A lot of people do not understand the role and function of Petronas, which is essentially a company, a business entity, which operates on a commercial manner, to mainly generate income and value for its shareholder. In this case, PETRONAS' shareholder is the Government.
In 1974, when Petronas was set up, the Government gave Petronas RM10 million (peanuts, right?) as seed capital. From 1974 to 2007, PETRONAS made RM570 billion in accumulated profits, and returned to the Government a total of RM335.7 billion. That is about 65% of the profits. That means for every RM1 that Petronas makes, 65 sen goes back to the Government.
Last year, Petronas made a pre-tax profit of RM86.8 billion. The amount given back to the Government (in royalty, dividends, corporate income tax, petroleum products income tax and export duty) was RM52.3 billion. The rest of the profit was used to pay off minority interests and taxes in foreign countries (about RM7.8 billion - Petronas now operates in more than 30 countries), and the remaining RM26.7 billion was reinvested. The amount reinvested seems a lot, but the oil and gas industry is technology- and capital-intensive. Costs have gone up exponentially in the last couple of years. Previously, to drill a well, it cost about US$3 million; now it costs US$7 million. The use of rigs was US$200,000 a day a couple of years ago; now it costs US$600,000 a day.
A lot of people also do not realise that the amount returned by Petronas to the Government makes up 35% of the Government's total annual income, to be used by the Government for expenditures, development, operations, and yes, for the various subsidies. That means for every RM1 the Government makes, 35 sen is contributed by Petronas. So, instead of asking what happens to Petronas' money or profits, people should be questioning how the money paid by Petronas' to the Government is allocated.
A lot of people also ask, why Malaysia exports its crude oil. Shouldn't we just stop exporting and sell at cheaper prices to local refiners? If Malaysia is an oil exporting country, why can't we sell petrol or diesel at cheaper prices like other oil producing countries in the Middle East?
I guess I don't have to answer the first couple of questions. It's simple economics, and crude oil is a global commodity.
Why can't we sell petrol and diesel at lower prices like in the Middle East? Well, comparing Saudi Arabia and other big producers to Malaysia is like comparing kurma to durian, because tese Middle Eastern countries have much, much, much bigger oil and gas reserves.
Malaysia has only 5.4 billion barrels of oil reserves, and about 89 trillion cubic feet of gas. Compare that to Saudi Arabia's 260 billion barrels of oil and 240 trillion cubic feet of gas. Malaysia only produces 600,000 barrels per day of oil. Saudi Arabia produces 9 million barrels per day. At this rate, Saudi Arabia's crude oil sales revenue could amount to US$1.2 billion per day! At this rate, it can practically afford almost everything -- free education, healthcare, etc, and subsidies -- for its people.
But if we look at these countries closely, they have in the past few years started to come up with policies and strategies designed to prolong their reserves and diversify their income bases. In this sense, Malaysia (and Petronas) has had a good head start, as we have been doing this a long time.
Fuel prices in Malaysia is controlled by the Government based on a formula under the Automatic Pricing Mechanism introduced more than a couple of decades ago. It is under this mechanism that the complex calculation of prices is made, based on the actual cost of petrol or diesel, the operating costs, margin for dealers, margin for retail oil companies (including Petronas Dagangan Bhd) and the balancing number of duty or subsidy. No retail oil companies or dealers actually make money from the hike of the fuel prices. Oil companies pay for the products at market prices, but have to sell low, so the Government reimburses the difference -- thus subsidy.
Subsidy as a concept is OK as long as it benefits the really deserving segment of the population. But there has to be a limit to how much and how long the Government should bear and sustain subsidy. An environment where prices are kept artificially low indefinitely will not do anyone any good. That's why countries like Indonesia are more pro-active in removing subsidies. Even Vietnam (which is a socialist country, by the way) is selling fuel at market prices.
I feel I also need to say something on the allegation that Petronas is not transparent in terms of its accounts, business transactions etc.
Petronas is first and foremost a company, operating under the rules and regulations of the authorities including the Registrar of Companies, and the Securities Commission and Bursa Malaysia for its listed four subsidiaries (Petronas Dagangan Bhd, Petronas Gas Bhd, MISC Bhd and KLCC Property Holdings Bhd.
Petronas the holding company produces annual reports which are made to whomever wants them, and are distributed to many parties and places; including to the library at the Parliament House for perusal and reading pleasure of all Yang Berhormat MPs (if they care to read). Petronas also makes the annual report available on its website, for those who bother to look. The accounts are duly audited.
The website also contains a lot of useful information, if people really care to find out. Although Petronas is not listed on Bursa Malaysia, for all intents and purposes, it could be considered a listed entity as its bonds and financial papers are traded overseas. This requires scrutiny from investors, and from rating agencies such as Standard & Poor and Moody's.
There are also calls by the Malaysian public especially through blogs, alternative news portal, Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, Multiply and various social interface networks on the internet to boycott Petronas. Well, the last time I checked, this is still a democratic country, where people are free to spend their money wherever they like.
For those who like to see more of the money that they spend go back to the local economy and benefiting their fellow Malaysians, perhaps they should consider sticking to local products or companies.
For those who like to see that the money they spend go back to foreign shareholders of the foreign companies overseas, they should continue buying foreign products.
I'm sorry if this is rather long, but I just have to convey it. I hope this would help some of you out there understand something. The oil and gas industry, apart from being very capital intensive, is also very complex and volatile.
Don't simply attack Petronas. Check your facts first.