KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian government has thrown a financial lifeline to Muslim pilgrimage savings fund, Tabung Haji (TH), a day after de facto Islamic Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa said it had been “illegally” paying dividends in the four years to last year because its liabilities were higher than its assets.
TH will offload nearly RM20 billion (S$6.6 billion) of underperforming assets to a Ministry of Finance (MOF) company, and the central bank will inject RM10 billion in short-term loans to improve its liquidity, the fund said on its website.
Furthermore, TH will be supervised by the central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, from next month. It is currently managed by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Pakatan Harapan (PH) leader Anwar Ibrahim said placing TH under Bank Negara would allow it to refocus on its original purpose as a savings fund for pilgrims.
“Tabung Haji is an example of how the damage has been inflicted and trust betrayed. It is not the fault of the institution, nor investors, but the management that misused power to rob the people and action should be taken against them,” Datuk Seri Anwar was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini news.
TH has been a widely respected institution in the Islamic world, seen as an efficient manager of pilgrims’ savings and organiser of the annual haj to Mecca.
But it has also been used as a political tool in the country over the years with high dividend payouts often seen as a reward for Malay Muslims to continue supporting the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government.
The 2017 dividends were paid out in February this year, amounting to as high as 6.25 per cent for depositors. This was just three months before the historic May 9 elections which saw PH replacing BN in Putrajaya.
Another controversial transaction involving TH occurred when in 2015 it paid what many considered above market rates for a 0.63ha plot of land owned by scandal-hit state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
TH’s chief executive and managing director Zukri Samat, providing more details of the government’s lifeline, said that RM19.9 billion of the fund’s under-performing assets, primarily real estate and equity holdings, would be transferred to a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), an MOF company.
This is to ensure that TH would have a clean balance sheet with assets equal to liabilities,” Malay Mail online news quoted Datuk Seri Zukri as saying at a news conference.
Turning to the purchase of the 1MDB land, Mr Zukri said: “We bought that land for RM196 million, and until now we haven’t gotten any returns.”
Consultants appointed by the seven-month PH government have said that TH had accumulated up to RM10.2 billion in losses of its domestic and international equities as of October this year. Its liabilities outstripped total assets by RM9 billion.
In a report presented to Parliament on Monday, the consultants said the pilgrimage savings fund would not be able to declare dividends for many years if the balance sheet was not restored.
“The gap between the assets and liabilities is RM9 billion. If the RM9 billion hole is not covered, no hibah (dividends) distribution is possible not just for 2018 but also in the coming years,” said the report which was titled “Rehabilitation and Restructuring Plan of Tabung Haji”.
The report was released after the government-appointed accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) performed a review on TH’s financial position for 2017 and up to June this year.