Mara Corp to set Bumiputera’s economic development back on track

Under a massive restructuring plan, all of Mara’s commercial entities are expected to be managed under Mara Corp

By AFIQ AZIZ / Pic By ISMAIL CHE RUS

It has been a rather restless decade for Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara).

Formed in 1966 to serve Bumiputeras’ interest in the areas of business industry, the body seemed to have been riddled with controversial deals and not-so-flattering news.

From the alleged misappropriation of fund that was used to sponsor a particular football team via its shareholding in Universiti Kuala Lumpur (UniKL); the questionable Mara Digital Mall project; the “on-and-off again” Asia Aerospace City project to the dubious RM60 million land deals in Australia; Mara’s management team might have to find a quick fix to rectify all these issues.

As it is, over the past 53 years since its formation, Mara has also managed to expand Bumiputera’s participation locally and globally via several commercial firms.

One of its units is Mara Corp, which was incorporated in 2014 and launched two years later.

Under a massive restructuring plan, all of Mara’s commercial entities are expected to be managed under Mara Corp.

According to Mara’s website, 14 subsidiaries are parked within the government body including UniKL, Mara Inc Sdn Bhd, Pelaburan Mara Bhd (PMB), Glocal Link (M) Sdn Bhd, MaraLiner Sdn Bhd, Mara Aerospace and Technologies Sdn Bhd (Mara Aerotech), Asia Aerotechnic Sdn Bhd (Asia Aerotech) and Kolej Universiti PolyTech Mara (KUPTM).

Prior to Pakatan Harapan’s victory in the 14th General Election, the previous government had also mooted University Mara to be placed directly under the Mara Corp jurisdiction in 2016.

A government-linked investment company (GLIC), Mara Corp is now valued at RM1.4 billion. The holding corporation was first chaired by Datuk Ibrahim Ahmad, the Mara DG.

The hot seat was taken over then by a 45-year-old technocrat, Akhramsyah Muammar Ubaidah Sanusi (picture) last January, seven months after the change of federal government in May 2018.

A former student of Maktab Rendah Sains Mara Balik Pulau in Penang — a boarding school under Mara, Akramsyah’s move to Mara Corp may be an ideal position, despite some setbacks that clouded the company.

With 20 years of involvement in the downstream business in the oil industry, including 18 years in Shell Malaysia Ltd, Akhramsyah conceded that it is important to set a clear demarcation between a commercial entity and the government body.

“This is pretty much the image of Mara Holdings Sdn Bhd before, where all the commercial elements of Mara sit under one entity.

“It is important, because firstly, leaving these commercial entities under Mara would result in a mismatch between the competencies that is required to manage them as commercial entities and a government body, while it also could expose Mara to unnecessary commercial risk from these businesses.

“As such, moving these entities into Mara Corp will address these problems: It would handle the issue of management competencies and curb unnecessary business risk from the government body,” Akhramsyah told The Malaysian Reserve in an interview last week.

He did not deny that based on Mara’s due diligence report, Mara Corp would have to instil good corporate governance and high professionalism to mitigate the graft and incompetency elements which had been practised by the subsidiaries.

Transfer of Assets

According to Akhramsyah, seven subsidiaries have been transferred to Mara Corp, including PMB, Mara Inc, Glocal Link, Mara Aerotech and Asia Aerotech.

Meanwhile, he said other entities such as UniKL, KUPTM and MaraLiner are expected to be placed under holding company by the first quarter of this year.

One of the immediate institutions that he would be looking at is UniKL.

Akhramsyah said he envisions that UniKL, which has more than 22,000 students and 13 campuses, could stand on its two feet by generating more registrations and to not heavily rely on Mara’s financial capabilities in terms of loans and scholarship.

“We believe we can help them to deliver on that,” he said, adding that Mara Corp is also looking to assist in rejuvenating the German-Malaysian Institution — a company limited by guarantee co-founded by Mara and the Malaysian German Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He said Mara’s board members are expected to sign off the transfer of UniKL to MaraCorp soon.

On the Mara Inc scandal, Akhramsyah said the subsidiary has been transferred to Mara Corp last year with due diligence processes already completed.

“The due diligence was done before it was transferred to us. When we took over, all issues have been resolved and cleared,” he said.

In 2015, Mara was in the spotlight for the wrong reason, over the purchase of a five-storey apartment block, Dudley House, in Melbourne for US$22.5 million (RM67.69 million) by Mara Inc.

It was alleged that Mara has overpaid by as much as US$4.75 million through the deal.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission had launched investigations into Mara’s property purchases in Australia. However, no one has been prosecuted in relation to the deals.

Akhramsyah said Mara Corp has no intention to reopen the scandal and would let the authority handle any misappropriation, while the company focuses to strengthen its structure.

“Moving forward, it is important for us to have better professionals in our management and fill our board with credential figures to ensure good governance,” he said, adding that the Mara Corp board members would be announced soon after receiving the relevant approvals from Mara.

Political Appointee?

There has been a debate from the Opposition parties, demanding that the Pakatan Harapan government to fulfil its manifesto by not appointing political figures in GLCs.

As for Akhramsyah, who is also the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia supreme council member, he said it is ideal to abide by the rule that was set in the manifesto book.

However, the practicality of implementing it may be a different matter as the situation has changed.

“We have a new government and with integrity set at the highest premium level in the selection of people in the leadership position including those from the corporate world.

“Knowing how the previous administration has deeply embedded (their corrupt practices) in the corporate world — especially in the GLCs, you have to admit that many of those senior people over there are compromised.

“So, who do we know for sure that have the integrity in opposing the wrongdoing of the last administration? Ironically, these people are also the members of the Opposition party then, which is part of the government now,” Akhramsyah said.

“As such, in terms of integrity, the politicians from the previous Opposition that have been fighting corruption and toppled the then government is the most suitable candidates to be appointed in these positions,” he added.

Akhramsyah, however, said not everybody with integrity would suit the positions. Hence, the government has also considered the competency elements in any government-related appointment.

Aligning Education System to Industry

Taking Subang as a model, where the UniKL Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology sits within the vicinity of the Subang Aerospace Park in Selangor, Akhramsyah said Mara Corp could do more after the consolidation exercise is completed.

“We need a clear tie-up between the industry and the education. What we learn in much successful institutions is that, the education institution can be a starting point in building the supply chain, or the key component of the ecosystem.

“So, in the case of Subang, we can see the close tie up between the two which also can spur to the whole aerospace industry nationwide, including up to the northern area of Rawang and Serendah in Selangor,” he said.

Akhramsyah also said Mara Corp would also be involved in other manufacturing sectors including automotive, in particular, the upcoming new national car project which was mooted for a direction of having an electrical car industry.

“It is not just about developing batteries, but also high engineering and programming skills. So, we need to ensure that we could have enough competent workforces that are sourced from our institutions.

“With the consolidation of these subsidiaries, from aerospace services provider to the more traditional transportation business player like MaraLiner, financial services and trust like PMB, traditional education institutions, as well as the property player of Mara Inc, I believe Mara Corp has what it takes towards creating the economic development for the countries,” Akhramsyah added.

The son of the late former Kedah Mentri Besar (MB) Tan Sri Sanusi Junid, Akhramsyah said the development of a complete ecosystem in Mara’s commercial entities, will definitely uplift the Bumiputera economy, as what the body was supposed to do.

“We are having a commercial mindset, but we are not divorced from Mara’s aims in uplifting the wellbeing of Malays and Bumiputeras. Our focus is still on economic development and primarily for the Bumiputera community,” he said.