KUALA LUMPUR: A Pakatan Harapan MP today questioned the rationale in using 36% of national oil company Petroliam Nasional Bhd’s cash reserves for the special dividend of RM30 billion.
Wong Chen (PH-Subang) pointed out that Petronas’ cash reserves, as of last year, stood at RM128 billion, and the profit after tax was RM46 billion.
“This worries me because we know there is a huge possibility Malaysia will be stuck in the trade war between US and China.
“If we use all the money now, the financial power of RM54 billion, we may run out of ‘financial bullets’ when the crisis really hits,” he said in the Dewan Rakyat when debating the Budget 2019.
The RM30 billion special dividend is part of RM54 billion that Putrajaya is asking from Petronas next year.
It will be utilised to fully settle the outstanding tax refunds estimated at RM37 billion — RM18 billion in income tax and RM19 billion in goods and services tax (GST).
Wong stated that while he understood Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng’s anger and frustration in inheriting the financial woes of the previous administration, he was of the view that Parliament needs a guarantee that a special dividend of this nature cannot be repeated in next year’s budget.
“I agree that refunds need to be paid back. It is an issue of cash flow for companies and individuals. But have all these been confirmed and must they be paid back next year?
“Many GST refund applications are not true. It could be based on lies or mistakes.
“I wish to ask Bagan (Lim) whether all the GST refunds need to be paid back in full, or is that figure actually lower than RM19 billion?”
Wong also asked if the RM18 billion in income tax refunds were out of the ordinary.
He urged the government to provide a full disclosure of the top 30 companies receiving the highest corporate tax refunds and the top 30 individuals with the highest personal income tax refunds.
“Petronas is a national treasure. Its revenue must be kept for the future generations,” he said.
‘Petronas should report to Parliament’
Wong also touched on the issue of the budget being formulated based on the Brent crude oil price of between US$60 and US$70 per barrel, questioning if the government had any contingency plans in case the price dropped, owing to the volatility of the oil market.
He reminded the government on its election promise that Petronas should report to Parliament, not the prime minister. He asked when the government would amend the Petroleum Development Act 1974 to ensure the absolute power goes back to the lower house.
On the issue of Kelantan’s finances, Wong, who is from Kota Bharu, urged both Lim (PH-Bagan) and Kelantan to stop fighting and to “talk nicely” on the matter.
Wong said the federal government needs to provide funds to the Kelantan government for them to pay the salaries of civil servants and for them to run the government.
“There is a way for greater financial transparency and accountability. When the funds are channelled to Kelantan, they must be carefully monitored and a mechanism put in place to ensure it is not used for unnecessary expenditure,” he said.
Wong added that if the east coast government had to resort to selling land, mines and timber, this will be detrimental to the environment and the welfare of the people.
Lim and the PAS-led Kelantan administration were previously engaged in a war of words over the state’s finances.