Decision on strategic partner for Malaysia Airlines by early 2020 latest, says Azmin

Yiswaree Palansamy


Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali is pictured at Parliament in Kuala Lumpur October 22, 2019. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 22 ― The economic affairs minister today said the government will appoint a strategic partner to take over Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB) within the next few months.

Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali told Parliament during Question Time that four potential bidders have been shortlisted from 20 received by MAB majority shareholder Khazanah Nasional Berhad, and the airlines’ parent company Malaysian Aviation Group Berhad (MAGB).

“If Khazanah’s board agrees with several responses and suggestions which will be made, we expect that by this year’s end, or latest in early 2020, a decision can be made to identity the strategic partner or strategic investor to strengthen MAS’ position in the long term,” he replied Kapit MP Datuk Alexander Nanta Linggi who wanted to know the timeline for the takeover of the national airline.

Azmin also said the government expects the vetting process will be completed by next month.

He declined to reveal details of the potential bidders, citing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

Azmin said the government will still have a say in MAB through sovereign wealth fund Khazanah, though he added that this is being discussed.

“There are strategic partners or investment partners who suggested to take over the majority shares. There are those who suggested that Khazanah maintain its majority shares in MAS, and all these are under our consideration,” he said, using the old acronym for the airline.

“What’s important is that the government via Khazanah will still have an important voice and majority in this new structure,” Azmin told Jeli MP Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed who asked if the government will still have its “golden shares” if the takeover happens.

The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) reported in September that there was strong resistance from shareholders to Khazanah’s proposal to merge the ailing MAB and AirAsia X Bhd (AAX), the long-haul sister company to budget airline AirAsia.

The sovereign wealth fund has been trying to get MAB off its hands after a botched RM6 billion capital injection since 2014 as well as a massive restructuring which saw the termination of 6,000 employees.

AAX reportedly posted a net loss of RM207.11 million for the second quarter of 2019 and a net loss of RM312.69 million last year as well as a loss of RM244 million in 2015.

It was reported that Putrajaya would have to inject money to cover MAB’s operational expenditure, recapitalise the airline and settle all outstanding debts before any merger can see the light of day.

AirAsia founder and group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes has, however, dismissed rumours of a merger, saying the giant budget airlines has no plans to revive its 2011 share swap plan.

Fernandes and AirAsia co-founder Datuk Kamarudin Meranun joined the Malaysia Airlines board in 2011 in a share swap deal which subsequently soured over operation disagreements.

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