Najib is guilty of incompetence, he says: board to be blamed for 1MDB debacle, not me, I don’t know !


Dr M: Najib always assumes people are stupid 

‘Najib assumes M’sians are stupid’

Every bit of money that was borrowed by 1MDB had Najib’s signature, says PM

It is impossible for Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak not to know of transactions related to 1MDB when his signature was on the documents, says Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The Prime Minister said he could not believe his predecessor’s claim that he knew nothing about money from the state fund ending up in his personal account.

“Who wants to believe him (that he didn’t know), when he signed (his name)?

“Every bit of money that goes in and out of the first borrowing of RM42bil, all (had) his signature,” said Dr Mahathir.

The amount refers to the total debt accumulated by 1MDB, a fund which was, in fact, founded by Najib in 2009.

“If he doesn’t know, it must be that he doesn’t understand what a signature means,” Dr Mahathir was quoted as saying in an interview with the Malay Mail yesterday.

Dr Mahathir described as “ludicrous” for someone to direct RM2bil to be transferred into his account, while refusing to be informed of the transaction.

“This cannot be. Because I have to sign to use the money.

“To use the money, I have to issue cheques. Najib always assumes that people are stupid,” Dr Mahathir added.

It was previously reported that about US$700mil (RM2bil) was allegedly misappropriated from 1MDB into Najib’s personal account.

In a Reuters report on Wednesday, Najib blamed his advisers and the 1MDB board for keeping the alleged embezzlement information from him.

He said he did not know if hundreds of millions of dollars that moved through his personal account was from 1MDB, and if money from the fund was eventually laundered to acquire assets globally, including yachts, paintings, gems and prime real estate.

To this, Dr Mahathir said the Government had all the information on Najib’s alleged involvement in moving the 1MDB money, and that it knew how much money had gone into Najib’s account.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister disclosed that the authorities had “an almost perfect case” against Najib for embezzlement, misappropriation of funds and bribery.

1MDB had fallen RM42bil in debt since its inception in 2009, and Dr Mahathir had been at the forefront raising questions on it over the past three years. -The Star

Najib: If I was informed about the troubles the fund was in, I would have acted

He does, though, have explanations for the vast sums of cash, luxury handbags and jewellery recently seized from his homes by the Malaysian authorities.

Speaking to Reuters in his first sit-down interview since his shock May 9 election defeat, Najib said his advisors and the management and board of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), had wrongly kept the alleged embezzlement of funds a secret from him.

Newly-elected Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad told Reuters on Tuesday that the authorities have “an almost perfect case” against Najib on charges of embezzlement, misappropriation and bribery linked to 1MDB.

Najib, in some of his most extensive comments yet on the 1MDB scandal, said he did not know if hundreds of millions of dollars that moved through his personal account was from 1MDB, and if money from the fund was eventually laundered to acquire assets globally, including yachts, paintings, gems and prime real estate.

“I’m not party to the yacht, the paintings…I’ve never seen those paintings whatsoever,” said Najib.

“I was not aware of these purchases. This was done without my knowledge. I would never authorise 1MDB funds to be used for any of these items. I’ve been in government so long, I know what’s right and what’s wrong,” Najib said in the interview held at a luxurious sea-facing private villa in a five-star hotel on Pulau Langkawi.

He blamed 1MDB’s board, saying it was incumbent upon them to tell him if something was wrong.

Relaxing in a black T-shirt and brown pants, Najib said he was enjoying golf, food, and time with his family.

The family booked the villa to celebrate Hari Raya holidays together. Najib’s children, including stepson Riza Aziz, a Hollywood film producer, were with him for the week, his aides told Reuters.

Malaysian investigators looking into 1MDB say they believe that Najib and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor have amassed vast amounts of wealth and property using funds from the state fund.

Rosmah briefly appeared at the interview but Najib said she would not take questions.

Nearly 300 boxes of designer handbags and dozens of bags filled with cash and jewellery were among the items taken away by police in raids at properties linked to Najib’s family.

Items included Birkin handbags from the luxury goods maker Hermes, each worth up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Najib said the public seizure of handbags and other luxury items created a negative perception but most were gifts given to his wife and daughter and had nothing to do with 1MDB.

“Yes these were gifts, particularly with my daughter’s they were tagged, they were actually labelled: when, by whom,” adding that a lot of them were wedding presents.

Najib said his son-in-law Daniyar Nazarbayev, the nephew of Kazakstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev, also gifted many of the handbags to Rosmah.

“People might find it hard to understand, but my son-in-law for example, he gets Birkin from his source, five or six at one go,” he said.

“His family has got some means, so it has nothing to do with 1MDB if it comes from Kazakhstan.”

US prosecutors have alleged that more than US$4.5bil (RM18.02bil) of 1MDB funds were laundered through a complex web of transactions and shell companies. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has filed several lawsuits to claim about US$1.7bil (RM6.8bil) in assets believed to have been stolen from 1MDB.

Some of the assets sought include a Picasso painting, luxury real estate in South California and New York, shares in a Hollywood production company and a US$265mil (RM1.06bil) yacht, and more than US$200mil (RM800.9mil) worth of jewellery – including a 22-carat pink diamond pendant and necklace.

Najib said this jewellery set was also meant to be a gift for his wife but she never received it.

“And until today we do not know…she says the item is not in her possession,” Najib said.

In the interview, Najib for the first time also spoke at length about Low Taek Jho, a Malaysian financier better known as Jho Low.

US and Malaysian investigators have named Low as a key figure who benefited from 1MDB funds.

Najib said he felt that Low’s connections in the Middle East, particularly with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, could be helpful in pulling in more investment to Malaysia from those places.

But he said he had never instructed Low to get involved in 1MDB, and had no control over what he did.

“I didn’t give him instructions, but he volunteered to do certain things, which he thought would help 1MDB. But whatever he did ultimately is the responsibility of the management and board.”

Malaysia is seeking to arrest Low, believed to be residing abroad, for his involvement in the 1MDB scandal.

He described Low and Najib’s stepson Riza as friends but said he was not aware of any dealings involving 1MDB funds in Riza’s Hollywood production company, which produced The Wolf of Wall Street among other movies.

When asked if he was still in touch with Low, Najib said:

“We have cut off communication again. I don’t know where he is.”

Low’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing in 1MDB. He has said US$681mil (RM2.72bil) transferred into his personal bank account was a donation from Saudi Arabia, and not as US lawsuits have alleged misappropriated funds from 1MDB.

Najib said he had been given assurances from the late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud that Saudi Arabia would be sending a donation.

“All I knew, I accepted at face value that this is coming from the Saudis, from King Abdullah at his behest, at his instruction,” Najib said. – Reuters

 

Najib: I did not benefit from 1MDB in any way 

 

His say: ‘If anyone is found to be on the wrong side of the law, let the legal process take its course.’

LANGKAWI: Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has denied that he benefitted from 1MDB, adding that he believed that the sovereign fund had been created to do “something good for the country”.

“If I knew there was going to be misappropriation of funds, if that was my knowledge, I would have acted,” he said.

To a question if he blamed the 1MDB board for the fund’s troubles, he said:

“No. I am saying as a general principle, if they are in the know that something is not right, then it is incumbent upon them to tell me. It is the fiduciary duty of the board and the management to do the right thing. I expect them to do the right thing and to follow the law.”

He also said that they had no control over what Jho Low – who has been named the main suspect in the 1MDB investigation – did, adding that he could not pass judgment.

“But there are certain things which he may or may not have done. But I am right to say that investigations should proceed and if anyone is found to be on the wrong side of the law, let the legal process take its course.

“No, he was not working on my behalf. All those items he never invoked my name but he did say he was acting for someone else,” he said.

Asked who Low was acting for, Najib said: “You have to ask him that.”

He also said that he had not talked much about the 1MDB allegations because all these things happened out of Malaysia and that there were some “international ramifications” if he were to name certain prominent individuals who might affect the country’s diplomatic relations.

“I would also like to place on record that (his step-son) Riza has done very well – the movies, the box office sales has reached beyond RM3.2bil. So, it is not abusing concern. It is a profitable concern. But source of funding is subject to investigation. I think we will leave it at that.”

On RM2.6bil that was moved into his personal account in 2013, he said with the general election coming then, he had not wanted to get funding from companies as they would expect something in return eventually.

“If I have a source of funding, I could fund the elections and I could also do a lot CSR (corporate social responsibility) work without being obligated to anyone. That was my real intention you see. And I assumed everything was fine,” he said, maintaining that the RM114mil ringgit allegedly seized during investigation into 1MDB to be “genuine donations because the raid happened just two days after the 14th General Election. As president of the party, I had to prepare for the elections, and elections are very expensive affairs.

“Because donations are made in cash in election times. You don’t send cheques during election times, because people want cash. That is when monies are disbursed accordingly.”

On Barisan Nasional’s defeat in the elections, Najib said he saw part of it coming but that he did not expect it to be this catastrophic, blaming it on Opposition’s allegations that changed public opinion.

On the reopening of the Altantuya Shaaribuu murder case, he said the case had already been dealt with and denied that there was any evidence that he had ever met her.

“There are no records, no pictures or witness to say that I even knew her. It was subject to a proper trial and my name didn’t come up during the trial whatsoever.

“I’m on record to have sworn in a mosque in the name of Allah that I had nothing to do with the case.” – The Star

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Malaysia can’t extradite Jho Low, key people in 1MDB saga


Deep discussion: Dr Mahathir, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and National Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption director-general Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed having a chat after a ministry event in Putrajaya. — Bernama
Deep discussion: Dr Mahathir, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and National Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption director-general Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed having a chat after a ministry event in Putrajaya. — Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR: They know where he is. But they can’t get their hands on him.

That is the predicament that the authorities face in bringing back Malaysia’s most wanted man these days – Low Taek Jho better known as Jho Low.

Low is at the centre of the debt-laden and scandal-ridden 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) that is a thorn in the administration of the previous Barisan Nasional government.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Low is in a country in which Malaysia does not have an extradition treaty with.

“We are trying to arrest Jho Low, but he is not in the country. And we do not have extradition rights in the country where he is at,” said Dr Mahathir without disclosing the country.

Legal experts say while it is not impossible to bring him back despite the absence of extradition treaty with the country, they cautioned this can be a long and tedious process.

Low has been identified as the mastermind behind 1MDB, which is the subject of investigations by Malaysian as well as international authorities for alleged corruption and money laundering.

1MDB accumulated debts of more than RM35bil in ringgit and US dollar denominated bonds in less than five years from 2009. Most of the money raised were placed outside Malaysia, which the Government is trying to recover.

Apart from Low, the principal officer in another 1MDB-related company is also on the wanted list.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has issued an arrest warrant for SRC International director Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil.

SRC International was a former subsidiary of 1MDB, which had allegedly transferred RM42mil into the personal account of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

It issued two tranches of RM2bil debt papers in 2011 and 2012. The money was to be used to purchase resource based assets in the region. However, there are no assets to back the purchases.

MACC deputy chief commissioner (operation) Datuk Seri Azam Baki told Bernama there is no excuse for Low and Nik Faisal not turn up to facilitate investigations into the SRC International case.

“I refuse to comment on what action can be taken against both of them (Low and Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil). As far as I know, they cannot give any excuses and must present themselves,” he said.

Nik Faisal, 47, last stayed in Alam Impian, Shah Alam.

Low, 37, previously resided in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.

The Prime Minister’s Office in a statement earlier announced the setting up of a special task force to conduct detailed investigations, detection and seizure of assets and prosecution of individuals who committed any criminal offence in the management of 1MDB.

Meanwhile, sources said Low’s lawyers have yet to get in touch with the MACC.

It was earlier reported that Low had instructed his lawyers to make contact with the MACC after he was made aware they were seeking him for assistance.

By Mazwin nik anis, Wddie chua, Joseph kaos jr, and Royce Tan The Star

Other key people in the 1MDB saga

 

Related stories:

 

 

Najib’s US top lawyers, hiccup to choice of new AG as 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) probe widens


1MDB  EMBATTLED Najib Razak

Najib hires top American lawyers, including former US A-G – Nation …

John Ashcroft was the United States attorney-general during the George W. Bush presidency and oversaw the Department of Justice in the turbulent days after the September 11 terror attacks. – AFP pic, June 2,
2018.

面对人生最严峻的贪腐案指控,以及新政府倾全力的调查,纳吉不惜重金礼聘来自美国的“最强法律团队”,助他及家人洗脱“一马案”罪名。(图:透视大马)

 

Najib hires top US lawyers, including ex-AG, as 1MDB probe widens 

EMBATTLED Najib Razak has engaged the services of a team of top US lawyers, including former attorney-general John Ashcroft and star litigator David Boies, in a clear sign of concern that the widening global probe into 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) could snare him and his family members.

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has been investigating the alleged siphoning of funds from the state-owned entity for several years and even tagged Najib as Malaysian Official 1, but he had enjoyed immunity from criminal charges as the prime minister of Malaysia.

So, even though the DOJ probe stirred occasionally and captured the headlines, he was largely nonchalant about the US probe and even made a widely-publicised trip to the White House last September.

Things have changed drastically since May 9.

Najib is no longer the head of a foreign government, and, therefore, no longer enjoys full immunity from legal action.

Furthermore, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration’s vigour in nailing Najib for the 1MDB scandal and cooperating with US investigators, makes the former prime minister and even his wife, Rosmah Mansor, principal targets in the US.

In the past, the focus of the DOJ investigation was mainly on Najib’s son, Riza Aziz and businessman Low Taek Jho.

But without the immunity of a prime minister and with the focus of the investigation in Malaysia on him and his wife, Najib has moved to hire top lawyers in the US.

Ashcroft was the AG during the George W. Bush presidency and oversaw the DOJ during the difficult days after the September 11 terror attacks.

After the Bush presidency, he set up a powerful lobby group called The Ashcroft Group and The Ashcroft Law Firm.

Checks by The Malaysian Insight show that the law firm registered Najib Razak as client on the Foreign Agents Registration Act register last September. He was listed as the prime minister of Malaysia and under the category of financed by a foreign government/foreign political party and other foreign principal.

It is unclear whether that engagement was for lobby or legal work because the FARA usually covers lobbying work in the US.

The Malaysian Insight understands that in recent days, Najib has engaged Ashcroft as his lawyer. The former PM has also hired David Boies, one of America’s top courtroom lawyers.

He has acted for the US government in its anti-trust case against IT giant Microsoft and aided fallen financiers including AIG’s Hank Greenberg and Enron’s Andy Fastow.

Sources told The Malaysian Insight that also part of the high-powered legal team is Matthew Schwartz. He spent a decade as a prosecutor in New York and handled several high-profile cases including the investigation of ponzi king Bernie Madoff.

In 2013, he was named Prosecutor of the Year by the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation. Schwartz is now in private practice.

These lawyers are expected in Kuala Lumpur soon. – June 2, 2018. The Malaysian Insight
The Malaysian Insight

纳吉聘美法律界“最强团队”辩护 背水一战誓洗一马案罪名

即将面临人生中最严峻贪腐案指控的前首相纳吉,已经做好背水一战的完全准备,重金礼聘来自美国法律界多位传奇人物,包括美国前总检察长约翰阿什克罗夫与明星律师大卫博依斯等人,势必洒尽千金也要洗脱“一马发展公司”(1MDB)案所有指控!

据了解,自早前两名大马律师哈柏星及阿迪慕都从律师团队请辞后,纳吉似乎不太信任本地律师,转而向外国律师求援,这次他筹组的法律团队中,据悉皆为美国籍律师。

纳吉之所以大费周章筹备外国律师团,正是因为新上台的希盟政府,此刻也正倾全力搜集他在一马案中的罪证,不但成立两个特别调查委员会,还积极与美国联邦调查局和美国司法部合作。为应付这铺天盖地的检控网,纳吉务必打起全副精神迎战。

更重要的是,如今已失去免控权的纳吉,无法再张开保护伞,庇护同样受调查的家人,包括妻子罗斯玛及继子里扎等人。他唯有大手笔请来美国最具实力的律师团队,保护他及家人免于牢狱之灾。消息指,这支美国律师团将于近期抵马。

据悉,这个“地表最强”律师团队将由美国前总检长约翰阿什克罗夫带领。约翰是小布什总统任内的总检长,曾在2001年美国经历911恐袭事件后,领导美国司法部度过艰难时刻。

在卸任后,他成立属于自己的游说公司“阿什克罗夫集团”以及“阿什克罗夫法律事务所”,继续在美国政界及司法界发挥影响力。

《透视大马》查悉,“阿什克罗夫法律事务所”已于去年9月,根据美国“外国代理人登记法”(Foreign Agents Registration Act),在外国顾客一栏填上纳吉的大名。其上还注明纳吉的身份是“大马首相”,并由“外国政府/政党”出资。

不过,目前尚未清楚,双方的交易项目是游说事务或法律事务,因为“外国代理人登记法”的注册,常见于美国机构为外国领导人所进行的游说工作。

“外国代理人登记法”,是美国为保障国防,内部安全及对外关系而制定的联邦立法。要求凡为外国政府,外国政党或外国领导人进行宣传或其它活动的人,必须公开其身份,以便美国政府和人民知晓这些人的身份,并对其活动和言行作出考察。

除了约翰,据了解纳吉还聘请了数位知名美籍律师,他们每一位都擅长处理经济、财务及金融界的刑事案件。

纳吉的美国法律团队中,包括明星律师大卫博依斯,大卫曾代表美国政府在反失信案里与世界科技巨头微软对簿公堂。

他还曾担任不少臭名昭著的财经界丑闻人物法律顾问,包括美国国际集团(AIG)前首席执行长汉克格林伯格,以及安然集团(Enron)前首席财务执行长安德鲁法斯托。

消息指出,另一位律师马修史瓦哲也非省油的灯,他曾在纽约担任检控官长达10年,经受过不少知名大案,例如轰动国际的“庞氏骗局”案件。

至2013年,马修获得美国联邦执法基金会颁发“年度检察官”的荣誉,他目前已卸下检察官身份转任律师。- 透视大马

Hiccup to choice of Malaysia’s new AG

King prefers a Federal Court or Court of Appeal judge for top job

Senior lawyer Tommy Thomas as the country’s new Attorney General.

PETALING JAYA: A proposal by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to appoint senior lawyer Tommy Thomas as the Attorney General has sparked a major dis­agreement with the King.

Essentially, Dr Mahathir is adamant about replacing Tan Sri Apan­di Ali, submitting only Thomas’ name to Sultan Muhammad V.

However, the King insisted on more than one name, according to sources close to the royalty.

“The King has suggested four names to Dr Mahathir, including an existing Federal Court judge and a Court of Appeal judge,” said one of the sources.

“The King’s argument is that he wants somebody who has been a judge or even a retired judge. He does not care whether the AG is an Indian, Chinese or Malay,’’ said the source, adding that the King demonstrated this when he accepted DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng as the Finance Minister.

The sources also pointed out that the King had once even recommended Thomas to the Kelantan government to act in a case against Petronas.

“The King wants an AG who is able to advise him on Syariah matters too, but Dr Mahathir rebutted that the Solicitor General can handle that job.

“However, the King felt that the AG as the top officer should be the one advising him,’’ said the source.

The Palace felt that it was not right for the blogs to construe the issue as “a constitutional crisis”.

“This is just a difference in opi­nions. The King informed Dr Ma­­ha­thir that if he really wants some­one to prosecute the 1MDB case, he need not make Thomas the AG.

“Thomas could be appointed as a DPP (deputy public prosecutor) just like how it was done with lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee before this,’’ added the source.

Just two days ago, prominent pro-Dr Mahathir blogger Syed Akbar Ali wrote on Malaysia Today, saying that there seemed to be serious issues developing between the Government and “another party” over the AG’s appointment.

“There is a very strong rumour (which I heard from very strong people) that our Dr Mahathir has already shortlisted one candidate as the new Attorney General,” he wrote, adding that “the candidate is said to be a non-Muslim, male Indian” and “an expert on Federal Constitution”.

Syed Akbar ruled out eminent retired judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram as the candidate.

He further said that the appointment was being objected to on the grounds that the candidate was neither a Malay nor a Muslim.

He said the new AG was tipped to be on a strict two-year contract with a job focused on institutional re­forms.

Yesterday, news portal Malaysian Insight also reported that the new Government was headed for a clash with the Malay rulers over the appointment.

Thomas could not be contacted to confirm the matter. Neither the press nor his close friends could reach him yet.

A retired senior judge said the matter was far more complicated than it appeared to be.

“A candidate for the AG’s position would have to be as qualified as a Federal Court judge with no less than 15 years’ experience in legal practice.”

Senior lawyer Haniff Khatri Ab­­dulla said the three characteristics that an AG should have to be effective were that he should be able to give general advice on each and every legal policy of the country, assist the Government on every provision of the Federal Constitution and hold two roles as the AG as well as the Public Prosecutor.

“As a Public Prosecutor, the candidate must have experience in criminal practice in order to be effective and not end up being a lame duck.”

Malaysians have come out in support of Thomas as the new AG.

Social media users, in particular, said the Prime Minister’s choice of AG should be respected by the King, saying the Ruler must be above politics.

They also vouched for Thomas’ credibility for the top job, saying he is the most suitable candidate

Facebook user Hirzan Afifi said: “If Tommy Thomas is our new attorney general, I got nothing to oppose. He is the king.”

Another user, Ranendra Bhatta­chary­ya, said: “Haven’t we, Malay­sians, having put in place the Government of our choice, demand the best should be appointed into office for vital national interests. Tom­my Thomas for Attorney Gene­ral of Malaysia.”

Another user Lim Hwah Beng said “Tommy Thomas is the one preferred by PH to be AG. It’s good if they can succeed in appointing Tommy Thomas as AG but I doubt they can … Anyway, we will take it one step at a time.”

Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia su­­preme council member A Kadir Jasin said in his blog that the King should respect the Constitution and act on the Government’s advice. – By Wong Chun Wai – Star

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Malaysia’s RM1.09 trillion debt, 80.3% of GDP demystified


Analysts say new government needs to quickly introduce measures to reduce the country’s liabilities

ASSUMING the government repays its debt by RM1mil a day, it would take Malaysia 2,979 years to pay off its debts.

Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad revealed on May 21 that the country’s debt level has breached the RM1 trillion mark during his first address to civil servants.

The statement, which was nothing less than alarming, has since raised concerns among Malaysians on the country’s fiscal sustainability. Bursa Malaysia was hammered for four consecutive days, as investors frantically sold off their stakes.

The benchmark FBM KLCI saw the biggest year-to-date decline on May 23, tumbling by 40.78 points or 2.21% to 1,804.25 points.

Total gains made by the index this year were all wiped out in just four days following Dr Mahathir’s announcement.

The ringgit, which has weakened since early April, continues to decline as concerns on public debt loom.

Big impact: The benchmark FBM KLCI saw the biggest year-to-date decline on May 23, tumbling by 40.78 points or 2.21 to 1,804.25 points.
An economist tells StarBizWeek that Dr Mahathir’s public announcement on the high debt figure is “not helping”, as anxiety intensifies among Malaysians and in the market.

For context, Malaysia’s real gross domestic product (GDP), an indicator of the size of economy, was RM1.35 trillion as at end-2017 – close to the said RM1 trillion debt amount.

Meanwhile, the federal government’s revenue this year is projected at RM239.9bil as per Budget 2018.

Several critics, including Umno Youth deputy chief Khairul Azwan Harun, claim that Dr Mahathir’s statement on the federal government debt was exaggerated and far-fetched.

AmBank Group chief economist Anthony Dass says that although the current scenario shows some signs of similarities to the 1997/98 Asian Financial Crisis, he would not conclude that the current fiscal condition is somewhat similar to the downturn 20 years ago.

At a glance, the “RM1 trillion debt” remark stands in sharp contrast to Bank Negara’s debt tally of RM686.8bil as at end-2017, putting the federal government’s debt-to-GDP ratio at 50.8% – lower than the 55% self-imposed debt limit.

Dr Mahathir refutes this, saying that the national debt-to-GDP ratio has shot up to 65.4%. A day after his announcement, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng put the ratio at 80.3% of GDP, or about RM1.09 trillion in debt as at end-2017.

Why is there such an obvious difference in the debt amount now that a new government is in place?

Here is where “creative accounting” comes into play.

The lower official debt figures released under the previous Barisan Nasional government had excluded the contingent liabilities and several other major “hidden” debts from the direct liabilities, which amounted to RM686.8bil as at end-2017.

Contingent liabilities, which were released separately prior to this, basically refer to government-guaranteed debt and do not appear on the country’s balance sheet. Examples of contingent liabilities are the loans under the National Higher Education Fund Corp (PTPTN) and certain debt of the controversial 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

As at end-2017, Malaysia’s contingent liabilities stood at RM238bil.

Funding for several government mega-projects such as the mass rapid transit (MRT) projects was also categorised as contingent liabilities. The MRT lines were funded by DanaInfra Nasional Bhd, the government’s special funding vehicle for infrastructure projects.

DanaInfra raises money from the market through sukuk, which are, in turn, guaranteed by the government. The guaranteed amount is classified as a contingent liability.

In the event of less-than-expected revenue collection from the MRT lines moving forward, the government will have to intervene to repay the sukuk holders.

The current ruling government believes that RM199.1bil out of the RM238bil contingent liabilities deserves attention to ensure proper debt repayment.

The 1MDB alone comes with an estimated contingent liability of RM38bil.

High figure: The 1MDB alone comes with an estimated contingent liability of RM38bil. — Reuters
High figure: The 1MDB alone comes with an estimated contingent liability of RM38bil. — Reuters 

On the remaining government guarantees, the Finance Ministry says they have been provided by “entities which are able to service their debts such as Khazanah Nasional Bhd, Tenaga Nasional Bhd and MIDF”.

Apart from contingent liabilities, there are several major “hidden” debts, which do not fall under both direct liabilities and contingent liabilities.

An economist with a leading investment bank in Malaysia calls the debts “off-off-balance sheet” government debt.

These are the future commitments of the federal government to make lease payments for public-private partnership projects such as schools, roads and hospitals.

Examples of such debt would include the debt of Pembinaan PFI Sdn Bhd, a company owned by the Finance Ministry. Pembinaan PFI was established in 2006 under the previous Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration to source financing to undertake government construction projects.

According to its latest available financial statement for 2014, Pembinaan PFI held a total debt of RM28.75bil.

Interestingly, at end-2012, the company’s debt was the third highest among all government-owned entities, just behind Petronas (RM152bil) and Khazanah Nasional (RM69bil).

With no independently generated revenue, the interest payments on Pembinaan PFI’s debts would eventually come from the federal government’s coffers.

The Finance Ministry puts the debt under this third category at RM201.4bil.

All together, Malaysia’s debt and liabilities are said to amount to a total of RM1.09 trillion.

Actually, for those in the loop, the different debt categories and total liabilities are not something new.

Lawmakers from Pakatan Harapan, particularly current Bangi MP Ong Kian Ming, have alerted the authorities about the debt figures over that past few years.

Ong is also currently the special officer to the Finance Minister. The layman might ask, what was the former government’s relevance of classifying these debts into separate off-balance sheet items?

The motive is to make sure the national balance sheet looks healthy and lean.

Economists’ take

Many have questioned the new government’s move to lump contingent liabilities and debt obligations with the direct liabilities. It should be noted that as per the standard procedure of credit rating agencies, only the direct liabilities are taken into the calculation of the debt-to-GDP ratio.

In a StarBiz report this year, Moody’s Investors Service sovereign risk group assistant vice-president Anushka Shah said that by carving out certain expenditures off its budget, the government would be able to optimise its expenditure profile and minimise the associated impacts from its spending.

However, she pointed out that Malaysia’s federal government debt burden remains elevated at 51%, relatively higher than the median of other A-rated sovereign states at 41%.

On the country’s contingent liabilities, Anushka described them as “low-risk” at the current level, and added that the government has been prudent and careful in managing the guaranteed debts.

“We find that the government has adopted rigorous selection criteria when it grants the guarantees to the respective entities.

“The companies which have received guarantees from the government are relatively healthy and have strong balance sheet positions,” she said.

Ever since Dr Mahathir shocked the market with the “RM1 trillion debt” remark, the focus among Malaysians has largely centred on the nominal value of the debt.

A greater emphasis should instead be given on “debt sustainability”, which basically refers to the growth of debt against the growth of the economy.

Economists who spoke to StarBizWeek have mixed opinions on the level of seriousness of Malaysia’s public debt problem.

Suhaimi: Malaysia’s debt has risen faster than economic growth.
Suhaimi: Malaysia’s debt has risen faster

than economic growth.

According to Maybank group chief economist Suhaimi Ilias, Malaysia’s debt has risen faster than economic growth over the last 10 years.
“In the past decade, officially published government debt and government-guaranteed debt have risen by 10% and 14.5% per annum, respectively, faster than the nominal GDP growth of 7% per annum, which raises valid sustainability risk.“On the government’s debt service costs relative to the operating expenditure, the ratio was 12.7% as at end-2017 and based on Budget 2018 is projected to rise to 13.2%. It has been rising steadily from 9.5% in 2012.

“There is a 15% cap on this under the administrative fiscal rule, while the 11th Malaysia Plan target is to lower the ratio to 9.8% in 2020. The government is looking at the debt issue from this sustainability perspective in our opinion,” he says.

 

Lee: Malaysia’s rising public debt level warrants close monitoring.
Lee: Malaysia’s rising public debt level

warrants close monitoring.

Meanwhile, Socio-Economic Research Centre (SERC) executive director Lee Heng Guie says that various indicators of debt burden suggest that Malaysia’s rising public debt level warrants close monitoring to contain the long-term risks of fiscal and debt sustainability.

“High levels of government debt over a sustained period will have economic and financial ramifications over the longer term. Rising public debt could crowd out private capital formation and, therefore, productivity growth.

“This occurs through the competition for domestic liquidity, higher interest rates, a shifting of resources away from the private sector or investment in low-impact projects. This situation is made worse if the government wastes borrowed money on unnecessary projects,” he tells StarBizWeek.

In contrast to Suhaimi and Lee, Alliance Bank Malaysia Bhd chief economist Manokaran Mottain points out that Malaysia’s debt sustainability scenario is yet to be a cause for concern.

 

Manokaran: Debt sustainability scenario is yet to be a cause for concern.
Manokaran: Debt sustainability scenario is

yet to be a cause for concern.

This is because debt repayments are made on an annual basis as opposed to a colossal one-off payment of RM1 trillion.

“Malaysia’s economic growth of above 5% is sufficient to cover government debt. As long as the economy is growing while the government is able to service the debt charges, it is not really that alarming.

“Even in the United States, the government debt-to-GDP level exceeds 100% at US$21 trillion against the real GDP of US$18.57 trillion,” he says.

Manokaran adds that while total government debt has risen over the years, Malaysia’s annual debt growth rate has been growing slower in recent years.

Deleveraging Malaysia

The government must now move fast to introduce measures to reduce and manage the country’s debt levels. This is highly crucial in assuring creditors and investors that the country’s fiscal health remains uncompromised.

Given the fact that the world is currently at the tail-end of the 10-year economic cycle, it is timely for the government to focus on its ability to fulfil its debt obligations.

In the event of an economic turmoil, a heavily-indebted country would be adversely affected.

Lim has emphasised the federal government’s commitment to honour all of the country’s debts.

“This new government puts the interest of the people first, and hence, it is necessary to bite the bullet now, work hard to solve our problems, rather than let it explode in our faces at a later date,” he said in a statement earlier.

Economists believe that the government must strictly embark on reforming the national expenditure in carrying out debt consolidation.

This includes cutting down on unnecessary expenditure, plugging leakages in the federal government’s finances and containing public-sector wage bills.

Lee has recommended an overhaul the current pension system, considering the unsustainable current trend.

“On revenue reform, the design of tax policy should be fair and equitable in order to be sustainable.

“The push for a wide and investment-friendly reform to boost potential growth should be expedited, as strong investment and economic growth has a huge effect on enhancing revenue growth and reducing public debt.

“On budget planning and development, an oversight body needs to be set up to ensure better fiscal rules, budgetary processes and closer fiscal monitoring to ensure fiscal discipline,” says Lee.

Manokaran says the new government should consider expenditure cuts through the privatisation and reformation of the numerous government-linked corporations, as well as the reduction in size and budget allocation of the Prime Minister’s Office.

On the national mega-infrastructure projects, Manokaran and Suhaimi say that the renegotiation and review of such projects will be vital in managing future debt growth.

Time will tell whether the government can live up to its promise of reducing the public debt dilemma. Pakatan must now balance its “populist” electoral promises and stellar fiscal management policies.

As for now, the government deserves to be complimented for calling a spade a spade, acknowledging the problem at hand.

By ganeshwaran kana The Star

Related stories:

The world’s oldest PM, Dr. Mahathir must now walk the talk


Najib and Mahathir face off in fierce Malaysian election:

 https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d3d414f33517a4d77457a6333566d54/share.html

 

WHEN I attended an election rally of Pakatan Harapan in Wangsa Maju, Kuala Lumpur, two weeks ago, I was delighted to see the Malays, Indians and Chinese clapping hands in unison when PKR’s vice-president Tian Chua promised that the coalition would look after the interests of all, regardless of race, once it came into power.

I was touched by the reactions on the ground. It was a good feeling to be among people who share similar aspirations for racial harmony and welfare for all in this multiracial country.

My son also had the same experience at a Pakatan ceramah in Hulu Kelang, Selangor, last week.

It was drizzling and he was soaked. Then a Malay man gave him a shirt to change. He came home telling me he hoped that Pakatan would win to bring back the long-lost spirit of muhibbah and unity.

The spirit of muhibbah had for a long time turned into a rare commodity because the authorities allowed political opportunists to disrupt peace with their disparaging remarks against other communities and religious groups.

Now that Pakatan has toppled the Barisan Nasional government led by Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in the May 9 general election, it is natural for Malaysians like me and my son to expect a better tomorrow where divisive racist politics is curbed, if not eliminated.

I look forward to the return of the good old days when the spirit of muhibbah among races prevailed.

This expectation is not unrealistic, given the emphasis to multiracialism and unity in the speeches of leaders under Pakatan led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The former premier, once disliked by some Chinese for his past racist rule but who appears to have repented, is now the Prime Minister.

But as Dr Mahathir, who has galvanised almost all Opposition forces against Najib for the latter’s association with the 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd) controversy, is likely to play a key part in governing and “saving” the country, his policy speeches made during campaign are in focus now.

While Dr Mahathir has promised to get rid of corruption in government and Felda, he has also pledged to remove the 6% Goods and Services Tax (GST) and reintroduce fuel subsidies – two issues that have impacted the lower-income group negatively.

But if GST is removed and fuel subsidies are reinstated, Dr Mahathir’s government will have to implement measures to ensure that Malaysia’s fiscal position will not be undermined by populist moves.

With the prices of oil and gas returning to a four-year high, the impact on government finance may be cushioned slightly this year. But for the longer term, sustainability is in doubt.

Indeed, international rating agency Moody’s cautioned yesterday that these campaign promises, if implemented without any other adjustments, would be “credit negative for Malaysia’s sovereign”.

A downgrade in sovereign rating will have a negative impact on the ringgit, interest rates and ranking of our bonds.

It may also affect foreign portfolio investments.

But as Dr Mahathir is a deft hand at crisis management, having led the country out of the 1986 recession and 1998 Asian financial and local political crisis, he should have the wits to forestall any fiscal shortfall.

With many businessmen and economists silently supporting Pakatan, there should be no shortage of talent to help him manage the economy.

These skilled people may emerge in the open soon.

What worries businessmen and economists most is the doctor’s pledge that China investments in Malaysia would be reviewed, and terminated if there were unfair terms in current contracts.

But as Selangor and Penang have attracted substantial direct investments from China, PKR’s Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and DAP’s Lim Guan Eng could present an objective and clearer picture of Chinese investments to Dr Mahathir.

While it is difficult to revoke the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) due to the vast economic benefits it can bring to the country and the favourable terms in loan repayment, it is easier for Malaysia to delay the implementation of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail project or stop China from getting the contract.

But before doing anything drastic to cut down national debt, government lawyers have a duty to advise the chief commander on paying vast compensation for breach of contract. As China views Malaysia as a strategic location in its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing has been following the political developments closely.

But to be sure, Dr Mahathir was a business-friendly leader when he was the Prime Minister, the first time around.

He was responsible for allowing direct trade between Malaysia and China in the late 1980s, which led to China becoming our largest trading partner. Hence, he is not expected to make policies detrimental to the economy.

One question many people are asking now is: will Malaysia become more democratic under Pakatan rule?

From the campaign speeches made by the coalition’s strategists and Dr Mahathir, this appears to be so – at least for the foreseeable future.

Two PKR vice-presidents, Rafizi Ramli and Tian Chua, have told voters that if one day Pakatan becomes corrupt, the people should vote the coalition out – just like how they brought Najib down.

What Pakatan wants to see is a two- or three-party political system where people have a choice to pick the best among the contenders.

Since Malaysians have boldly voted out Barisan that ruled for over six decades, there is no reason why Pakatan cannot be toppled if it is corrupted by power and greed.

In the campaign speeches, Dr Mahathir promised that he would pass the baton to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who will be released from jail next month.

Will he keep this promise after assuming the powerful post?

The logical answer is he will. At 93, his health may not permit him to carry on with this high-pressured job.

It will also be politically unwise for him to stay beyond his welcome, as Anwar had ori­ginally been the choice of the coalition before Dr Mahathir came into the picture.

Many have high expectations of Anwar, who has the experience of an acting premier, deputy premier and finance minister before he was sacked from the Cabinet in 1998 by Dr Mahathir.

Having survived bitter political battles and endured imprisonments under Dr Mahathir and Najib from 1998 until now, Anwar should understand the people’s needs better and rule with a multiracial outlook.- by Ho Wah Foon The Star

Related:

Why Malaysia’s opposition coalition won the election 

 

 


By The Star Says

Joceline Tan

By Joceline Tan

 

In the spotlight: Many shed tears of joy when Dr Mahathir was sworn in as the seventh Prime Minister.Old PM heralds hope for new corporate culture

MALAYSIA’S poor handling of public finances is a subject matter that has very often lit controversy. It is not only during the Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak government but stretches back to the days of our new ‘old’ Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

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Mahathir to be sworn in as PM on May 10 2018. After six decades in power, BN falls to ‘Malaysian tsuna…

Malaysia’s low wages: low-skilled, low productivity, low quality, reliance on cheap foreign workers! Need to manage!


Survey: Most workers not paid enough to achieve minimum acceptable living standard

 

Wages too low, says Bank Negara – Survey: most workers not paid enough to achieve minimum acceptable living standard

ALTHOUGH the income levels of Malaysians have increased significantly over the years, voices of discontent are mounting over the decline in purchasing power.

Low and depressed salaries are among the grouses of executives and non-executives amid the apparent lifestyle changes of Malaysians.

With the rising cost of living, they lament that there is now less room for long-term savings and investments.

According to the Employees Job Happiness Index 2017 survey by JobStreet.com, one in three Malaysian employees want a pay rise, with rewards constituting 52% of the domestic workforce’s motivation to work.

In its 2017 Annual Report, Bank Negara points out that the expenditure of the bottom 40% (B40) of Malaysian households has expanded at a faster pace compared with their income.

From 2014 to 2016, the average B40 income level grew by 5.8% annually, marginally lower than the 6% growth in the B40 household spending in the same period.

It is also worth noting that half of working Malaysians only earned less than the national median of RM1,703 in 2016.

The central bank, in consideration of the low-wage conundrum, has recently recommended that employers use a “living wage” as a guideline to compensate their employees for their labour.

Essentially, the living wage refers to the income level needed to achieve a minimum acceptable standard of living, depending on the geographical location.

Citing Kuala Lumpur as an example, Bank Negara estimates that the living wage in the city two years ago was about RM2,700 for a single adult. The living wage estimate for a couple without a child was RM4,500, while for a couple with two children, the living wage was RM6,500.

As much as Malaysians support higher wages, which can outgrow escalating living cost, the bigger question is whether their employers are willing to increase wages significantly.

Also, is it realistic for employers to pay higher salaries in line with the suggested living wage?

Speaking to StarBizWeek, Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan says that the living wage is unsuitable for adoption in Malaysia – for now.

He believes that the living wage will turn out to be damaging to the domestic labour market, given the rising cost of doing business in recent times.

Shamsuddin: While employers in Malaysia are more than happy to compensate workers for their work, people must also understand that they are bogged down by escalating costs. << Shamsuddin: While employers in Malaysia are more than happy to compensate workers for their work, people must also understand that they are bogged down by escalating costs.
Shamsuddin: While employers in Malaysia are more than happy to compensate workers for their work, people must also understand that they are bogged down by escalating costs.

“The living wage concept is unrealistic in Malaysia for the time being. While employers in Malaysia are more than happy to compensate workers for their work, people must also understand that they are bogged down by escalating costs.

“However, if the workers are proactive and upskill themselves to increase their productivity, then I do not see any reason for employers to refrain from offering higher pay packages.

“The Government on its part, should not micro-manage the economy to the extent of telling the employers how much to pay their workers. Instead, the Government can provide various incentives to the employers to bring down costs, which will translate into higher salaries or even exempt the employees’ bonuses from tax,” he says.

Socio Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie welcomes Bank Negara’s living wage guideline “to prevent a wage employee from the deprivation of a decent standard of living”.

In order to push for the acceptance of a living wage in Malaysia, Lee recommends that government-linked companies (GLCs) adopt the concept gradually.

“The enforcement of commitments toward the living wage is a complex and costly issue, and more importantly, should be paid voluntarily by the employers.

“This would require extensive consultations and engagements with the stakeholders.

“Perhaps, as one of the largest employers in the country, GLCs can incorporate the living wage clause in their suppliers’ procurement contracts,” he says.

Concerns about Malaysia’s low-wage environment are not only centred on the low-skilled workers but across-the-board, as even executives lament about being lowly-compensated.

Are Malaysians being paid enough?

Based on data from the Statistics Department’s Salaries and Wages Survey Report 2016, most Malaysian workers are still paid significantly lower than the desired amount to achieve “minimum acceptable living standard”, at least in Kuala Lumpur.

Nearly 50% of working adults in Kuala Lumpur earned less than RM2,500 per month in 2016, notably lower than the RM2,700 living wage as suggested by Bank Negara.

In fact, up to 27% of households in Kuala Lumpur earned below the estimated living wage in 2016.

While wage growth has exceeded inflation over the years, real wage growth has been largely subtle. Real wage refers to income adjusted for inflation.

According to the MEF’s website, the salaries of executives were expected to grow by 5.55% in 2017, compared with 6.31% in 2013. As for non-executives, the average salary was anticipated to increase by 5.44% in 2017, down from 6.78% in 2013.

Given the 3.7% headline inflation registered in 2017, executives’ salaries may have just inched up by 1.85% on average, after factoring in inflation.

As for non-executives, their real wage could have grown by 1.74%, lesser than the executives in Malaysia.

While a slight moderation in headline inflation is expected this year, the purchasing power of Malaysians is unlikely to improve significantly.

In an earlier report by StarBiz, Shamsuddin described 2018 as a “bad year for employees and employers”, and projected Malaysians’ average salary increment to be lower than last year.

He blamed several new policies and measures introduced by the government such as the mandatory requirement for employers to defray levy for their foreign workers and the introduction of the Employment Insurance System, which would increase the costs borne by domestic businesses.

“It will be difficult for employers to raise salaries after this, given such dampeners,” he was reported as saying.

The biggest challenge now is to strike a balance between the market’s ability to compensate a worker and the worker’s required income level to achieve a minimum acceptable standard of living.

Sunway University Business School professor of economics Yeah Kim Leng says that more efforts have to be made to enhance the business and investment climate, in order to entice existing firms to expand and upgrade while new firms and start-ups emerge to create more high-paying jobs.

Yeah: A good quality and inclusive education system coupled with sound economic policies and effective implementation have enabled the two countries to sustain growth. << Yeah: A good quality and inclusive education system coupled with sound economic policies and effective implementation have enabled the two countries to sustain growth.
Yeah: A good quality and inclusive education system coupled with sound economic policies and effective implementation have enabled the two countries to sustain growth
.

He also calls upon business owners and employees to forge appropriate wage-setting mechanisms, which are benchmarked against the productivity of the workers.

“The Government should consider additional fiscal incentives for firms that provide worker benefits to meet the living wage standard. For example, double tax deduction for transport allowance and other cost of living adjustments for the lower-salaried employees,” states Yeah.

Meanwhile, Lee opines that employees should be given a higher share of the profit generated by their employers moving forward, in line with the practice in many high-income nations abroad.
 

“It is actually reasonable for Malaysian employers to allocate a larger chunk of their profits to reward their workers and motivate them,” he says. 

In 2016, the compensation of employees to gross domestic product (CE-to-GDP) ratio in Malaysia improved to 35.3%. The CE-to-GDP ratio shows the workers’ share in the profits made by business owners.

For every RM1 generated in 2016, 35.3 sen was paid to the employee and 59.5 sen went to corporate earnings, while five sen was given to the government in the form of taxes.

In its 11th Malaysia Plan, the Government aspires to increase the CE-to-GDP ratio substantially to 40%, from 34% in 2013.

While Malaysia’s CE-to-GDP ratio has continued to improve over the years, it is notably lower than several other high and middle-income countries.

The 11th Malaysia Plan document stated that the country’s CE-to-GDP ratio was lower than Australia (47.8%), South Korea (43.2%) and even South Africa (45.9%).

In an earlier media report, however, Malaysian Institute of Economic Research executive director Zakariah Abdul Rashid hinted that Malaysia was unlikely to reach its CE-to-GDP ratio target by 2020.

This was mainly as a result of Malaysia’s lower-than-expected productivity growth.


Low-wage conundrum

 According to Bank Negara, the main underlying cause of Malaysia’s low-wage environment is the high numbers of cheap foreign workers.

Governor Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim says that the country should cut back on its foreign worker dependency to drive higher wages for Malaysians across-the-board.

“In Malaysia, our salaries and wages are low, as half of the working Malaysians earn less than RM1,700 per month and the average starting salary of a diploma graduate is only about RM350 above the minimum wage.

“It is high time to reform our labour market by creating high-quality, good-paying jobs for Malaysians,” he says.

Echoing a similar stance, Yeah says that the continuing reliance on foreign workers has resulted in a predominantly low wage-low productivity-low value economy, with many features of a middle-income trap.

“On one end of the wage-skill spectrum, the low-skilled jobs are being substituted by easy availability of unskilled foreign workers, thereby keeping the blue-collar wages from rising.

“At the other end, skilled job wages are being depressed by insufficient high-wage job creation, weak firm profitability amid rising market competition and excess capacity, industry consolidations and other factors resulting in a slack labour market,” he says.

Lee: The enforcement of commitments toward the living wage is a complex and costly issue, and more importantly, should be paid voluntarily by the employers. << Lee: The enforcement of commitments toward the living wage is a complex and costly issue, and more importantly, should be paid voluntarily by the employers.
Lee: The enforcement of commitments toward the living wage is a complex and costly issue, and more importantly, should be paid voluntarily by the employers.

It is worth noting that the share of high-skilled jobs has reduced to 37% in the period from 2011 to 2017, as compared to 45% from 2002 to 2010.

Malaysia has come a long way since its independence, transforming itself from a largely rural agragrian country to a regional economic powerhouse, which is driven by its strong services and manufacturing sectors.


While industrialisation and automation have grown robustly since the 1990s, economists feel that the country has not managed to substantially move up the value chain compared with other countries such as Singapore.

The lack of a high-skilled workforce, low productivity, employment opportunities to cater to high-skilled professionals and the presence of cheap foreign workers have all weighed down on the Malaysian economy, particularly the income levels of Malaysians.

Citing the examples of Singapore and Australia, which are successful in raising wages historically, Yeah says that structural reforms should be undertaken in Malaysia to reverse the low-wage conundrum.

“A good quality and inclusive education system coupled with sound economic policies and effective implementation have enabled the two countries to sustain growth, raise productivity and wages and shift to higher-value activities,” he says.

Sources: by Ganeshwaran Kana, The Star

Economist: Manage labour issues to achieve high-income economy

Cheap manpower: While Malaysia has clearly
benefitted from the presence of foreign workers, the role that foreign
workers play in the Malaysian economy must keep up with the times.

WHY are wages still low in Malaysia?

Well, there are six words to describe the main reason for this – “high dependence on low-skilled foreign workers”.

The issue of Malaysia’s huge reliance on low-skilled foreign labour has been raised time and again, but only moderate progress has been made in alleviating the situation.

Low-skilled foreign labour remains a prevalent feature of Malaysia’s economy, and according to Bank Negara, it is a major factor suppressing local wages and impeding the country’s progress towards a high-productivity nation.

As the central bank governor Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim puts it, Malaysia is currently weighed down by a low-wage, low-productivity trap, with the contributing factor being the prolonged reliance on low-skilled foreign workers.

While their existence may benefit individual firms in the short term, they could impose high macroeconomic costs to the economy over the longer term.

“Easy availability of cheap low-skilled foreign workers blunts the need for productivity improvement and automation. Employers keep wages low to maintain margins,” Muhammad says.

“Unfortunately, this depresses wages for local workers. The hiring of low-skilled foreign workers also promotes the creation of low-skilled jobs,” he adds.

From 2011 to 2017, the share of low-skilled jobs in Malaysia increased significantly to 16%, compared with only 8% in the period of 2002 to 2010. Apart from that, local economic sectors that rely on foreign workers such as agriculture, construction and manufacturing also suffer from low productivity.

Nevertheless, it is an undeniable fact that foreign workers do contribute somewhat to Malaysia’s economic growth.

The World Bank, in its study about three years ago noted that immigrant labour both high and low-skilled, continued to play a crucial role in Malaysia’s economic development, and would still be needed for the country to achieve high-income status by 2020.

The global institution’s econometric modeling suggested that a 10% net increase in low-skilled foreign workers could increase Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as 1.1%. For every 10 new immigrant workers in a given state and sector, up to five new jobs may be created for Malaysians in that state and sector, it said.

Even so, the World Bank acknowledged that the influx of foreign labour did have a negative impact on the wages of some groups.

Its study found a 10% increase in immigration flow would reduce wages of the least-educated Malaysians, which represents 14% of the total labour force, by 0.74%. Overall, a 10% increase in immigration flow would slightly increase the wages of Malaysians by 0.14%.

According to Muhammad, while some argue that foreign employment creates economic activities, which consequently create jobs for local employment, it is neither the most efficient nor the desired route to create more mid-to-high-skilled jobs.

“Compared with local employment, foreign workers repatriate a large share of their incomes, which limits the spillover or multiplier effect on the domestic economy,” he explains.

Total outward remittances in 2017 stood at RM35.3bil, of which the bulk was accounted for by foreign workers.

In addition, Muhammad says high dependence on low-skilled foreign workers will also have an adverse effect of shaping Malaysia’s reputation as a low-skilled, labour-intensive destination.

Bank Negara says while Malaysia has clearly benefitted from the presence of foreign workers, the role that foreign workers play in the Malaysian economy must keep up with the times.

The central bank believes critical reforms to the country’s labour market are very much within its reach, and it should continue to gradually wean its dependence on foreign workers.

Malaysia should seize the opportunity now to set itself on a more productive, sophisticated and sustainable economic growth path, it says.

According to Muhammad, cutting back on foreign worker dependency can help to drive higher wages for Malaysians across-the-board.

The Government’s efforts in reducing the country’s dependency on low-skilled foreign workers have been ongoing since the implementation of the 8th Malaysia Plan (2001-2005), with greater clarity and a renewed focus to resolve the issue at hand upon the implementation of the 11th Malaysia Plan.

This has resulted in the steady decline in the share of documented foreign workers from 16.1% in 2013 to 12.0% of the labour force in 2017.

More can be done to build on the progress made, Bank Negara says, while proposing a five-pronged approach to managing foreign workers in Malaysia.

Firstly, it says, there must be a clear stance on the role of low-skilled foreign workers in Malaysia’s economic narrative. Secondly, policy implementation and changes must be gradual and clearly communicated to the industry.

Thirdly, existing demand-management tools (such as quotas, dependency ceilings and levies) can be reformed to be more market-driven, while incentivising the outcomes that are in line with Malaysia’s economic objectives.

Fourthly, there is room to ensure better treatment of foreign workers, be it improvements in working conditions or ensuring that foreign workers are paid as agreed. Lastly, it is also important to note that the proposed reforms must be complemented with effective monitoring and enforcement on the ground, particularly with respect to undocumented foreign workers.

An economist tells StarBizWeek that addressing the high reliance on foreign workers is pertinent for Malaysia’s transition into a high-income economy.

“Malaysia needs to shift its focus from importing cheap labour to managing labour flow that can maximise growth and facilitate its structural adjustment towards a higher income economy,” he says.

“It has been far too long for our economy to be swamped with foreign workers who are unskilled, or have low skill sets that could not contribute meaningfully to Malaysia’s aspiration of becoming a high-income economy,” he adds.

By Cecilia Kok, The Star

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More worms open up from Penang Undersea Tunnel project as Datuk Seri photos hots up


Pricey seizure: The luxury vehicles,
(clockwise from top left) a Toyota Vellfire, a Mercedes-Benz, a Land
Rover and a Hyundai Starex, seized from the Datuk Seri.
Happy meeting: In a picture that has appeared in cyberspace, Lim and the ‘Datuk Seri’ are seen in the back seat of a car.

PETALING JAYA: Another photo of Lim Guan Eng with a man who resembles the Datuk Seri being investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has emerged on cyberspace.

The photo shows the Penang Chief Minister and the 37-year-old Datuk Seri who is being investigated for allegedly receiving RM19mil to “help settle” the MACC’s probe on Penang’s controversial undersea tunnel and three highways project.

The photo was taken in a car with Lim and the Datuk Seri together in the back seat, both smiling widely. A caption that went with the photograph claimed that it was taken in August last year.

In early March, a photo of Lim and the Datuk Seri showing both of them wearing socks but no shoes standing on a carpeted floor, went viral.

The photo is believed to have been taken at a private residence.

MCA publicity spokesman Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker pointed out that when the first photograph emerged on social media, the chief minister conveniently brushed it off, claiming that he had taken photographs with numerous personalities and denied having any dealings with the Datuk Seri.

“He even retaliated by showing a picture of the same Datuk Seri posing for a photograph with Star Media Group managing director and CEO Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai.

“Wong responded by saying that there were many pictures of him taken with people he barely knew at events he attended and noted he was wearing shoes in the photograph,” Ti said in a statement.

But now with a second photograph of Lim and the Datuk Seri emerging so soon, Ti said, “so, what is Guan Eng’s excuse this time?”

Datuk Seri photo issue hots up

Pictured response: Lim revealing the pictures of the Datuk Seri’s wife with a Barisan leader at a press
conference in Komtar, Penang.

PETALING JAYA: Lim Guan Eng’s refusal to come clean on his relationship with the Datuk Seri being investigated for graft and his “revelation” of photos of the latter’s wife with Barisan leaders are acts of desperation, says Barisan Nasional Strategic Communications deputy director Datuk Eric See-To.

He slammed the Penang Chief Minister for not explaining his relationship with the Datuk Seri, who allegedly received RM19mil to help close the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigation files on Penang’s RM6.34bil undersea tunnel and three paired roads project.

“Firstly, the wife is a media personality whose job would invariably include meeting government leaders.

“Secondly, those photos were uploaded to her public social media account by her, unlike Guan Eng,” he said.

Two photos of Lim and the Datuk Seri have emerged so far.

The first showed both wearing socks, but no shoes, standing on a carpeted floor, while the second was a wefie of both men smiling widely in the back seat of a car.

At a press conference in George Town yesterday, Lim distributed photos of the Datuk Seri’s wife with Barisan leaders to the press in response to the claims that he was close to the Datuk Seri.

“Looking at so many photos of his wife with Barisan leaders, it is clear that both of them are strong Barisan supporters.

“Do not throw stones when you live in glass houses,” Lim said.

However, See-To pointed out that none of the two Barisan ministers who took the photos with the wife had any involvement in the controversial Penang project.

“The Chief Minister’s office had brushed off the first photo implying that he is not close to the suspect, only for a second one to emerge which shows that the relationship is deeper than his office suggested,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lim also told the press conference that the wefie of him and the Datuk Seri was taken with the latter’s handphone.

He added that the real question was who leaked the photos when only the Datuk Seri had them in his handphone.

“Even I do not have them,” he said.

Lim reiterated that he had “taken many photographs with many personalities” and could not recall how many times or where they were taken.

He said there may be more photos of him and the Datuk Seri, the latter’s wife and family members.

“Does taking photos with him, his wife and family make us close buddies?” he asked.

On the same issue, Datuk Seri S. Vell Paari called on Penang Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P. Ramasamy to stop being an apologist for Lim.

The MIC treasurer-general said Dr Ramasamy should have joined him in questioning Lim’s role in the Penang project.

“Ramasamy should now be brave and encourage his boss to make police reports if those two photos are fake, or he should insist that his boss sue me if he believes I had slandered him,” he said in a statement.

Vell Paari claimed that he knew with certainty that the first photo was taken at the Datuk Seri’s lavish house in Petaling Jaya in July last year.

He also claimed that the wefie of Lim and the Datuk Seri was taken in August last year.

The car belongs to the owner of the special purpose vehicle set up for the tunnel project, he claimed.

MIC wants Lim to explain relationship with Datuk Seri

Vell Paari appointed as new MIC Treas

PETALING JAYA: Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng must explain his relationship with a Datuk Seri being investigated in the Penang undersea tunnel project graft probe, said MIC treasurer-general Datuk Seri S. Vell Paari.

Vell Paari said Lim and his party DAP had a duty to the Indian community to “explain” their relationship with this suspect, who had “betrayed the trust of and cheated” the community.

“That suspect is involved in a case where many Malaysian Indians were cheated of their hard-earned money and savings.

“Datuk R. Ramanan and I had exposed him less than two years ago.

“As such, many individuals who are familiar with the suspect have told me that the photo of the Penang Chief Minister with the suspect was indeed taken in the lavish private home of the suspect,” said Vell Paari.

He said Lim and DAP must explain “when and why” the chief minister had visited the suspect’s house.

The 37-year-old Datuk Seri is being investigated by MACC for allegedly receiving RM19mil from the project’s main contractor Consortium Zenith Construction to “help settle” the commission’s probe into the controversial RM6.34bil project comprising an undersea tunnel and three main highways.

Lim’s office subsequently issued a statement saying that linking the Chief Minister to the Datuk Seri was a “disgusting smear attempt”.

“What dealings or businesses does he have with this Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission suspect?

“If the photo was indeed not from the suspect’s house, the Penang CM and DAP are more than welcome to sue me,” said Vell Paari.

Sources: The Star

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