PUTRAJAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has urged civil servants to help him restore the country to its former glory in his first address to civil servants since taking office following the May 9 polls.
"Our country was well-respected previously, but now it is not the same as in the past. We must restore the country to ensure that it will be looked highly upon and respected once again," he said in his speech to government officers at the Prime Minister's Office on Monday (May 21).
He asked them to give him their undivided cooperation in the administration of the country.
"As long as I don't violate any laws, I hope all of you will give your undivided cooperation to me as the Prime Minister, " he said.
The Prime Minister said this was especially needed so that the government can look for ways to manage and settle Malaysia's debt.
Malaysia, he said, is saddled with over RM 1 trillion (S$337.9 billion) in debt, blaming the previous government led by former protege Najib Razak who now faces domestic graft investigations.
"We find that the country's finances for example, was abused in a way that now we are facing trouble settling debts that have risen to a trillion ringgit," Dr Mahathir said.
"We have never had to deal with this before. Before we never faced debts higher than 300 billion ringgit, but now it has climbed to 1 trillion ringgit," he added.
"I must state that those who have done wrong will have to be dealt with according to law," he said.
His Pakatan Harapan alliance had campaigned aggressively during the election on rising living costs and a multi-billion dollar scandal at the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund.
In his first week in charge, Dr Mahathir announced that a broad-based goods and services tax (GST) would be zero-rated from June 1, as his government works to replace it with a reinstated sales and services tax (SST).
Dr Mahathir had also promised to reintroduce fuel subsidies besides doing away with GST, all part of his coalition's pledge to tamp down rising living costs.
Dr Mahathir's fiscal measures, however, would widen Malaysia's fiscal deficit and are credit negative without any offsetting measures, according to ratings agency Moody's.
Datuk Seri Najib's government had planned to collect RM43.8 billion ringgit in 2018 in GST, about 18 per cent of total revenue.
During the election campaign, Mr Najib had warned that Dr Mahathir's economic proposals would result in debt ballooning to over RM 1 trillion ringgit.
Mr Najib also rebutted opposition claims that federal debt had risen to alarming levels under his governance, and said that debt amounted to about 50.9 per cent of its GDP at June 2017, which was below the government's limit of 55 per cent.
Dr Mahathir said last week that many of the figures recording the country's financial position may be false.
Malaysia's anti-graft agency has summoned Mr Najib to give a statement on Tuesday in connection with a probe on SRC International, a former unit of 1MDB.
The summons came days after police raided six premises linked to the former prime minister as part of investigations into the state investment fund that Mr Najib founded in 2009.
Dr Mahathir also said that the three pillars of the country - the executive, legislature and judiciary - will be well-separated and that the rule of law will be restored.
Dr Mahathir, who was accompanied by his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali to attend the monthly gathering of the Prime Minister's Office, was welcomed on arrival by Chief Secretary to Government Mohd Ali Hamsa and Public Services director-general Zainal Rahim Seman.
As he took the stage, those present welcomed him with thunderous applause.
Dr Mahathir kicked off his official duties last Monday (May 14) as the new prime minister at the Yayasan Perdana Leadership Foundation in Putrajaya.