Can we bear the cost of Malaysia's new gargantuan projects? Sin Chew Daily columnist

In his article, the writer says what Malaysians need is a robust economy that would support robust incomes for all.

File photo showing the Petronas Twin Towers and the city skyline of Kuala Lumpur, on May 8, 2018.

KUALA LUMPUR (SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Even though the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has breathed a new lease of life into Malaysian politics, its conflicting moves, along with an inclination towards populism, have been highlighted in recent weeks.

To prevent the suffocating national debt from running out of hand, it is commendable that the government has decided to axe mega infrastructural projects such as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high speed rail (HSR) project and MRT 3.

But then why has it planned to spend over RM30 billion (S$10 billion) on a satellite city project in Langkawi?

While cabinet ministers will take a 10 per cent pay cut and the Tabung Harapan Malaysia trust fund has been set up to help relieve the debt pressure, why fork out RM30 million to bring the 2018 FIFA World Cup live on national TV?

From the perspective of slashing government debt, cancelling the above projects is absolutely reasonable because if we do not control the debt early, it will snowball beyond our ability, not unlike the debt crisis in Italy.

Even though the phenomenon of escalating debt has evolved into a new normal for global economy nowadays, it is by no means a healthy trend at all.

The global economy is anything but stable at this moment, complicated by the trade wars between the US and several major economic powers and the possible return of the European debt crisis, it is therefore advisable for us to first strengthen our finances in order to weather any imminent financial storm.

If the country is financially healthy, foreign investors will continue to have faith in us and the stock and currency markets will gradually rebound.

Moreover, launching mega projects in a bid to boost the country's economy has already been proven impractical. For example, Tun Mahathir implemented a large number of mega projects during his previous premiership, including the national car project, Perwaja Steel, KL International Airport, F1 racing circuit, North-South Highway, Petronas Twin Towers, LRT, Putrajaya and Bukit Jalil, among others.

While the airport and expressway projects have produced some positive economic effects, most others have been pathetically run and heavily in debt, including the national car project, racing circuit and steel plant.

Former PM Najib is also a staunch believer of mega projects in the likes of 1MDB, Bandar Malaysia, Tun Razak Exchange project, HSR, East Coast Rail Link, PNB 118 and MRT.

Needless to say, 1MDB is now a gigantic scandal while PNB 118, the world's second tallest tower upon completion, will only aggravate the existing commercial and retail glut in Klang Valley.

The PH government should learn a lesson from past mistakes and not to squander billions on massive development projects.

Although the Langkawi New City project will be undertaken by the private sector, is the government providing financial assurances and why Ting Pek Khiing, whose Ekran Bhd won the bid for scandal-tainted Bakun Dam project in 1994?

Why has such an immense project emerged all of a sudden soon after PH has taken the helm in Putrajaya? And why is the Kedah state government kept in the dark over this project?

All major decisions must be made in a transparent manner in accordance with the Pakatan Harapan principles.

The return of nepotism will only erode the new government's credibility.

Where slashing government expenditure is concerned, pay cut for cabinet ministers and termination of the contracts of 17,000 politically appointed civil servants will never be sufficient.

In fact, more could have been done, for instance by prudently controlling expenses at government departments and slashing the exorbitant remunerations paid to senior government officials, an absurd example being the RM85,000 monthly payout to Mavcom's executive chairman.

Many people have donated to Tabung Harapan Malaysia, with over RM7 million collected within the first 24 hours. This shows that many Malaysians are indeed willing to go through the thick and thin with the government.

Having said that, the new government must also explore new sources of income in order to settle the mounting debt as soon as possible.

Uncurbed populist measures will only burden the national coffers further.

Spending money to telecast World Cup live should never be a priority. It is hoped that the new government will put the valuable resources to where they are needed most, such as improving basic amenities in rural areas, poverty eradication, enhancing education and meeting the needs of our younger generation, among others,

The government should teach the rakyat how to fish instead of handing out a fish to them.

Offering cost of living allowances to low wage earners is just a reversion to the old trick of the former Barisan Nasional administration.

What Malaysians want is a robust economy that will support better incomes for all.

As a small country we can hardly bear the cost of so many gargantuan projects.

What is more important is to build up our own soft power and lift our overall competitiveness through new mentality and new policies.

Now that the curtain has fallen on the 14th general elections, PH should run the country in accordance with the rule of law and democratic principles, eliminate unnecessary political moves, come up with sound policies and seize the opportunity to put together a highly efficient administrative team to shore up public confidence.

The new government is less than a month old today. There is plenty of room to learn from whatever mistakes it might make. As such, it needs the supervision from the rakyat to put things back in order.

The writer comments regularly on happenings in Malaysia. Sin Chew Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.

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