KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 2 — Malaysia’s dedicated savings fund for Muslims to perform the mandatory haj pilgrimage should have RM64 billion in assets, but has been found to be short of RM4 billion in deposits in 2016, according to The Sunday Times.
The weekend edition of Singapore daily The Straits Times reported that Tabung Haji (TH) has nine million depositors, but it has yet show the audit of its 2017 accounts following a change in its board and senior management after the 14th general elections in May, suggesting that the losses in deposits could have climbed since.
The newspaper also cited an anonymous senior official in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government saying the TH management had “faked last year’s accounts to justify its dividend payout” of up to 6.25 per cent just before the May 9 elections, which brings the total to RM2.7 billion.
Today’s disclosure cracks open further the lid on a new financial can of worms after the new TH board filed police reports against its former chairman and several other members of the senior management over two issues: that RM22 million in the fund’s welfare arm Yayasan Tabung Haji had been diverted for political activities last year; and the savings fund’s 95 per cent stake sale in PT TH Indo Plantations, a plantation company which had owned 83,000 hectares of land in Indonesia, to PT Borneo Pacific for US$910 million (RM3.8 billion) in 2012.
PH leaders previously claimed TH was being used as a pyramid scheme where dubious deals were struck to pay out dividends to depositors.
The pilgrimage funds are government-guaranteed and are further straining the Treasury that is already struggling with a sovereign debt of RM1 trillion that the new PH administration can hardly afford.
The Singapore paper said the government is mulling several options for TH.
One of them is to slash dividends for the next few years so that TH’s profits from its diversified portfolios can offset the obligations to depositors and narrow the loss of assets.
But the paper analysed that such a move could increase public anger which would further dent PH’s popularity which according to opinion polls, has dropped below 50 per cent since it took Putrajaya half a year ago.
Another option the government is said be to considering is a revamp of TH’s 150 real estate assets globally, and its stakes in over 100 listed companies, though it will be years before the yields can be seen.
“If we simply impair or cash out on our bad investments, depositors will start withdrawing,” an anonymous senior official was quoted saying.