1MDB President and Group Executive Director Arul Kanda Kandasamy gave a landmark interview on TV3 Soal Jawab last night. His prompt and casual answers are reflective of his confidence on the highly controversial strategic investment corporation of he Malaysian Government.
Full Transcript Of TV3 Interview With 1MDB President And Group Executive Director
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 12 (Bernama) — 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) President and Group Executive Director Arul Kanda spoke on wide-ranging issues raised about the sovereign wealth fund, including investigations into its affairs conducted by Bank Negara Malaysia, the Royal Malaysian Police, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Arul also elaborated on the implementation of the 1MDB’s rationalisation plan that would be able to resolve its debts within four to six months.
He said 1MDB was on track to meet its strategic development objectives and did not encounter problems in wooing investors, but was saddled by political accusations and allegations.
Here is the full transcript of TV3’s Norzie Pak Wan Chek and Izwan Azir Salih’s conversation with Arul on the “Soal Jawab” programme last night:
PREAMBLE: 1MDB president and group executive director Arul Kanda, in a statement, has asserted that he was fully responsible for any action against the company after helming it. He gave the commitment to carry out his job professionally and to provide all the necessary information to assist the authorities seeking the truth behind 1MDB affairs. Arul was appointed to carry out a strategic evaluation of 1MDB and now he spearheads the implementation of its rationalisation plan which was tabled to the Cabinet on May 29. So far this plan, which is set to reduce the company’s debt level, is running smoothly. This was attested from the repayment of loans amounting to RM3.6 billion which was announced on June 8.
First and foremost, let us get to know Arul, who was previously a banker in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates and the UK. You have experience in restructuring companies, but not many people know you well until after the 1MDB affairs become public knowledge.
QUESTION: It is understood that you have a legal background.
ANSWER: Yes, I have an LLB and a Masters in Law degree and studied in the UK for several years, after which in went into investment banking in London, Bahrain, Dubai and previously Abu Dhabi.
QUESTION: When you were given the responsibility to lead 1MDB, it was debt-ridden, its governance was questionable. What motivate you to accept the responsibility? Probably there were specific reasons related to the situation faced by 1MDB then?
ANSWER: There were many things that we needed to see before taking up a new post. As a professional, I was intrigued with the news that I heard and read on the internet and social media on 1MDB while I was in Abu Dhabi. I heard a lot about 1MDB and its challenges. I would like to know more about it and also with the background that I have in my work and the knowledge that I have on this kind of work. The opportunity to return home and to implement the rationalisation plan was an opportunity that I needed to take as a professional. And we have to try and see what we can do.
QUESTION: Were the circumstances described on 1MDB before similar after you had returned home?
ANSWER: Most of them were similar. Ironically, there were mostly negative news, but the audience needs to know that 1MDB is the biggest power producer in Malaysia. It also owns strategic areas in Kuala Lumpur and in other parts of Malaysia. So business is as usual, we carry out daily tasks, but there were challenges to be overcome, especially the company’s debts. So to me as a professional, we look at the whole picture, not part of it only. The whole picture is what I had identified before returning home, there but there were other challenges such as the political situation and so on – which is not my expertise. I am a businessman and a banker, not a politician, so it was a little difficult.
QUESTION: So, in other words, before you joined 1MDB you were mentally prepared to face the brickbats or the debts payable and so on and certainly you had a special plan to drive 1MDB towards a better direction?
ANSWER: Alhamdullillah, a workforce of about 1,100 professionals in 1MDB go about their daily duties to generate power, and develop TRX and Bandar Malaysia and so on. So to me, it’s running smoothly and we do not need to worry. But on the part of the financial burden, it takes a lot of air time in Malaysia, it is a bit difficult. But my background in the Middle East in the implementation of rationalisation plan was indeed my expertise, as well as legal and banking expertise. InsyaAllah, we can carry out the plan that was presented to the Cabinet on May 29, 2015.
QUESTION: Let’s talk briefly on 1MDB’s core businesses as to the general public it is a company bogged down by debts. Briefly tell us about 1MDB background.
ANSWER: It is rather difficult to give a brief story as it is actually a lengthy one, but I will try. It originates from the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA) that was established as a sovereign wealth fund, so a government fund, but it was changed because it was then only for the state of Terengganu, so when Datuk Seri Najib (Tun Razak) became the prime minister, a decision was made to convert TIA to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
So with the change, the strategic direction of the company converted to a strategic development company. This means the company delves into projects in the interest of the country to become catalysts, create new way hybrids for the private and government sectors, and also to bring in foreign direct investment.
So, that’s the first chapter. Secondly, 1MDB model from the beginning was to develop projects through loans. Why? Why use debts? At that time, when we used loans to buy assets such as land or cash-generating power stations, so the debt burden could be borne.
And the government then injected RM1 million into the company, so that other government funds can be used to build schools, hospitals and so on. So the model can be leveraged and we can use government funds for other things.
But when we implemented projects by taking loans, what is important is the execution. It meant that the 1MDB’s plan was to carry out an IPO for the power generation company and secondly, to implement a master plan to develop its lands and break them into parcels for sale as well as to build infrastructure, for an example the Tun Razak Exchange. 1MDB will spend RM3 billion to upgrade Jalan Tun Razak to build infrastructure and direct connections to the highways – MEX, Smart and so on.
So all these activities were the responsibility shouldered and carried out by 1MDB. That was the 1MDB’s plan from the beginning. But after several years, various allegations were hurled against it, the critics and so on definitely complicated plans to run the IPO or sometimes even to sell land was difficult.
That’s where the mismatch was, an imbalance between incoming cash flow, the cash required to pay the debts. At that time, the government decided to implement a strategic review and after that a rationalisation plan to correct the situation as the original proposal could not be fully implemented. So we need to handle the matter through the rationalisation plan.
QUESTION: Is there a need for a business model like 1MDB in Malaysia and is there a duplication in the role played by 1MDB and Khazanah Nasional Bhd. Can you explain?
ANSWER: Basically both companies are complimentary, it means they support each other. If we were to see Khazanah Nasional, it has successfully managed government assets such as Tenaga Nasional Bhd, Telekom and others.
The government shares were transferred to Khazanah Nasional which also implements several new projects, including in Iskandar and so on. On the other hand, 1MDB carry out greenfield projects such as the takeover of land in TRX which used to have a hawkers market, a temple, a mosque and squatters.
As for Bandar Malaysia, it still has an air base there, so 1MDB has the responsibility to build eight new camps, namely six for the Defence Ministry and two more for the Home Ministry in several parts of the country at the cost of RM2.7 billion, so 1MDB has to develop them from scratch. There is nothing there and we have to develop the area which is different from the role played by Khazanah.
QUESTION: Tell us your vision of where you are taking 1MDB in the face of negative remarks and wild accusations.
ANSWER: I understand why the comments and criticisms were leveled against 1MDB, but we have the facts. My responsibility is to provide the facts on 1MDB so that the wrong assumptions can be corrected and we have been doing that. More than 48 press releases had already been dished out by 1MDB, a lot of information and facts were uploaded on our website, Facebook and Twitter and so forth in our strive to paint the correct picture on what is being done by us.
As we can see, 1MDB is among the biggest power companies in Malaysia, but that is not what we see. Unlike this table than can be pounded, electricity cannot be seen, and the same goes for TRX and Bandar Malaysia. When we look at the (Sungai Besi) air base and Bandar Malaysia, it looks as if there is nothing there, but as I mentioned earlier, 1MDB is building eight camps throughout the country and the project is in progress and will completed by the end of 2016.
It takes time and expenditure and so on, it’s 1MDB’s responsibility. Just like TRX, we are spending RM3 billion for infrastructure in TRX, but the infrastructure is not visible now as it is mostly below and so forth.
InsyaAllah, when we completed the infrastructure, the buildings will rise from there. Developing land to build new power stations will take time and it is something that cannot be seen physically or openly, but will materialise soon.
QUESTION: Most of 1MDB board members have outstanding business track records. Why then 1MDB is saddled with unwarranted remarks on its business performance? From your evaluation, what can you perceive on the company’s corporate governance before you took over the helm?
ANSWER: So, first of all, what is important for us is to find out what is 1MDB’s real problem. The real problem is cash flow which is mismatched. We have long-term assets that need to be developed overtime, but the cash flow coming our way should be used to pay debts as the problem was due to mismatch and liquidity, financial liquidity.
On governance, if we were to look back at several things that needed to be done, but for every decision made, what is important is that decisions were made correctly in the proper business context as well as in the context of time, which is also important.
When we looked back there were things that could have been done in other ways. So, at the time the decisions were made the context should be seen, and also whether all requirements were taken into consideration in coming to the decisions, and to me, they had been done that way.
In business, it’s different, there are plans implemented that failed due to internal or external factors. So what is important is that when we look at the challenges, we need to take action, if something was not done according to the requirements, it needs to be corrected and hence, we have the rationalisation plan at this juncture.
Q: You said earlier that 48 press releases have been issued and you have appeared on TV3 many times. Are you satisfied with the explanations, which on social media don’t seem too clear?
A: We are still making improvements on this matter. We are always improving and trying to make it better for ourselves. So for me, every time we issue an explanation or issue a press release, it helps us to give a clearer, truer and complete picture on 1MDB.
But the reality is, 1MDB is a complex and large company with about RM50 billion in assets, and it has other subsidiaries, and many transactions are done every day. We are also not listed on Bursa Malaysia. If there’s a need to come up with an explanation, we try to achieve a balance between carrying out our daily business and giving the explanation.
But to me, for most of the very critical questions that need answers, it is better investigations are carried out, because some are just accusations. Not many people are interested in the fact that the Cabinet has asked the Auditor General to investigate 1MDB.
So the process has come up with an interim report to the PAC, and to me the report is so complete, detailed and done professionally. So the answers we have given and in future will come from the ongoing investigations.
Q: Unfortunately, some of the investigations are still internal in nature and cannot be divulged to the public. In your opinion, what more can be done so that 1MDB can repay its debts in the time allotted?
A: The issue of debt repayment is the reason for the rationalisation plan, and as we are a company, the original plan was to buy land, an IPO and so on.
For now, the original plan cannot be implemented. So for this rationalisation plan, if the company has a liquidity problem or cash flow mismatch, there are really just three solutions.
The first is getting new funds from shareholders, or issue new equities. Secondly, we sell assets and repay the debts. And thirdly, we invite new funds from new investors. But for 1MDB we take the third approach.
So EDRA Energy is in the process of joining several local and international companies to buy some of the shares owned by 1MDB in the company. The money obtained will be used to settle the debts.
The value of EDRA is estimated at between RM16 billion and RM20 billion. Insyaallah (God willing), we will be able to repay the debts when we sell part of the company.
Secondly, in June 1MDB signed a township agreement with IPIC of Abu Dhabi. IPIC, a company owned by the Abu Dhabi government, is valued at US$60 billion. And the township is for IPIC to take over 1MDB’s debts, which actually have bveen guaranteed by IPIC. The principal and debts come to about US$3.5 billion. IPIC has also paid US$1 billion which we have used towards the debt settlement.
So if we exchange our assets with IPIC, 1MDB’s debt burden will be reduced by RM16 billion to RM17 billion.
Thirdly, 1MDB is in the process of bringing in development partners to Bandar Malaysia. The process is being implemented with about 40 companies which have shown inteterest in becoming development partners for Bandar Malaysia.
To me, if Bandar Malaysia is sold at RM550 to RM600 per square foot, its value would be between RM11 billion and RM12 billion.
If we combine the three, they will become proceeds towards debt settlement, and the three processes are proceeding smoothly, but it will take about four to six months to complete.
Q: 1MDB’s business model needs a high degree of confidence from lenders, companies that will help us generate capital. How is investors’ confidence, amid negative talk about 1MDB? Are we sure the ongoing process will be continued?
A: Alhamdullillah (praise be to God), 1MDB’s assets are fundamentally strong. Their strong fundamentals have given the investors confidence. They are focusing on the fundamentals. For example, the revenue from EDRA is about RM5 billion a year from energy, that will bring value to the company.
The Bandar Malaysia land is in KL. There is no land of such size near KLCC and the KL city centre, that’s the only land available. We add to the high speed terminal there two, or potentially three, MRT lines, the KTM Komuter and so on. The value of the land is not constrained by current prices.
What that means is, the opportunity is immense, that’s why the investors are willing to discuss. Look at KL Sentral, KLCC, Mid Valley — now there are all sorts of development there, but when it was started the confidence was low. However, investors could see the long-term vision.
Q: How would IPIC (through acquiring EDRA’s assets) find the property developers to buy land in Malaysia? Is this a normal procedure, or, as some would say, a not so wise move?
A: 1MDB’s original plan when buying separate utility companies was to combine them into a bigger entity. The objective then, in 2012 and early 2013, was to implement an IPO.
For the TRX and Bandar Malaysia land, the original objective was to come up with a master plan, get planning approval, and put in the infrastructure and sell a small portion of the land.
Acquiring assets using the debts, and selling the assets, will bring in new funds. The funds will be used to repay the debts. The difference is caused by cash flow mismatch and liquidity concerns. We were forced to come up with a new plan, which is to bring the funds to strategic investors, but the long-term plan remains.
In business, there are always difficulties, but what is important is the need to overcome the challenges, that is my goal. My job is to resolve the issue. That is why I was brought into 1MDB.
Q: Are we still on track, or are we far off-target?
A: Not to me. For instance, with TRX, we are in the process of selling the TRX land as in the original plan: with the entry of Main Board-listed companies to buy 17 of the 70 acres in TRX; selling the land to the Mulia Group, a prominent Indonesian company; and recently, to Affin Bank, which wants to build its headquarters.
So the plan is ongoing. With the power plants, we are still ongoing — 5,000 Megawatts every day — the difference is whether we sell the shares through an IPO or sell to strategic investors. In the current market situation, it is probably better for us to sell to strategic investors.
Q: The PM has said 1MDB’s debts can be settled in six months. With the current global economic condition, and the value of the ringgit against the dollar, is six months a sufficient time period for the debts to be repaid?
A: I am confident the time period is sufficient, considering the condition of the company and market. Like what was said before about EDRA, we shortlist interested local and overseas investors. Just like for Bandar Malaysia, 40 prominent companies from Malaysia and from outside — China, Australia, Singapore and the Middle East — are interested in buying the land.
These assets are long-term assets. We cannot look at it just from the current perspective, as they will take a long time. These companies understand we cannot take a short-term view but rather a long-term view.
Like I said, 1MDB’s assets are strong, and we can implement the rationalisation plan to solve this cash flow problem.
Q: In discharging your daily duties as President and Executive Director of 1MDB, do you faced any interference or are you given the freedom to make decision involving and affecting the direction of the company?
A: Corporate governance has several sections. As the management, we have a board of directors, shareholders. So, decisions must (be made) through or by using the stipulated methods of governance. Alhamdulillah (All praises be to Allah), for 1MDB, every major decision we made, either strategic review or rationalisation plan, is through the three segments. We collaborate and work together as a team. So, from the shareholders’ perspective, the Finance Ministry, board of directors and management are always collaborating and exchanging ideas for the implementation of team rationalisation plan.
Q: So, there is no interference?
A: Not of outside of that. We debate and discuss. For me, that is not interference, that is just the way for corporate governance, through the management of the board of directors and shareholders.
Q: About debt and settlement of debt, at the end of the day, will 1MDB be able to generate profit or will all income generated now be sufficient only to settle the debt and that no profits could be made by 1MDB?
A: We have two situations. Firstly, the current challenge is to settle the debt, which has two segments, namely interest and principal. The issue of ‘cash flow mismatch’ is the most important matter at this moment as we need to settle the debt to bring the company back to a stable position. That is our priority right now.
In the long term, if we can reduce the company’s burden of debt and bring it back to a stable level, by settling the debt using the company’s operating income, InsyaAllah (God willing), we will gain profit through the two (segments) which should be looked in a comprehensive manner. What matters most is that we must stabilise the situation in order to move forward.
Q: How do you plan to stabilise the situation with the current perceptions?
A: It’s difficult and the pressure is high, but we have plan and that plan is implementable, it’s a very realistic plan. For me and the 1MDB team, I always remind them to focus on the plan, no matter what the allegations or criticisms hurled at us. That’s normal in business and we have to accept that. The people have the right to voice out their opinion and if we can learn something from them, we have to take it into consideration and use it further develop the company.
Q: On the depreciation of ringgit, what action will 1MDB take to prevent its external debts denominated in the US dollar from continuing to burden the company? Is there any specific plan to address the problem?
A: There are two parts. Firstly, 1MDB has power companies in foreign countries, such as in Bangladesh and Egypt, and 1MDB is the largest independent power producer in both countries.
Besides, we also have power assets in Abu Dhabi and Pakistan, which are generating funds in the form of US dollars. This means that we have natural hedge for which cash flow is accepted in US dollars to pay off debts in US dollars.
Secondly, 1MDB also has various assets in the form of US dollars that could be pledged against the US dollars.
Q: When you sit down with reporter, you will definitely be asked unexpected questions. I want to know the sentiment of questions asked by investors interested in the TRX land, Bandar Malaysia and IPP. What is the sentiment and the costs that had to be borne, in terms of energy and arguments to convince the investors that their investment in 1MDB is a safe investment.
A: We look at the opportunity to invest, the questions are not just on the fundamental assets, but also on political allegations which are worrying the investors, for when we invest our money in certain project, of course the economic or political situation became an important matter for the implementation.
The method that we use is to show them the plans for our power companies and land for the long term, maybe 15 or 20 years from now, and investors will understand that from time to time, there will be some political and economic issues.
We see how Malaysia had gone through a number of challenges in the past 20 or 30 years, but the graph is going up and we have to remember that although, right now, there are concerns and worries about some issues, if proper steps are taken, eventually the situation will improve.
Q: So you are suggesting that the investors are not too upset with existing sentiment in the country after looking into the company’s long-term plan?
Q: Regarding the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) investigation which is still pending following the appointment of PAC members as part of the new Cabinet line up, how far the 1MDB is willing to tell the truth about the transactions and what happened in the company?
A: In 1MDB, not only the PAC. 1MDB is open to various investigations, from most investigation companies in Malaysia, from Bank Negara, MACC, PDRM, A-G, Auditor-General and the PAC, and each investigation is still ongoing and never stop, and we always give the required information to facilitate the investigations.
With PAC, we were ready to go to their office on Aug 4 to 6, but because of the changes taking place at the PAC, the meeting was postponed. We are prepared to go back to the PAC, if a new date is set, to present our facts.
The postponement has also made it difficult for us because as 1MDB, we really want to answer some questions and counter the allegations made against us, but when the meeting was postponed, we did not get that opportunity.
PAC, in my view, is the right institution. The best of all investigations to present, because there are opposition and the government. That means the questions that we will be asked are from both parties and it is our responsibility to convince not only the government, but also the opposition.
That is important.
Q: So, the joke made by members of the public and certain quarters that 1MDB would feel so relieved with the postponement is actually not true because you are ready to face the PAC?
A: It is indeed not true because my friends and I, including the board of directors, are all set to face the PAC.
Q: In your opinion Mr Arul, how comprehensive the investigations carried out by the PAC, Auditor General and the likes will be, taking into account the aspects of the allegations, which are not limited to 1MDB account?
A: For me, the investigations are being carried out so thoroughly as the Bank Negara has to look at the overall picture. PDRM, for example, with the several police report made against 1MDB, has been looking in detail into the reports and the same goes with the MACC. Each department has their own specialty in carrying out the investigations, not only on the accounts scrutinised by the Audit Department, but files and computers have also been taken from 1MDB, and that are not limited to the answers that were already given.
Q: How about the connection of certain individuals with some political leaders in country? Can it be investigated and is it under the jurisdiction of the investigating agencies?
A: To me, every investigating agency is doing their job in a professional and comprehensive manner. It is their right to carry out their duties and as a professional, I have also discharged my duties to the best of my abilities and Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak) has stated publicly that if any wrongdoing was found, action will be taken. Now, it is up to the agency to carry out the investigations in a comprehensive and professional manner.
Q: Mr. Arul, let say something bad happens, like the rationalisation process did not run smoothly and the debts could not be settled within the stipulated time, will it affect the country’s economy?
A: That is an important question as the government has provided a guarantee for RM5.8 billion of 1MDB’s debt, and there is also a letter of support for RM11.5 billion, so it’s important for us to implement the rationalisation plan so we can settle the debts and not burden the government. Alhamdulillah, 1MDB assets are strong and currently, there are investors who have shown interest to purchase the assets at market prices. To us, the rationalisation plan is clear, for us to solve debt issues, but if for any reason it was not happening, we need to remember about companies such as Edra Energy, that we have other options which may be sold one by one. So, with such strong assets, our options are many and we can take reasonable time, as long as the principal and interest, for the debts can be settled.
Q: In a nutshell, are you confident and optimistic to lead the 1MDB out of this negative episode to become a company that can really made the nation proud?
A: To me, what is important is that the investigations must continue, the truth and the facts must be made public by the independent investigators. Don’t take our word on it in a transparent and professional manner. That is more important. It is not my duties to find fault, it is the responsibility of the investigating agencies. My responsibility is to settle the debts that are burdening the company.
With the support of 1MDB staff and shareholders, Ministry of Finance, InsyaAllah (God willing), we will be able to settle the debts. Overall, it looks good, for the future is clear. I’m confident, that’s why I’m here today. I returned to Malaysia to do my job.