PLUS Malaysia still has RM30.2b debt to pay

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN & DASHVEENJIT KAUR / pic by TMR FILE PIX

PLUS Malaysia Bhd has only redeemed about RM400 million from the over RM30 billion Islamic debt paper used to take the toll operator private eight years ago, derailing any prospect of abolishing tolls.

A document sighted by The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) showed that PLUS has redeemed about RM400 million to date of the RM30.6 billion sukuk, leaving the country’s largest toll operator with RM30.2 billion of debt after the 2011 delisting exercise.

PLUS is owned by Khazanah Nasional Bhd and the Employees Provident Fund with stakes of 51% and 49% respectively. The Islamic debt paper was issued to take the toll concessionaire private. PLUS owns and operates over 800km across the Peninsular Malaysia.

Deputy Works Minister Mohd Anuar Mohd Tahir said any proposal to abolish tolls, including the highways owned by PLUS, will take into account various considerations.

“They have started paying out the debt, but it is a small amount compared to the RM30.6 billion. It (toll abolishment) is easier said than done because we have to consider many things, including how much compensation will cost us.

“The independent consultant we have appointed is looking into all possibilities. They are working on the proposal and it will be tabled to the Cabinet for the final decision in June,” Mohd Anuar told TMR in Parliament yesterday.

As at Dec 31, 2016, PLUS’ total assets were at RM33.22 billion and total liabilities at RM33 billion. For its financial year ended December 2016 (FY16), the group registered a profit after tax of RM288.2 million and RM4.07 billion in revenue.

With the exception of an after-tax loss of RM6 million in FY12, PLUS posted steady profits of between RM21.35 million and RM62.39 million from FY11 to FY16.

Earlier in the Dewan Rakyat, Mohd Anuar said a sizeable portion from PLUS’ toll collection is channelled to redeem the RM30.6 billion sukuk, the largest global sukuk and Malaysia’s single largest bond issuance at that time.

It was highlighted that the toll collection was used for upgrading projects and works to accommodate the higher volume of traffic and enhance the safety features of all PLUS highways. But the public have claimed that the highway operator should be registering higher revenues based on the traffic volume.

PLUS holds a total of five concessions — Projek Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan Bhd, Expressway Lingkaran Tengah Sdn Bhd, Linkedua (M) Bhd, Konsortium Lebuhraya Butterworth-Kulim Sdn Bhd and Penang Bridge Sdn Bhd. All of PLUS’ concessions end in December 2038.

Mohd Anuar said it is possible for the government to provide the capital to redeem the sukuk in order to abolish toll collections.

However, he said the independent audit consultant will make the necessary recommendation to the Cabinet in June.

Mohd Anuar was responding to a supplementary question from Datuk Seri Hasan Arifin (Rompin-Barisan Nasional) on whether the government intends to inject funds into PLUS in a move to abolish tolls at all its expressways.

Last month, the government said an independent consultant has been appointed to conduct a study on tolled roads. People familiar with the matter said E&Y has been appointed to conduct the study.

According to RAM Rating Services Sdn Bhd, there were 23 toll road operators which had issued debt papers amounting to RM52.83 billion in bonds and sukuk, excluding loan stocks, as at May last year. The bonds are largely held by local institutional investors and government-linked pension funds.

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