protect the interests and future of Malaysians. Oxbridge connections and qualifications are a plus. Morally qualified candidates would be better.

There are many intellectual professionals in the opposition parties who are equal or better than our prime minister's Oxbridge team. They can also contribute and make Khazanah and the EPF better. But will Pak Lah break this tradition?

The EPF board has denied members and financial analysts from having access to its investment activities and the expense structures of the pension fund. Current public information about EPF's investments has been very limited.

EPF's management has been trying to conceal its investment activities from financially and politically savvy members of the community whom they fear may then sound the general alarm.

EPF's strategic investment in Malakoff has now raised the following questions:

a. The rating of Malakoff Berhad (AA3) above the Tenaga Nasional Berhad (BBB) by Standard and Poors. This is against the industry standard rating rules which require that the power supplier be rated below the power purchaser. These irregularities in rating would mean the loss of at least RM400 million in dividends per year.

b. The risk involved in Malakoff's appointment of operational and maintenance management contractor, Rangkain Positif Sdn Bhd, which has no prior track record of managing such a mega power plant, is a very obvious irregularity. This irregularity implies several hundred million ringgit of expenditure in unnecessary annual cost overruns. It also involves unnecessary service outsourcing practices.

c. EPF also failed to acknowledge the conflict of interest involving Nazir Razak, the CEO of Commerce International Merchant Bankers (CIMB) Bhd and Zainal Abidin Putih, director of Commerce Asset-Holding Berhad (CAHB) which controls CIMB. This led to the underwriting of Malakoff's RM5.6 billion Islamic Intisna bond.

Nazir and Zainal had direct multiple conflicts of interests in Malakoff's Intisna Bond underwriting exercise late last year

d. Since 2003, the Department of Investment Operations and Investment Research has not been functioning as there is no internal professional there to countercheck the validity of input from the third parties including interested or interest-conflicting parties. The prudential aspect of in- house research is totally lacking!

It is also an interesting fact that the EPF had appointed 45 fund managers to invest its funds. These appointments have also led to many unique situations where the fund managers buy portfolios sold by another EPF fund manager.

Each transaction would result in 4% loss to the EPF members (1% on buying, 1% on selling on each transaction cycle per fund manager as it takes two fund managers to complete a transaction).

The 2002 EPF report has revealed many mismanagement and many irregularities. For example, overly prudent service activities that cost EPF members about RM47million in 2002 in investment expenses.

If EPF 's investment fund management team continue with its current modus operandi , members will continue to be exploited until the funds run dry.

Will Pak Lah fulfil his anti-graft pledges to the Malaysian voters by investigating this possible multi-billion ringgit pension fund management scandal?

And while were are on the topic, let's see how the EPF can increase its income legitimately, transparently and safely.

In 2002, the Malaysian government abolished the requirement that foreign labor in the country contribute to the EPF. The decision was arrived at due to the escalation of management costs involving foreign workers.

The latest statistics for foreign workers in Malaysia show that they now number 2,767,146 and collectively draw about RM2.19 billion in salaries from Malaysian employers.

This total amount paid to foreign workers is twice the revenue collected by the Subang Jaya Municipal Council and bigger than that of the Kelantan state government.

The majority of legal, foreign workers in Malaysia are all active contributors to the Malaysian Gross Domestic Product (GDP). They make up of 36.01 percent of the total active work force of the Malaysian economy.

If government re-imposes the mandatory EPF contribution rule for foreign workers, the EPF shall have an additional RM504 million (7.63 percent of EPF's total contributions in 2003) which it can then invest in the Malaysian market.

Prudent EPF investment professionals should not overlook this RM504 million of potential investment funds and should recognise that it is significant enough to stimulate certain segments of our economy. A wise management of such funds would also create at least 21,000 job opportunities a year.

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