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YTL: Advocate regulatory framework for local utilities

   
Abdullah (left) and Yeoh sharing a light moment at the luncheon yesterday
Business Times Malaysia, 15 January 2003

By EIRMALASARE BANI

Demand for high-quality services: Consumers have role to play

ISN’T it ironic that a Malaysian who owns a company that provides one of the best supplies of water in the UK thinks it is unsafe to drink water straight from the tap in his own country?

This is because despite all the efforts taken by the Government, the quality of water received by some Malaysian households still leaves much to be desired.

YTL Corp Bhd managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh is all for taking home the technology used by Wessex Water Ltd for the benefit of all Malaysians, but he insisted that the Malaysian consumers must first demand for it.

“The consumers must get the Government to respond.

“As someone who has an interest in this, I shouldn’t comment much but as a consumer, yes, I would want to (have the similar technology used here),” he said.

YTL Corp is the parent company of YTL Power International Bhd, which won a bid for UK’s Wessex Water for RM6.69 billion last year.

A former subsidiary of the now defunct US-based Enron Corp, Wessex Water is said to have one of the best technologies for the supply of water, and the treatment and disposal of wastewater in Britain. Yeoh said Malaysian consumers must advocate a regulatory framework concerning water, electricity, sewage and other utility services in the country.

Issues involving these utility services must be debated publicly by regulators, on what should be outsourced for transparency purposes, he added.

“Consumers should play a role in making corporate people continue to deliver high-level services at nominal prices. A consumer bastion has to be built to balance everybody’s needs,” Yeoh said at a luncheon with senior editors of The New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd (NSTP) at Balai Berita, Kuala Lumpur, yesterday.

Also present at the luncheon was NSTP group editor-in-chief Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad.

Yeoh said Malaysian consumers do not mind paying for high-level services if the standard is consistent. But some have made it a habit not to pay their water bills because of the poor quality of water received.

If the problem is not addressed quickly, it will take a toll on the Government’s coffers, he added.

“Puncak Niaga Holdings Bhd, for example, provides a certain level of services but people are not paying because they think the price is too high or expensive,” he said, adding that the proposed regulatory framework will bring forth transparency in terms of billing.

YTL also recently offered to purchase British power distribution company Midlands Electricity Plc.

“The British don’t care who owns their strategic utilities as long as the consumers are happy with the services and willing to pay nominal fares for them.

“Malaysia should also welcome such competition but the majority (of stakes in strategic utility companies) must be owned by Malaysians,” Yeoh said.

Like water or other strategic utility services, he said, power is a highly political industry. It is also one of the most positive industries in the world.

“The British, Australian and American power industries are privatized, but not in a majority of Europe.”

He said privatization has also brought forward a new method of financing sophisticated infrastructure projects, which previously depended on US dollar-denominated loans.

When Malaysia experienced the first nationwide blackout in September 1992, the incident pushed forward the country’s power sector liberalisation process with the introduction of independent power producers (IPPs).

One of the country’s first IPPs was YTL. While most companies can obtain financing for up to only 10 years in those days, YTL managed to stretch its loan to 15 years.

“It shook up the bond market then,” Yeoh said.

On whether YTL’s investments overseas, including that in the UK, will be affected should war erupt between the US and Iraq, Yeoh said the beauty of investing in a regulated industry is that a company’s investment will be protected by the Government.

He said YTL’s overseas investments currently contribute more than 50 per cent to the company’s revenue. “When we invest overseas, be it in Australia or the UK, it is for the long term,” he added.




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