by FAYYADH JAAFAR / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL
FORMER Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak and Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim sparred over several key issues concerning the country in a debate which was aired live on Astro Awani yesterday.
Among the topics touched on were Sapura Energy Bhd, the state of the nation’s finances, debts, administrative reforms and economic future.
Both sides agreed that the country’s future depends on the success of its economic policies and the ability of the government to create a conducive environment for businesses to flourish.
However, their perspectives differed on the future of government-linked enterprises like Sapura Energy.
Anwar said the government must first undertake a forensic audit of Sapura Energy before taking any further action against the corporation and that elite Malaysians had benefited from the company’s mismanagement.
Najib, on the other hand, argued that the question was not whether Sapura Energy could be saved or not, but rather that the company’s management should not fail.
He said that Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas), Malaysia’s national oil corporation, could take a significant share in Sapura Energy without incurring a loss to the government.
“Otherwise, ask the banks to give Sapura Energy loans that the government can guarantee,” he said, adding this would not cost a sen to taxpayers.
Anwar cited the problem of Sapura Energy CEO Tan Sri Shahril Shamsuddin which needed to be looked into further, particularly the latter’s salary.
“The CEO of Sapura Energy was paid millions in salary and bonuses. Clearly, something is wrong here.
“If Petronas takes over Sapura Energy, that will involve billions. And who does Petronas belong to? Isn’t it the government’s and the people’s?” Anwar asked.
Najib tied this to the government’s job in guaranteeing the welfare of the people and its responsibility to protect the country’s assets, especially as Permodalan Nasional Bhd is Sapura Energy’s largest stakeholder, making it a public asset.
While Anwar agreed that government assets should be protected, he advocated for systemic changes in the way the government runs the economy and the country.
“A systemic change must happen. We must stop the culture of corruption, cronyism, nepotism and patronage.
“When we have a cake, we must share it with everyone else,” Anwar jabbed at Najib.
“Right now, when people look at the ‘cake’ (the economy), the rich political elites are at the top. That’s why I say that it must start with the management of the government,” he added.
Meanwhile, Najib claimed that the GST contributed to the creation of a level playing field for all enterprises and repealed the sales and service tax, claiming that it helped to alleviate the people’s burden.
“The GST was introduced to help us manage the national budget, fund the development of infrastructure and save for economic uncertainties. The GST had been very effective in helping to achieve these objectives,” he said.
Najib claimed that if the country had maintained the GST, the government would currently have at least RM30 billion, which he claimed could have been utilised to assist people affected by the global Covid-19 pandemic.
He also emphasised the importance of the oil and gas business, noting that Malaysia has become one of the most important countries in terms of oil and gas output.
“We must widen our cake, not sell our assets. During our (Barisan Nasional’s) time, fishermen received RM300 monthly.
“With the GST (collection), we gave subsidies to farmers and fishermen. The way to improve the country is by adding assets, not reducing it,” he said.
Anwar rebutted that while he agreed with the effectiveness of the GST, the government must ensure that it does not burden the poor.
He also stressed the need to address issues such as “unfettered capitalism” and the abuse of power by the elite.
“We must reform the system, not only in the government but also in the private sectors. This is not about the government taking away your rights, but about making sure that the government protects you from exploitation.
“The government must be responsible for the wellbeing of the people, not just to serve itself, its cronies and the rich. The government must be accountable. It must be transparent,” he said.