SINGAPORE: Around 300 people - with many Hyflux retail investors among them - gathered at Hong Lim Park on Saturday afternoon (Mar 30) to express concerns regarding recent developments surrounding the embattled water treatment firm.
Many wanted to draw attention to their losses and to rally fellow investors to cast a “no” vote for Hyflux’s restructuring proposal, which asks that perpetual securities and preference shareholders accept a recovery rate of 10.7 per cent – roughly 3 per cent in cash and 7 per cent in equity.
Some were also unhappy with national water agency PUB’s intention to take over Hyflux’s Tuaspring desalination plant at zero dollars and waive the compensation sum it is entitled to, if the company does not remedy its defaults by Apr 5.
At around 3pm on Saturday, the crowd at Hong Lim Park stood around a makeshift podium at Speaker’s Corner, using caps and umbrellas to seek relief from the humidity.
Some investors also placed posters and banners to indicate why they were unhappy and expressed hope for Government intervention.
Former Presidential Election candidate Mr Tan Kin Lian was the first to address the crowd. Although he was not an investor, Mr Tan shared that he was aware how some of them became Hyflux perpetual securities and preference shareholders despite not being financially “savvy”.
“They were just ordinary investors wanting to have a reasonable rate of interest without taking too much risk. If they wanted to take risk, they would have bought shares," said Mr Tan, who donated funds to organise the protest event.
Mr S H Lee, a perpetual securities and preference shareholder who was listening to Mr Tan’s speech, told CNA that he was an investor who “did not have financial knowledge” but made the investment because he placed a lot of faith in Hyflux and regulators.
“I invested a significant amount of my retirement funds. I placed a lot faith in Hyflux, and also because water is our strategic resource, I thought this (investment) would give us sufficient funds to cover our expenses, our medical needs, for the rest of our retirement years,” added Mr Lee.
ZERO DOLLARS MOVE "DOESN'T MAKE SENSE"
Mr Lee was also unhappy that PUB intends to take over Hyflux’s Tuaspring Desalination Plant (TSDP) at zero dollars, as he said that his investment helped built the plant.
“I believe a lot of money comes from us investors were used to first build the plant, so you cannot just say okay, now I am going to take over for zero dollars. It doesn’t make sense to me,” he added.
READ: PUB issues default notice to Hyflux's Tuaspring, says will take over plant if defaults not resolved
The organizer of the protest event, a perpetual securities and preference shareholder who wished to be known only as Alex, told CNA that PUB should compensate Hyflux investors “out of moral obligation” because the plant was still “functional”.
“It’s not fair and not right to just take back at zero dollars,” said Mr Alex, adding that he hoped for PUB to take back Tuaspring at "fair value" so that the investors would get back some money.
An IT cybersecurity expert who declined to be named said that he invested around S$15,000 in Hyflux in 2016, and maintained that he was hopeful that if investors rejected the company’s restructuring proposal on Apr 5, they could pressure authorities to start investigations into the firm.
“We have not lost faith. If we all vote no, maybe MAS (the Monetary Authority of Singapore) and the SGX (Singapore Exchange) would step in and investigate this. It’s time for them to take over to see if there was any misrepresentation of information,” he said.
Another perpetual securities and preference shareholder, who wanted to be known only as Michael, told CNA that he thought MAS should have stopped Hyflux and the local banks from selling the perpetual securities in 2016.
“MAS should have stepped in to investigate overzealous selling by the banks because the banks were paid a sum to sell these shares and got a substantial amount of commission,” said Michael, who invested around S$10,000.
Following Mr Tan's speech, three people who said they were investors spoke to the crowd at Hong Lim Park. The group dispersed peacefully at 4pm.
Additional reporting by Deborah Wong