Ethnic Inequalities in Malaysia remain after 57 Years of Independence


August 27, 2014

Ethnic Inequalities in Malaysia remain after 57 Years of Independence

by Jenni Dixon (received via e-mail)

Mahathir and his wards

Ethnicity has played a major role in Malaysian political and economic policy since the inception of the federation in 1963. The launching of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1971, with the primary aim of promoting economic growth, with particular emphasis on exports, had another important objective: to promote unity and harmony in one of the most ethnically diverse of nations.

The laudable idealism of the project, which attempted to raise incomes and reduce unemployment in all ethnic groups, to reduce poverty and create a restructured society in which race played no part may have kept ethnic differences, prejudices and jealousies at bay while the country prospered, but the simmering tensions below the surface of society were bound to boil over as the country’s economy began to decline.

However, while many observers do accept that the NEP reduced overall poverty, it has to be said that it was only partially successful in achieving its goals. The policy of Bumiputera, which gives preferential treatment to the Malay ethnic majority, has gone some way towards reducing disparities in income and wealth, but has sharpened the rift between Malays and the other main ethnic groups, the Chinese and Indians. New policies following on from the NEP after 1990 have adhered to its philosophy of affirmative action. These have targeted education, employment and the development of new enterprises.

Programmes aimed at halting the decline of standards in primary and secondary education, increasing the manufacturing base and stimulating regional development have benefited some sectors of the urban population while neglecting the problems of the Malay rural and urban poor. While the reality of Malaysia’s social problems may be seen more clearly from a perspective of class, as a division between rich and poor, the country’s more visible ethnic differences colour much political analysis so that the division between the Malay/Muslim sector and the rest of the population has perhaps been allowed to dominate more than it should.

Playing the percentages

In 1971, over 66% of the Malaysian corporate sector was foreign-owned, while the indigenous Bumiputera, who made up 60% of the population, owned only around 2%. The NEP target was to increase Bumiputera holdings to 30%, that of other Malaysians to 40%, and reduce foreign holdings to 40% by 1990. The outcome was disadvantageous to the Bumiputera, who increased their holdings to only 20.4%, while the other Malaysians, mainly Chinese, benefited most with a rise to 46.8% that exceeded expectations, against a decline of foreign holdings to 25.1%. However, a booming economy during the 1990s and the early years of the 21st century ensured that all sectors increased the value of their holdings, which went some way to disguising ethnic resentments.

The current slowdown in the economy has only deepened the distrust between Chinese and Malays. Prime Minister Najib Razak has appeared to ignore these rising ethnic tensions in favour of strengthening his Malay support base. For several years he had been pressing for a review of Bumiputera policy. His recent close election victory, with his ruling National Front coalition winning a majority in the lower house with only 47% of the popular vote, compared to the 51% who voted for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, has put into sharp relief his lack of support among the ethnic Chinese, causing him to consider the benefits of pursuing policies favourable to the ethnic Malays. Indeed, in the autumn of 2013, he announced a new low-price housing policy aimed only at Malays.

Prejudices and disadvantages

Over the decades since 1970, when Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamed delineated the controversial ‘Malay Dilemma’, which helped to create the political climate for the instigation of the NEP, political rhetoric has only accentuated the fallacious negative image of Malays as struggling to overcome their ethnic inferiority. For those who want to believe these prejudices, Bumiputera policies that introduced quotas for education, scholarships and business contracts only seemed to confirm their validity. The false logic of this argument says that because Malays needed help in these areas, they were clearly lazy, uneducated and lacking in the business acumen for which the Chinese and Indians were renowned. Malays happen to make up the majority of the rural population, where there is a lower per capita income and more people live in poverty.

Social problems associated with poverty are necessarily more common among Malays; for example, the percentage of people needing help for drug abuse is far higher for Malays, which in 2008 was 74.97% against 12.61% for Chinese and 9.75% for Indians, and drug rehabilitation programmes show a recidivism rate of over 50%. On Anti-Drug day 2014 Prime Minister Najib Razak urged Malaysian families to do everything in their power to prevent their children becoming prey to drug addiction. These sorts of problems associated with poverty are better remedied in this way, in giving general encouragement and advice and relieving poverty than targeting a particular ethnic group.

New Bumiputera policies

In March 2014, Prime Minister Najib Razak launched the new Bumiputera Business Expansion Fund worth RM200 million, which is designed to help Bumiputera technology companies to expand internationally. These will be flexible loans offered without the need for collateral with a generous payment period of six years, beginning two years after the beginning of the loan. Another RM25 million has been given to the Bumiputera Agenda Steering Unit, to be managed by the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation, and a further RM1.4 billion in Facilitation Fund Grants had already been approved for Bumiputera companies to develop 132 projects, creating about 23,000 new local jobs. The Prime Minister said that the loans were aimed at businesses in the cutting edge of a wide range of technological industries, and stressed that each proposed project must have a clear prospect of profitability and expansion.

The downside of Bumiputera is that while it is an attempt to stimulate the economy by preferential loans, it also by definition ignores other important sectors of the population. It has caused many Chinese Malaysians to emigrate as well as put off Chinese nationals from coming to study in Malaysia. The signs of a new ‘Malay Dilemma’ are already there to see, which may not be easy to remedy. In Kuala Lumpur, for example, preferential treatment is given to Malays for jobs and University places, and Malay shop owners and restaurateurs enjoy lower rents and ease of access to premises. Chinese resentment over these inequalities has created increased ethnic tension.

Sources

http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Policy-Politics/Malaysias-ethnic-tensions-rise-as-its-economy-declines

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2012/06/21/nep-the-good-and-the-bad/

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2012/06/21/nep-the-good-and-the-bad/

http://www.academia.edu/531386/Rethinking_the_Malay_Problem_in_Singapore_Image_Rhetoric_and_Social_Realities

https://my.news.yahoo.com/najib-announces-rm200-million-bumiputera-business-expansion-fund-112631364.html

http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2014/02/19/PM-urges-families-to-unite-against-drug-abuse-Establish-a-happy-and-trusting-home-environment-says-N/

http://hornbillunleashed.wordpress.com/2013/09/21/50340/

http://www.malaysia-today.net/how-to-criticize-bumiputera-policies-101/

Symmetrical characters, parallel fates


August 19, 2014

Symmetrical characters, parallel fates

COMMENT by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

Men of destiny seek proof of their greatness by exercising a license to go too far, and as the fear grows that destiny may have played a terrible joke on them, they double and redouble the stakes on the wheel of fortune. In this way they destroy themselves.-Terence Netto

hype_najib1Now that the cat has sprung out of the bag and is dashing about among a wider public, the only news would be if anyone has died of shock from the revelation that Dr Mahathir Mohamad has withdrawn support for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

After months of premonitory sniping at the Premier by his satraps, notably A Kadir Jasin and Zainuddin Maidin, the man himself has come out in the open with a formal declaration of hostilities. There is no more cogent example of déjà vu nor self-parody than the producer himself reiterating he is about to re-start a familiar business – the demolition of a sitting PM.

A fortuitous benefit of this incipient extravaganza – to the federal opposition, Pakatan Rakyat – has been the confirmation that their self-destructive shenanigans in Selangor have furnished the opportunity to the premier demolisher of incumbent PMs to fix on this as the most opportune time for the unleashing of his decanal decapitation of national head honchos, not to mention a few deputies as well.

The wonder is that anyone at all, at this advanced juncture of their career trajectories, could be surprised at how the two protagonists, one of the drama about to start and the other of an already running one in Selangor, confirm a truism of classical Greece – that character is fate.

Character here is taken to mean the way in which a person confronts the things that happen to him, a number of which may come about as a consequence of his characteristic behavior. Fate is the sum of the decisive things that happen to a person, whether as a result of his characteristic behavior, or fortuitously, at the behest of some transcendent power.

That the characters of Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim have fed off each other is by now a staple of Malaysia’s modern history. Malaysians are beginning to realise that the one’s career could not have been possible without the other and vice versa.

Truly, the reformasi movement would not have been catalyzed into something urgent and insistent without what Mahathir did to Anwar in September 1998 and how the latter reacted to the events.

Before September 1998, the movement was an inchoate yearning; after Anwar’s jailing and obloquy, reform became a national agenda. Mahathir would not have been able to prolong his tenancy of the PM’s office – 22 long years – without Anwar’s lieutenancy for 16 years of that tenure.

Certainly, the accretion of power to the office of the PM and UMNO President could not have taken place without Anwar’s tacit support, as heir presumptive to Mahathir.

The long running drama of their interaction since they first met in 1971 and their influence on the life of this nation over the last four decades is so pivotal that our history itself becomes confused with their own biographies which goes to illustrate historian Thomas Carlyle’s theory that humanity advances by means of these demi-gods or ‘heroes’.

Succumbing to the danger of self parody

But as the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson cautioned: “Every hero becomes a bore at last”: the two are presently in danger of inducing a yawn in arenas they once bestrode as giants. If it happens it would be due to their succumbing to the danger of self-parody each is tempted to flirt with, Mahathir more so.

Tun Dr. MahathirMen of destiny seek proof of their greatness by exercising a license to go too far, and as the fear grows that destiny may have played a terrible joke on them, they double and redouble the stakes on the wheel of fortune. In this way they destroy themselves.

By claiming at the commencement of his unseat Najib campaign, after the fashion of Brutus, that it is not because he loves his leaders less but that he loves the people and country more, Mahathir is parodying what Anuar Musa, then a young delegate from Kelantan to the UMNO general assembly in 1983, who quoted from the Shakespearean play Julius Caesar the words Brutus used before stabbing Caesar. The Roman emperor was surprised that a friend like Brutus could be part of squad of assassins with regicide in mind.

Anuar cited the quotation in the course of rhetorical flights faintly critical of Mahathir’s leadership of UMNO. Mahathir’s response was characteristically brusque. “Brutus stabbed Caesar” he reminded the UMNO delegates. In other words, back-stabbers are back-stabbers, their lofty motives notwithstanding.

If Mahathir unseats Najib, the wheel would have come full circle in his career: he began his ascent to the top of the greasy pole by destroying one UMNO President (Tunku Abdul Rahman) and is set to end his career by destroying the son of the man (Abdul Razak Hussein) who gave him the chance to rise after a display of Oedipal rage against the Tunku.

If PKR allows Anwar to convert the party into his personal fiefdom, his thrust to the top of the totem pole that began with his rebellion against nepotism, cronyism and corruption in 1998 would flirt with what could well be a fatal contradiction. Not for the first time in history would pivotal allies-turned-adversaries have symmetrical characters/parallel fates.

Tan Sri Halim Saad set to take Sumatec up the corporate ladder


July 31, 2014

Tan Sri Halim Saad set to take Sumatec up the corporate ladder

by Sharen Kaur@www.nst.com.my – 31 July 2014 @ 1:15 AM

ASSET INJECTION: Firm targeting more than RM1b profit by 2018, say sources

FORMER Renong Bhd Executive Chairman Tan Sri Halim Saad is scaling up Sumatec Resources Bhd, which is set to make more than RM1 billion in net profit by 2018.

Halim Saad3

Halim controls 24.9 per cent of Sumatec and has been maintaining his shares since last November as he believes that the company can grow fast. “He is not selling his shares any time soon. He plans to build up the company by injecting more assets into it. He is eyeing some oil and gas (O&G) assets in Central Asia,” said a source.

Sumatec expects to produce 30,000 barrels of oil a day in Kazakhstan by 2018. Sources say the company is targeting an average net profit of US$30 (RM95.30) per barrel. “This means it will make around US$900,000 a day from 30,000 barrels, or more than US$328.5 million a year, compared with less than US$20 million currently from existing operations,” said the source.

For the financial year ending December 31 2014, Sumatec is projecting RM69 million in profits. The firm is producing oil at the Rakuschechnoye field with Markmore Energy (Labuan) Ltd, which is 99 per cent-owned by Halim.

Sumatec expects to produce 5,000 barrels of oil and gas a day from this field in the next three years. It is also acquiring Borneo Energy Oil and Gas Ltd, which owns 100 per cent of Buzachi Neft LLP, for US$250 million in cash and shares.

Buzachi has two 25-year contracts  to explore and produce oil and gas in the Karaturun Vostochnyi and Karaturun Morskoi fields, also known as Buzachi Fields.

At a recent media briefing, Sumatec Chief Executive Officer Chris Dalton said he expects the acquisition to be completed by October. He said the two assets will contribute US$1.62 million to Sumatec’s profits in the fourth quarter.

Sumatec is targeting to produce 25,000 barrels of oil and gas a day from the Buzachi Fields.  Meanwhile, Sumatec is expected to move out of its  PN17 status by next month and will submit its application to the Securities Commission soon.

BOOK REVIEW: Shankaran Nambiar’s The Malaysian Economy: Rethinking Policies & Purposes


July 30, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Shankaran Nambiar’s new book, The Malaysian Economy: Rethinking Policies & Purposes 

by Tricia Yeoh@ http://www.thesundaily.com.my

FEW writers and analysts are able to both identify precisely the challenges facing the Malaysian economy as well as communicate these in a manner easy to digest. Shankaran Nambiar’s new book, The Malaysian Economy: Rethinking Policies & Purposes does so with bold and relevant commentary. Dating from 2003 to the present, this compilation of writings focuses on six broad themes including the need to strengthen institutions, the importance of competitiveness, regional trade, fiscal reform and finally, the reality that is the influence of elections and politics over economic policy.

?????????????????????What is prevalent throughout the book is the clear economic position he takes, arguing for a more open and free economy, one in which companies and traders would be able to compete without the shackles of a large and interventionist government. He takes cognisance that our neighbours are moving at a rapid pace, and mentions specifically China in its ability to out-compete many in the region, but that Malaysia would need to “develop our human capital and readjust our institutional framework to align it with global requirements.”

Of course, on the economic ideological continuum, criticisms often abound of the far-right leaning liberal position. More specifically, public sentiment in Malaysia has weighed heavily against the free market and privatisation. This is not surprising, since the Malaysian version of “free market” and “privatisation” is anything but. It has been but a muddied example of what a free market could actually do to improve the quality of goods and services.

Nambiar does not shy away from this oftentimes-controversial debate. He states explicitly, “privatisation, in theory, implies giving markets a bigger role … privatised companies have to be efficient … and cannot rely on the government to bail them out.”

Theoretically, yes. But in the execution of it – and Malaysia has done a poor job at this – privatisation has not been done in a fair, competitive way. In fact, what took place in our context is that when public entities were privatised, instead of improving efficiency, things got worse. Again, Nambiar hits it squarely on the head: “What was once a government monopoly now becomes a private monopoly. One form of inefficiency is substituted with another.”

Reading the book, one would initially conclude that he is a hard-hitting liberal – libertarian in American circles – and based on many principles, indeed this is so: his firm belief in competition, economic freedom, strong institutions and a legal framework, property rights and so on.

But what is refreshing to note is that he does not blindly accept what would typically be a liberal’s position, but views all subjects with a critical mind. Instead, he agrees with the need for a minimum wage because based on empirical research, this would transform the economy into one that is technologically advanced and contribute towards high value-added growth. A hardcore liberal economist would usually argue against the minimum wage as it is a false and forced imposition by government, which does put many small and medium companies out of business.

 

Finally, as many things seem to be in Malaysia, economic policy is subject to political influence, and this is evident in the many examples Nambiar provides, such as how the federal government transfers revenue to individual state governments, Najib’s electoral position determining whether or not the goods and services tax is introduced, and other “inappropriate policies” that are introduced “because of the polls”, which is “as if we have an economy balancing on the tip of a pin”, which is dangerously accurate.

Many proposals have been expressed elsewhere, on the need for fiscal reform and discipline, addressing structural issues (income distribution, corruption, crime, education), and so on. But the book’s beauty lies in its concise and deft articulation of problems and solutions. The commentaries are candid, and arguments tight. He also comes across as rational and fact-based, criticising or praising whenever necessary. This neutral, non-partisan position of analysing economic (or any other) conditions in the country is rare and must be valued.

As Malaysia enters into its final year of the 10th Malaysia Plan in 2015, and draws up its next set of policies for what would be the last five-year plan before the year 2020 – the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016 – 2020) – it is certainly worth examining Nambiar’s publication that spans the last decade or so. Where exactly are we going? Will the problems raised in his book 10 years ago start to manifest themselves in the next 10? What happens to an economy that pays little attention to such recommendations, and fails to strengthen its institutions?

Policymakers, politicians, academics and students ought to pick up this slim and thoroughly readable volume to gain a historical perspective of good and bad policy. History may not repeat itself, but its leaders may very well do – so it is up to the electorate like us to know which pressure points to press, well before the alarm bells start ringing.

ASEAN political-security community challenges


July 13, 2014

ASEAN political-security community challenges

Munir Majidby Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my (07-12-14)

 THE People’s ASEAN would not be a reality if the politics is not right – both the domestic political systems in which the people live and the wider regional order that underpins the peace, stability and prosperity of their lives.

Economic Growth and Political Rights

As ASEAN member states are increasingly discovering, the previous contention that economic growth andASEAN_logo_1 benefit will satisfy citizens without need to be over-excited about political rights, is wearing thin. That model does not work any more, if it ever did. Certainly, if nothing else, the ICT revolution and social media have provided a shared marketplace of experiences in political societies across the globe. It is no longer possible to pull the wool over people’s eyes. So state authorities have to get smart to it, whatever political system they profess.

In this connection, the notion of an ASEAN political-security community (APSC) is apposite. The APSC blueprint actually is hard to be faulted. Whoever writes these things, and those who adopt them, must really know what’s happening around them, even if they do not quite come along in action against their profession in words.

Read this: The APSC… ”will ensure that the peoples and member states of ASEAN live in peace with one another and with the world at large in a just, democratic and harmonious environment.” Some more: “The ASEAN states will offer democracy, rule of law and good governance, and will ensure respect for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom”.

All good intention. However, even if this is all aspiration, it stretches credulity when it is observed how some states in ASEAN have stagnated as communist regimes, others have regressed into persecution and murder of minorities and workers, and yet another has introduced draconian religious laws.

APSC and Human Rights

Little wonder then that there is so much cynicism about, for example, the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) set up in 2009 under the auspices of the APSC “to promote and protect human rights.” Where in ASEAN, through the AICHR, are human rights being protected on their violation?

It is in their promotion that refuge is taken. Even so, the promotion is gentle. Go to the AICHR web-site and you will see many pictures celebrating numerous workshops to promote human rights. More ASEAN meetings while religious minorities are being persecuted and put to the sword in enough ASEAN member states.

These are all difficult situations to handle no doubt. ASEAN Foreign Ministers try to discuss the Rohingyas issue but Myanmar would not have it, and will only do so on a bilateral basis with states facing refugee problems as a consequence of its human rights violations. And it comes to pass.

Well, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, and where has the world been? Rwanda-Burundi, Bosnia, Syria, Palestine… the list is endless and the suffering never-ending. So why pick on ASEAN? But, shall we say, ASEAN is talking about community-building and higher standards of commitments to good governance? Therefore, there is every reason to hold ASEAN to a better protection on human rights and treatment of citizens.

The laudable objectives of the APSC, and in the setting up of the AICHR, should not be left on the shelf as we approach the end of 2014. The blueprint itself provides for biennial review. This review process should be reported and be held in a more open fashion, with the participation of representatives of civil society, who must however appreciate the issues of state sovereignty and ASEAN cohesion.

The hard question is not how to put aspiration down in words but how to implement it in difficult situations and circumstances. That review process should come up with creative ideas of making the words turn into at least some action, at least in respect of protection of human rights, and not just kick the matter to long grass by having more workshops and meetings to study it.

ASEAN, China and South China Sea

South China Sea

When it comes to international relations and the wider regional order, the gap between verbal exhortation and actual action is just as wide. For the longest time, ASEAN behaved as if there was no serious situation arising from the South China Sea disputes. And when ASEAN got real about it, emboldened China would suggest, it was only after US intercession. This was not good for relations with China or for the resolution of the dispute.

While no doubt there is a grave threat of the outbreak of conflict, especially from various stand-offs between China and Vietnam, China with the Philippines, the damage already done is to China-ASEAN relations. These have been extremely beneficial economically for the region. Their further development could be retarded by this “spoiler”, not to mention the threat it poses to existing economic links.

Of course, if there was actual conflict, it is something else again. We will be in new territory of uncertainty, suspicion and fear which, as we know, are bad bedfellows for investment and economic activity.

Against these near existential threats, ASEAN has been reticent and not united in addressing the South China Sea disputes. Whereas, in the APSC blueprint, it is clearly stated ASEAN will seek full implementation of the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of States of 2002 and the establishment of a binding code of conduct under the declaration in the South China Sea.

Has there been any urgency to achieve all this before matters came to a head, before America got more involved again in regional affairs and, yes, before China got more assertive with its claims? It could be charged that ASEAN’s desultory approach has carried a cost to the stability of the regional order.

ASEAN is, of course, not one unit, it is only inter-governmental, but it makes claims for itself and gives false hope of its effectiveness by proclaiming all sorts of things in so many words, including this blessed thing about ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture. These last six exact words are to be found word for word in the blueprint and, indeed, have been repeated countless times at diplomatic convocations where those who know very well this is not the case repeat it for ASEAN’s happiness.

The APSC blueprint has been too extravagant, especially measured against ASEAN inaction. Not just on the South China Sea, but also in other pronounced areas such as conflict resolution mechanisms and the pacific settlement of disputes in the broader context.

ASEAN-a great economic prospect but...

ASEAN is a great prospect, especially its economies. But the market does not buy on prospective earnings indefinitely. If that was the case, it would be buying Latin America which, in terms of total economic size (against ASEAN’s combined much touted 7th largest in the world) is three times the Indian or Russian economy, and almost as large as China or Japan.

The point is ASEAN does have great prospect, but it will not come of itself. There has to be a more realistic mission statement, better structure and management – and better managers. Then the prospective earnings ratio might even rise.

So there has to be a reset and a rethink about how ASEAN can improve performance against all its limitations. But not just among government leaders and officials. And not to be assigned to some council of elders who would come back some years later with a document even older. It has to be fresh and dynamic involving people with ideas from all levels of society.

Yes, ultimately the political leaders of the region would decide – based however on a good and realistic plan for the future of the People’s ASEAN.

 Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

 

The Regional Octopus to merge with rivals to create mega Islamic bank


July 11, 2014

The Regional Octopus to merge with rivals to create mega Islamic bank

by Reuters-www.themalaysianinsider.com

OctopusCIMB Group Holdings Bhd is seeking to acquire two lenders to create the country’s biggest bank in a move that is likely to push larger rival Maybank and others in the region to bulk up too.

CIMB, the nation’s second-largest bank, is likely to offer an all-stock deal to buy RHB Capital Bhd and Malaysia Building Society Bhd although details have yet to be hammered out, a source familiar with the matter said

The three banks confirmed today they had obtained approval from Bank Negara Malaysia to begin merger talks.

The “three parties have entered into a 90-day exclusivity agreement to negotiate and finalise pricing, structure, and other relevant terms and conditions for a proposed merger of the three entities and the creation of a mega Islamic bank,” the three banks said in a statement.

The statement came after shares in all three banks were suspended on Thursday pending an announcement. Shares will resume trade on Friday. The proposal comes ahead of a planned partial integration of Southeast Asian economies that is due to begin by the end of next year, with countries in the 10-nation alliance keen to build national champions to bolster their banking systems.

CIMB has been the most acquisitive of Malaysia’s banks and a deal would be the last major move by CEO Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, brother to the Prime Minister, before he relinquishes the helm in September after 15 years.

A successful deal would see CIMB’s assets climb to RM614 billion, 6% bigger than Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank), and could help with pricing power in an intensely competitive domestic market.

“We believe that we can structure a value creating combination between our three groups and that is worth taking the next steps,” Nazir told employees according to an internal memo.

“I would urge everyone to look forward to the possibility of a significant scale change for us overall, but specially in Malaysia and Singapore, with the caveat that we have only just begun negotiations.”

But some analysts warned CIMB may pay too much and that there could be too much overlap between CIMB and RHB – the nation’s No. 4 bank, as they have similar portfolio mixes and strengths. RHB and Malaysia Building Society have a combined market capitalisation of around US$9 billion (RM28.5 billion), almost half of CIMB’s US$19 billion market value.

“We opine that such a merger could be value destructive to the merged entity given the degree of operational and revenue duplications between CIMB and RHB Capital,” brokerage UOB KayHian said in a client note.

Representatives for CIMB did not respond to requests for comment while RHB said there was no further update at this stage. Representatives for Malaysia Building Society were not immediately available for comment.

A deal would make CIMB the fourth-largest bank in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after Singapore’s three biggest lenders. By comparison, the largest, DBS Group Holdings, has assets of US$337 billion.

CIMB's Nazir3Malaysia’s Top Banker in ASEAN

Nazir is the architect of the bank’s expansion over the past decade that saw it buy domestic rival Southern Bank, the Asia equities and investment banking business of RBS as well as lenders in Indonesia and Thailand.

A new deal is bound to heap pressure on Maybank to acquire a rival too, analysts said, with some speculating that Public Bank Bhd could fall within its sights.

“Maybank might want to take over Public Bank, which compared to RHB Capital, is much better in terms of asset quality, and is well-managed and well-capitalised. This makes Public Bank a vulnerable target,” said Ei Leen Tan, an analyst with Affin Investment.

A key player in any acquisition by CIMB of its two smaller rivals will be the Malaysian state pension fund, Octo2the Employees Provident Fund (EPF). It owns 41.3% of RHB and 65% of Malaysia Building Society. The fund also owns a 14.5% stake in CIMB, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Another will be Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investment which bought a 25% stake in RHB for RM10.80 per share in 2011 – regarded as a particularly high valuation.

Both CIMB and Maybank walked away from a deal to buy RHB in 2011 after failing to secure support from Aabar. The state fund currently owns nearly 22% of RHB. The EPF said in an email it would not be able to comment on the matter as it is very preliminary in nature and specific details are still pending.

A spokesman for Aabar said it doesn’t comment on any of its investments.While plans for ASEAN integration are widely expected to suffer delays, bankers and analysts expect more deals done as the banks from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia prepare for a more competitive landscape.”This will give impetus to other countries in the region to think of something similar,” said a M&A banker who advises on bank deals. – Reuters, July 10, 2014.