Your 10 Questions for Tan Sri Leo Moggie

Posted on December 18, 2010. Filed under: Energy |

-The Star-

Ex-politician and TNB chairman Tan Sri Leo Moggie fields the 10 questions posed by our readers.

Is Malaysia really ready for nuclear power? The citizenry are concerned over the prospect of having a nuclear plant in their backyard and much of it has to do with trust, or lack of it. Amirul, Klang

It would need a full article to give a satisfactory answer to this question.

Suffice to say there are compelling reasons to include nuclear power in our energy mix in the future. Gas and coal will be increasingly expensive. Coal will also face objections from environmentalists. Hydro power has its own challenges. Renewable energy attracts a lot of excitement but it can at best only complement conventional sources. Nuclear is clean. It is comparatively cheaper in the long run.

It is important to address public concerns openly, with reliable information. Many of these concerns are associated with the spectre of the Chernobyl accident in April 1986. Chernobyl should be put in perspective. The accident was the result of a flawed reactor design. The technology of reactor design has advanced since then and there has not been any incident of that nature since Chernobyl.

Because of concerns with climate change and global warming, there is now renewed worldwide interest in nuclear power. A total of 440 nuclear power plant reactors are now operating in 30 countries, which provides about 15% of the world’s electricity. About 53 nuclear plants are under construction and will be commissioned in the next five years. There is expertise worldwide in plant design and safety, in managing spent fuel and in handling radioactive waste. Even some countries in the Middle East are looking at nuclear. The United Arab Emirates is now building one. Countries in our region are also looking at building nuclear power plants.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is always ready to offer advice to countries starting a nuclear power programme for the first time and I know our relevant government agencies are in touch with IAEA. There is in fact already some experience on nuclear technology in this country.

At TNB, a lot of preparatory work has been done in anticipation of developing a nuclear power plant. We have completed a desk study identifying potential sites. A preliminary feasibility study, in association with Korean Power Company was completed in June 2010. We have a Nuclear Energy Unit and are building up our staffing capacity.

While there is still much work to be done, to achieve the commissioning of the first unit in 2021, Malaysia is managing the process of deploying the use of nuclear power in a considered way, including getting public acceptance from an early stage.

What do you most love doing these days in your free time? Shafina, Seremban

I am relieved from the pressures that politicians and Cabinet ministers typically have to contend with. But there are many other things to do and it is always a question of allocating time.

I enjoy a walk in the morning. We live close to Bukit Kiara, Federal Hill and the Lake Gardens. That makes it easy to keep to the regular routine. I try to put aside time for a bit of reading. My wife manages to persuade me to travel outside the country a couple of times a year.

Do you think the authorities have put in sufficient effort to educate the public on the importance of energy-efficiency and the urgency of seeking alternative power sources? What are the hurdles? Peter Raj, Shah Alam

The Government has introduced fiscal incentives to promote energy efficiency for a number of years and now, a full ministry is looking after green technology. The feed-in tariff is expected to be introduced next year. There is increasing publicity on energy efficiency too, including that by Fomca, which is very helpful.

More can be done in terms of demand management. The present electricity tariff incorporates a bit of that, where there is support for the life-line consumption i.e. less than 200kW a month but an increasingly higher rate per unit for those who use more. There is also the off-peak tariff.

Still, our electricity tariff is among the lowest, if not the lowest in the region as the fuel cost is subsidised. It is not a popular thing to say, but we need to progressively reduce subsidy. There is no attraction towards efficient consumption until tariff reflects real costs.

What is the most important lesson you learnt from being a politician? Susan Lee, Kuching

Politics mirrors society the good, the bad and the ugly. A lot of what goes on in politics is actually the management of compromises. The BN model is a good example where the process is structurally institutionalised. Some countries adopt an electoral system of proportional representation to achieve this.

Who has influenced you the most and what is your philosophy in life? Sujatha Nair, Ipoh

I find reading history and biographies is very useful.

Other than that, my father would be the one person who has had the greatest influence on my life. He was God-fearing and upright. He lived his longhouse traditions but he understood the importance of education and I benefited from that foresight.

I don’t know whether you can call it a philosophy of life but I believe in taking responsibility for what I do and leaving the outcome to Him up there! Be simple and sincere. People say it is therapeutic to be able to laugh at ourselves, so I prefer not to take myself too seriously. We all need a bit of fun and laughter.

How would you describe the politics in East Malaysia, specifically in Sarawak compared to the days when you were a politician? Angela Peters, Johor

Even in Sarawak, the public is more cynical now, compared to say, ten years ago. More so among the urban population with access to all sorts of information or misinformation. So, politicians are subject to greater scrutiny, which is a good thing.

Rural Sarawakians by and large are still respectful of authority. They are uncomfortable with the aggressive confrontational style of campaigning seen in Semenanjung. They still need basic infrastructure. They need potable water supply, electricity, access to roads, access to good education while trying to make a living on smallholdings and family farms. For instance, our area, including my own longhouse, is accessible by road. We are just an hour from Sibu Airport. But our lighting comes from our own small diesel gen-set. It is difficult for people in the semenanjung to comprehend that. Until these basic needs are met, the dynamics of politics in Sarawak will remain unchanged.

You are currently chairman of Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB). Do you agree that some of our public listed GLCs are weighed down by their social obligations (higher tariff etc) and as such, investors may be put off? Jerome, KL

Generally, public-listed GLCs have performed very well in the last four or five years.

Being socially responsible is a part of being a good corporate citizen. In TNB, we are happy to do so in a big way, for instance in education through running Uniten and providing scholarships and loans through Yayasan Tenaga Nasional. At the same time, we continue improving our operational efficiency and financial performance.

Some people are surprised to know that from 2006 to 2009 for instance, TNB has paid more than RM1.7bil in tax.

For TNB, the recurring comments by all analysts is that investors want to see certainty in tariff setting. The reintroduction of an automatic fuel-pass-through in the tariff structure of TNB would be an important factor that will attract strong investors’ support.

If there is an advice you could offer to the Sarawak Chief Minister now, as a retired politician, what would it be? Nayagam, Selangor

No advice from me.

Tan Sri Taib is older than I am. He has been in public life much longer than I ever was. He does not need my advice.

What would you consider your greatest achievement for 2010, and what is your personal goal for next year? Melisa Beti, Lahad Datu

I can’t think of any achievement at all. It’s pleasant to live in a country that is peaceful and free of any natural disaster. We should all be thankful for that. I enjoy my retirement and can confirm there is more to life than politics! I am thankful to be healthy and manage to keep my weight constant. I hope this will continue for next year.

I need to sort out my library. The books are scattered around and it is always a hassle looking for the one I need.

Tan Sri, you belong to the era of gentlemen politics, indeed a rare commodity these days. Does it irk you to see how our political landscape has turned into a mudslinging circus? Atan, Perak

Whenever I get nostalgic, my grandchildren tell me its a sign of old age! But yes, the country’s welfare will not be served by the type of crass political-upmanship displayed by some politicians these days. There is too much senseless politicking. The good news is that the public is increasingly discerning, and when the time comes, they will register their displeasure against posturing actors. You can count on it!

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