Mahathir wants GST scrapped and royal inquiry set up to probe debt-laden 1MDB

Malaysia's former leader Mahathir Mohamad turned up pressure on troubled Prime Minister Najib Razak on Saturday, calling for the less than four-week-old Goods and Services Tax (GST) to be scrapped and a royal inquiry into debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) to be established with members from the civil society instead of the government. 

Addressing a forum where over a thousand people attended and spilled out of the hall, the long-serving former prime minister said Datuk Seri Najib had abused his position and mismanaged finances and could not be allowed to remain in power.

"Just cancel it (GST). We had sales tax. If you want to increase or expand it, that's okay. But you want to introduce new system where even your own officers don't understand it," he said, referring to widespread confusion over thousands of exempted items when the levy came into force on April 1.

Dr Mahathir, who has vociferously called for Mr Najib to step down in recent weeks, also backed calls for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) - which has wide-ranging powers of investigation - into 1MDB, but insisted that such a panel must consist of members of the public chosen by non-governmental organisations.

Dr Mahathir had previously called for a police forensic investigation into whether 1MDB accounts were bona fide and to trace where its money had ended up. 

"I agree on condition RCI members are not picked by Mr Najib. Now he has asked the Auditor-General and Public Accounts Committee, but I am worried it will take two-and-a-half years until after the general election and Najib will still be leading because it is not completed," he said, referring to probes ordered by the prime minister after mounting allegations of abuse of public funds were levelled at 1MDB.

Dr Mahathir, who was in power for 22 years until 2003, also accused Mr Najib of overspending in throwing lavish weddings for his daughter earlier this year.

"Can anyone remember the weddings of my four children? But this one (Najib's daughter), it is the marriage of the century," he said.

Speaking on the Rompin by-election on May 5 in Mr Najib's home state of Pahang, Dr Mahathir said: "If we show we can lose RM42 billion (S$15.7 billion) but still support (the government), then we will lose everything". He was referring to the amount of debt - a third of which was guaranteed by taxpayers - that 1MDB has racked up in its five years of operation since 2009.

shannont@sph.com.sg