Investments down, but Malaysia says economic programme on track

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Investment commitments under Malaysia's flagship economic development programme fell by three quarters last year, as the government struggled to meet its goal of raising the private sector's role in its plan to lift the Southeast Asian country to high-income status by 2020.

The amount of pledged investments fell 75 per cent from the previous year to 8 billion ringgit (S$3.08 billion), the government announced on Monday as it unveiled the annual report of the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP).

The programme, aimed at generating US$444 billion in investments and lifting annual per-capita income to US$15,000, was launched in 2010 by Prime Minister Najib Razak to address a long-term stagnation in private and foreign investment in Malaysia.

Domestic critics have said the government has exaggerated the ETP's achievements, saying the plan is a mostly a repackaging of projects that would have gone ahead anyway and that it relies too heavily on public spending.

The government says that overall investments stood at 265 billion ringgit last year, up from 242 billion ringgit in 2012, and that it remains on course to meet its income goal.

The government's Performance Management Delivery Unit, which oversees the ETP, said the fall in committed investments was misleading because projects had been frontloaded and had driven a rise in overall investment in the economy.

"Most of the ETP-specific investment commitment were frontloaded and are being realised, supporting the robust growth in private investment as reflected in the GDP since 2011," it said in e-mailed comments to Reuters.

Malaysia's economy grew 4.7 per cent last year, picking up speed in the last quarter as its crucial export sector benefited from a pick-up in global demand. Most economists expect growth to pick up to between 5.0 and 5.5 per cent this year, partly driven by ongoing ETP projects such as an $11 billion rail project in the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Annual committed investments under the ETP are down from 179.2 billion ringgit in 2011, and 32.1 billion ringgit in 2012.

Some 47 investment projects were announced last year, compared to 110 in 2011. The government said private investment grew at an annual rate of 15.3 per cent from 2010 to 2013, triple the rate from the previous three years. In 2013, it said, private investment reached 161.1 billion ringgit, 8.6 per cent above target.

Still, the ETP remains far from its goal of generating 92 per cent of investments from private sources. Public investments accounted for 39 per cent of the total last year, it said, down only slightly from 42 per cent in 2012.

The government says that gross national income per person in Malaysia climbed to US$10,060 in 2013 from US$7,059 in 2009, putting it on track to reach the US$15,000 goal by 2020 or earlier.