Govt will continue to dispose of assets to cut debt

PM says any future sale of govt assets, especially land plots, will be to Malaysians

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN & DASHVEENJIT KAUR / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

THE government will consider the disposal of other government assets, after it agreed to the sale of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB)-linked luxury superyacht Equanimity to Genting Malaysia Bhd for US$126 million (RM514 million) on Wednesday.

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said any future sale of government assets, especially land plots, would be to Malaysians.

“We have more assets (to sell). In fact, we may sell land belonging to the government. But of course, we will sell it to Malaysians and not foreigners. The government will do what is right,” Dr Mahathir said in a press conference held at the Parliament lobby yesterday.

“We see a possibility of reducing the debt by identifying government assets which we can sell. At the moment, the process is still ongoing. The debt is not static. It is being worked on all the time. I cannot give the exact figure, but I believe it has been reduced quite considerably,” he added.

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng (picture) said the government would sell the Malaysian Consulate building in Hong Kong for RM1.6 billion, but the prices could go higher as more parties are coming forward to bid, although the open-tender process has yet to begin.

Bloomberg also recently reported that the country’s sovereign state fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd would be selling 39-storey Duo Tower in Singapore, owned by M+S — a joint venture by Khazanah and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings Pte Ltd.

Last November, Khazanah sold off 16% of its interest in IHH Healthcare Bhd at RM6 per share or RM8.42 billion cash to Japan’s Mitsui & Co Ltd. Dr Mahathir told the Dewan Rakyat that the federal debt level has been reduced to a manageable level, following the disposal of several government assets and the recovery of stolen money — believed to be linked to 1MDB — from Singaporean authorities.

According to the PM, the national debt, which is said to be at RM1.08 trillion or 80.3% of GDP, has pared down to a level which would not impede efforts to develop the nation.

“The country’s GDP has improved and when the GDP improves, the percentage of our debt will also reduce. We have also resolved some federal debt and this has also helped to reduce the overall figure. We are now nearing a level which will no longer affect our efforts to administer the country,” he said in response to a supplementary question from Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan (Pontian-Barisan Nasional).

Ahmad had asked if the report provided by the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) contained recommendations to reduce the federal debt level.

On the CEP report, Dr Mahathir said the government will consider revealing details from the report once all recommended actions have been taken and there are no more risks of a defamation suit.

“The CEP report is under government’s jurisdiction and has become an official government business. Accordingly, all CEP members and officers involved are subjected to the Official Secrets Act 1972.”

“The CEP had only acted as an advisory body and the government now has to be careful in deciding whether the report should be disclosed or not, because some of their findings require further investigation by the relevant authorities.

“This is done to avoid polemics that may undermine the outcome of the investigation and have a negative impact on investors’ confidence,” he said.

Separately, Dr Mahathir said the Cabinet will meet today to deliberate on all issues related to pilgrim fund Lembaga Tabung Haji (TH).

“The Cabinet will discuss in detail on the financial status of TH, as well as all relevant matters including the payment of hibah (dividend). TH will make an announcement once the Cabinet decides,” he said.