KUALA LUMPUR – Some of the country’s development under a former leader had come with an unnecessary price tag in the form of a class of crony capitalists whose wealth came at the cost of ordinary Malaysians, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
In his keynote address at Invest Malaysia 2018 here today, the prime minister said his government vowed this would end as it learned lessons from past mistakes in planning Malaysia’s economic transformation, confronting many legacy issues along the way.
Citing public transport as an example, he said the matter was neglected for decades resulting in it being incoherent, with different owners and systems, and certainty no integration.
“One man’s obsession with the idea of a national car – which is now being turned round under international joint ownership – led to Malaysia lacking an efficient public transport system.
“This was a serious obstacle to our ambition to achieve high income status and for Kuala Lumpur to be a world class capital. So, we immediately took steps to rectify that and indicated that public transport would be a top priority for the government,” said Najib who is also finance minister.
Taking aim at the Independent Power Plant concessions signed by the government during that time, Najib said they were so lopsided that consumers had to pay far more for energy than they should have, even energy they were not using.
“This was a real burden to the people, so we renegotiated these concessions – determined that in future, we would not allow private companies to earn excessively at the expense of ordinary Malaysians,” the prime minister said.
The ringgit, he said, was pegged against the US dollar for far too long during that period, prompting investors and global markets to lose confidence in the country.
“And it took a long time to win that back. That was a very heavy cost to the country,” Najib said, adding that his government would never repeat that measure.
The prime minister also dwelled on what he described as a concentrated campaign to sabotage Malaysia’s economy for political gain.
Najib said challenges at state-owned institutions, such as 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), were amplified and used as a tool to suggest that Malaysia’s economy was collapsing.
“I’m not going to brush over this issue. There were indeed failings at the company, there were lapses of governance. There was a valid cause for concern.
“This is why I ordered one of the most comprehensive and detailed investigations in Malaysia’s corporate history, one that involved multiple lawful authorities including a bipartisan parliamentary body.
“Their findings were taken on board and the company’s board was dissolved, its management team changed and its operations reviewed,” he said.
Najib pointed out that 1MDB had rationalised its assets and, with the proceeds, took an aggressive approach to reduce the debts to its lowest possible levels.
“The company concentrated its efforts on ensuring its two most valuable assets – Bandar Malaysia and Tun Razak Exchange – remain as attractive investment propositions to both shareholders and investors,” Najib said.
In addition, he took a swipe at those who claimed that Malaysia was selling its sovereignty by courting foreign direct investment from China.
“I know that the well-informed and well-educated audience here today will recognise what baseless nonsense this is. My government will never sacrifice an inch of our sovereignty,” he said.
Further underscoring this point, Najib said: “Perhaps I can also take the opportunity to remind you that, while over time, we’ve had RM63 billion in FDI stock from China and Hong Kong, we’ve had more – RM70 billion in fact – from Japan. And you don’t hear anyone warning that we’re selling our country to the Japanese.
“Of course not. They are most welcome here. So are investors from Africa, the Americas, China, the European Union, India, Saudi Arabia and other countries from around the world,” he added. – BERNAMA