Stronger economy and fiscal status by 2021, says Lim

Govt intends to reduce debt and liabilities from current 80.3% of GDP to 65% in this period

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng (picture) is confident that Malaysia is on the right track to strengthening its economy and fiscal status by 2021, leading the way to regain its position as an “Asian Tiger”.

The government intends to reduce the current debt and liabilities of RM1.09 trillion, or 80.3% of the GDP, in the course of this period to 65% through the renegotiation of mega projects such as the mass rapid transit.

Soon after his appointment to one of the toughest jobs in managing the country, Lim announced that government debt and liabilities had exceeded RM1 trillion, a figure that fuelled market anxiety and raised the prospect of a credit-rating downgrade.

The breakdown included federal government debt of RM686.8 billion, or 50.8% of GDP, and government guarantees of RM199.1 billion, or 14.6% of GDP.

“After a six-to seven-month effort by the government, the debts and liabilities were reduced to RM1.07 trillion or a reduction of RM17 billion.

“But, from the aspect of a percentage to the GDP, it was by 5.5%, from 80.3% to 74.8%,” he said in a selected media interview ahead of the first-year anniversary of the Pakatan Harapan coalition notching its historic win in the 14th General Election on May 9, 2018.

Lim also addressed the importance of transparency being implemented by the government, especially in addressing scandals such as 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), Lembaga Tabung Haji and the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), while also combating corrupt practices by the previous administration.

The finance minister said the government estimated about RM805 million in savings had been made through the renegotiation of infrastructure projects, while a projection of RM4 billion likely raised by the Sales and Services Tax is to be allocated for critical ministries and the people.

“Seen from the point of performance, although we faced much pressure from the aspect of finance, Malaysia has not become bankrupt as we feared when the Goods and Services Tax was abolished,” he added.

In other developments, Lim said the Pakatan Harapan government has begun the process of repaying tax refund arrears of RM37 billion left by the previous government.

The process started in January this year and will be completed by October.

He also pointed out that inflation is being well managed at 0.4% in February and international rating agencies had also maintained their A3 ratings for Malaysia.

Malaysia’s foreign direct investments (FDIs) also increased by 48% in 2018, while exports and the current account have also been in positive territory.

The country recorded a 48% increase in approved FDIs across all sectors at RM80.5 billion last year.

“Although we faced financial problems following the 1MDB scandal, the confidence of foreign investors or foreign funds remained strong and they also maintained the level of Malaysia’s credit rating.

“So, this is a test that Malaysia passed in terms of managing the economy and the fiscal position,” Lim said.

He also said Malaysia’s economy is still developing steadily with the economic fundamentals strong, alongside savings from renegotiations undertaken for infrastructure projects.

The savings were used to save Tabung Haji and Felda, which needed injections of RM17.8 billion dan RM6.23 billion respectively.

“It also left Malaysia pressured, as originally we thought the savings could be used to repay 1MDB debts and such. But, it seems now we have to still find our own sources to repay them.”

He noted that the revival of the Bandar Malaysia and East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) projects are in the preliminary stage and the ministry is awaiting complete reports related to both.

“We look at (the revival of the projects as) national interest. Various aspects were considered, including the ECRL deal involving an agreement between the government and China, which is Malaysia’s largest trading partner.

“The ECRL is a project which if discontinued, meant compensation had to be paid and involved a sum of money that would reach billions of ringgit,” Lim said. — Bernama