PETALING JAYA: Airline operators in this country who refuse to play by the rules of responsible business and are running afoul of best corporate practice should move their company domicile elsewhere.
This is the stand taken by social activist Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim, who took Malindo Air to task for its failure to pay some RM70 million in airport tax within the time stipulated in their agreement with Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB).
Citing an example of another low-cost carrier that previously “threatened to move its business to Indonesia”, Tunku Abdul Aziz stressed that Malaysia wants good corporate citizens instead of just another “swashbuckling Dick Turpin of the airspace”.
He pointed out that the low-cost carrier that was previously embroiled in a controversy of long overdue landing fees, however, did not actually carry out the threat as it “obviously found the grass on the other side of the fence was not as green as it thought”.
Speaking at a press conference held at the Eastin Hotel here today, Tunku Abdul Aziz said the confirmation that Malindo Air has accumulated arrears of RM70 million in airport tax by Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, is most disturbing.
“This piece of information coming on the heels of the systemic corruption in the public sector uncovered by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is most disturbing,” he said, adding that there is every reason to believe there is more to this case than meets the eye.
He stressed that the airport tax is money collected by airlines on behalf of MAHB, and that the money belongs to MAHB.
“In all the circumstances it is money held by Malindo Air in trust and must be paid when due to the rightful legal owner,” he said.
Expressing his disbelief that no stern action was taken prior to the matter of accumulated arrears becoming public knowledge, Tunku Abdul Aziz asked what has happened to the money.
“It is not an unreasonable conclusion in my view that Malindo Air has misapplied the money belonging to MAHB.”
On the point that the delay in payment was due to a dispute over the right amount it owes MAHB, Tunku Abdul Aziz maintained that the rightful ownership of the airport tax is not in dispute.
“This is apparently a ploy for delaying the payment, a useful device employed by Malindo Air, but surely it cannot justify, in both legal and ethical terms, the failure to return money belonging to another party,” he said.
Tunku Abdul Aziz also asked if action is being taken to recover the money immediately and will action be taken against the airline for criminal breach of trust (CBT).
The social activist insisted that what has happened, viewed in accordance with the stipulated terms, Malindo Air has committed CBT.
“Are we about to be entertained to a repeat performance of MAHB allowing itself to be bullied and pushed around by another low-cost airline?” he asked.
When asked on MAHB’s role in collecting the airport tax, Tunku Abdul Aziz said they are the responsible authority in this case and they owe the taxpayers and the travelling public an explanation.
“Why an airline obviously running into difficulties is allowed to operate? They may have good commercial reason. But I don’t think it can justify what has happened here. What is legally wrong cannot be morally right,” he said.
With the Malindo affair developing into what Tunku Abdul Aziz labelled as a corporate conundrum, he called upon the MACC and the Police to initiate investigation.
“It is not just about misapplying money that it has no right to at all. It is about the very distinct possibility that cash for favours might have been part of the special treatment that Malindo has been enjoying,” he said.
“The Minister of Transport and the Managing Director of MAHB will no doubt be only too happy to assist the MACC and the PDRM with such queries these agencies may have in their investigation into this case, which has widespread economic, diplomatic and domestic political implications for Malaysia.
“As a social activist, I urge all of us in this country to give practical effect and substance to the government’s transformation programme,” he said, explaining that it is irresponsible matters such as the Malindo affair that makes it difficult for the government to implement its transformation programmes.
“I urge the authorities to look into this matter. Maybe there is nothing to it,” he said, adding that the government too must do more than what it seems to be doing with regards to the matter.
In related development, Tunku Abdul Aziz said he shared the same concern with the Malaysian Institute of Corporate Governance president Tan Sri Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas on the appointment of Rusdi Kirana as Indonesia’s new ambassador to Malaysia and ‘the attendant diplomatic risks in our important relations with that country bearing in mind that Rusdi is a key player in both Lion Air and Malindo Air’, and the latter is facing serious business problems in this country. – MO