The role of former finance minister Lim Guan Eng in the expansion plans of the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas has come under question.
Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong said Lim had told DAP news portal Roketkini that he approved the allocation in Budget 2020 himself.
“I have searched for this in the thick Budget 2020 book (but) there is not one single detail about the RM800mil allocation under the Transport Ministry or any other ministries to upgrade the airport this year, ” he said in a Facebook post on his official page on Sunday (Aug 23).
Dr Wee said he had also checked with Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad (MAHB) and that its management confirmed that there was no allocation to upgrade the airport when Lim was the finance minister.
“MAHB has been planning for a long time to use its reserves to cover its costs based on the Regulated Asset Base (RAB) concept, ” he said.
Dr Wee also denied Lim’s accusation that cancelling the upgrading works for the airport was a form of “political vengeance” by Perikatan Nasional.
“In my reply in the Dewan Rakyat on Aug 18, I have stated that all proposals to build and upgrade airports must be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic which has affected the aviation industry.
“In the meantime, the Transport Ministry will implement the National Airport Strategic Plan in all 42 existing airports,” he said, adding that there was no way that the ministry and Perikatan would hold a political grudge against every state that has airports.
Dr Wee said since the movement control order (MCO) was implemented, MAHB had suffered losses, spending over RM1bil to cover operational costs of airports.
“Doesn’t MAHB reserve the right to make their own budget for the company and to have the right priorities during this challenging post-Covid-19 period?” he said.
Meanwhile, former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the project to expand the airport’s capacity from 6.5 million passengers a year to 12 million a year was approved by the Barisan Nasional administration in 2017, and that MAHB was instructed to start construction in 2018.
“However, after Pakatan Harapan won the 14th general election, the expansion project was stopped with the excuse that the government was bankrupt and had no money to fund the costs, ” he claimed in a Facebook post on Sunday.
Lim, added Najib, had a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) to fund the project although MAHB, with cash reserves of over RM2bil as at the end of 2018, could cover the costs.
Najib also posted a letter dated December 2018, which showed that a private company had approached MAHB expressing interest in taking over the concession of the airport for 30 years.
He said the company was willing to bear the RM1.2bil expansion costs and raise the airport’s capacity to 15 million passengers a year.
“Why do you need a capacity of more than 12 million passengers? Because if so, you would need to take the land nearby, ” he said, claiming that there was a land swap involving that of a Chinese primary school at the location.
Najib claimed that MAHB had been resisting Pakatan’s efforts for the concession of the airport to be taken over by a private company for 30 years.
“MAHB insisted on bearing the cost and expanding the airport to 12 million passengers a year at a cost of RM800mil,” he said, alleging that this led to Lim asking the Pakatan federal government to resolve this issue.
He also highlighted that MAHB CEO Raja Azmi Raja Zanuddin had resigned suddenly in January amidst speculation that he had come under pressure. The Star