Challenging task managing the economy
Roznah Abdul Jabbar 

As former finance minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim knows only too well what ails the Malaysian economy. The Pakatan Harapan government’s revelation of a RM1 tril national debt, bloated mega projects, the 1MDB scandal and massive corruption are all posing big challenges to the current leadership.

Anwar, who is also an ex-deputy prime minister, acknowledges that the economic problems facing the country today are somewhat different from the time he was finance minister in the mid-1990s. “I think it is somewhat more complex because the task now is to regularise and ascertain the actual state or debt and economic losses which were not a problem in the past. When you want to chart a course in the economy in the medium or short-term, you have to have all the figures at your disposal,” he tells FocusM in an interview.

The current state of the economy does not need explanation as everyone knows about it. Recently, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) reported the economy is slowing down and the gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast has been lowered from 5.5-6% to 5%. Growth has been dwindling since the third quarter of last year.

However, Anwar says he is optimistic about the economy as current figures are not actually alarming and there is no disruption to the general plan. “I tend to be more optimistic, although as you know, temporarily, any transition may cost some concerns,” he says.


Comfortable level

He says the country’s GDP is low but at a comfortable level. He points out that the current condition is not worrying as we are not in a situation of not having enough revenue or experiencing severe losses.

BNM says the slowdown was mainly because of the supply disruptions in the second quarter. The central bank is working on a mid-term strategic plan to further sustain economic growth. Governor Datuk Nor Shamsiah Yunus hints that the plan could include the introduction of new forms of taxes to boost the government’s coffers.

Anwar says comparing the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997/98, the task for recovery is currently more ardent and challenging as the country knew what was being faced then.

“I think if we give a bit of time for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration to move on, the confidence will turn,” he says.

Anwar, who is evident in showing his loyalty to Dr Mahathir, says the PM was kind enough to have approved current ministers and officials to meet him and discuss the happenings and update of the government.

“I tend to listen, grasp the serious political implications, then I may question them. But otherwise, most just come and brief (me),” he notes.

Anwar, who was released from prison on May 16, has been busy visiting several states, calling on royalty and getting briefings from ministers and senior government officials. He is thus well versed with several issues of the day (see excerpts of interview on p.10).

On Aug 5, Anwar won the PKR party presidency uncontested, thus strengthening his position in the party and the path to becoming prime minister. However, he is not a member of Parliament.

Despite the clear manifestation of loyalty toward the prime minister, some sceptics still opine there is some friction between the two politicians.


Dismisses talk of conspiracy

There have been reports that PKR was expected to be given the finance minister portfolio but it went to the DAP’s Lim Guan Eng.

Kapar MP Abdullah Sani had also claimed that several parties, who had wronged Anwar previously, were again conspiring to deny him the premiership. There were accusations that Dr Mahathir’s confidant, Tun Daim Zainuddin, was involved in a conspiracy to prevent Anwar from becoming PM.

Anwar has dismissed talk that there are problems between him and Dr Mahathir, saying there are no plans to stop him from becoming the next PM. He also rejected claims that Dr Mahathir is involved in such plans.

More recently, eyebrows were raised when former Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Noor was appointed as the facilitator for the southern Thailand peace talks. Anwar’s daughter and Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah vocally opposed the appointment of Rahim, who had assaulted Anwar during his detention in 1998.

“I unequivocally oppose this appointment of a brutal assaulter of an innocent man, as he lay there blindfolded and handcuffed – left without medical attention for days,” she wrote on Twitter.

On 1MDB, Anwar expresses disgust at the scandal and former PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s blatant disregard for public opinion.

“As a politician, if something was raised in Parliament (against me), I would be more cautious. But he is completely oblivious, thinking that he is invincible. No one in the right mind would ever consider proceeding to this unless one feels that he’s invincible. What was more alarming is that other institutions are dragged in – Khazanah, Tabung Haji, etc. These are respectable key institutions. All the Bumiputera institutions are being compromised and prostituted in the process.”

Anwar is also critical of officials who were involved in the scandal. “One phone call, one instruction makes it difficult for them. We don’t have the people who have the honour and integrity to resign. That tradition is not there. Some are paying the price because of the excesses. I think in the Umno-BN set-up there is none. When the ‘emperor’ decides, nobody should question,” he says. FocusM

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 297.