Mahathir says some Malaysia state-owned entities may be listed

Reducing some equity stakes of state-owned firms is also being considered, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysia may list certain state-owned entities to cut government debt and liabilities, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday (March 19) as it seeks new revenue sources to boost its fiscal position.

Tun Dr Mahathir, elected in a stunning upset last year, has blamed the previous administration of Najib Razak for saddling Malaysia with debt and liabilities of more than RM1 trillion (S$333 billion).

A government panel to cut debt is looking at strategies, such as "identification of opportunities on potential asset monetisation, which means mature unlisted government entities may be listed in the stock market," he said.

State-linked companies could also pare equity stakes, he told a conference of investors in Kuala Lumpur.

"The key guiding principles for monetising any of our assets is that the disposal or monetization must never be done at fire-sale prices, and any disposal of shares, monetisation of assets, auctions or other measures will be done in an orderly manner."

He did not identify specific companies or fix a timeframe for the plan, however.

Sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd announced a new strategy this month, saying it was gearing up to be a "long-term real return provider" to the government through its commercial investments.

Last month Reuters reported, citing sources, that Khazanah's new strategy aimed at delivering more cash to the government by pruning stakes in non-strategic assets. Some analysts have also speculated the government could list a small portion of its stake in state energy firm Petronas to generate revenue.

Petronas is the sole manager of Malaysia's oil and gas reserves.

Although some of its subsidiaries are listed on the national stock exchange, Petronas is fully owned by the government.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng told Reuters last year the government had no immediate plans to sell stakes in state-owned companies, but did not rule out the possibility in the future.

Mr Lim and Dr Mahathir have blamed corruption scandals in the previous administration for Malaysia's large debts.

The fiscal situation was also hurt after the new government scrapped an unpopular consumption tax, in line with a campaign promise.

Former premier Najib has been slapped with dozens of corruption charges since his defeat in May 2018, many related to alleged money laundering at state fund 1MDB. He has pleaded not guilty and has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

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