PHOTO: NSTP/MOHD FADLI HAMZAH
Dr Mahathir Mohamad today reiterated concerns over the country’s financial situation, saying Putrajaya is looking to sell non-essential properties both locally and abroad which are able to fetch good prices.
In an interview with business radio station BFM today, the prime minister said the huge debt which his government had inherited from the previous administration had undermined the government machinery and plans for the country.
He also spoke of recovering funds from state investment arm 1MDB and renegotiating mega projects such as the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL).
Aside from postponing the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail Link and cancelling other projects, he said, Putrajaya could also dispose of some of its assets in order to get out of debt.
“In terms of asset sales, we have some properties which we are not in need of at the moment and can fetch good prices. We will sell (these) for whatever value they have.
“Usually the amount is not very big, but still the accumulated value is quite big,” he added.
When asked if these properties include those in Johor’s Iskandar region, Mahathir said he did not think so as those have already been sold.
“The money has been paid, not to us, but the person who sold the land. So that is not what we are looking for,” he said.
However, he declined to reveal further details on the properties in question, saying negotiations are still ongoing.
“We have to find a good price,” he said. “We have properties in Hong Kong, Singapore and other countries, not only at home.”
Mahathir’s comments follow those of former prime minister Najib Razak, who on Saturday accused the Pakatan Harapan-led government of having a “sell, sell, sell” mentality by constantly seeking to dispose of national assets to foreigners.
In the interview today, he also dismissed suggestions that Education Minister Maszlee Malik will be replaced, as well as talk of a Cabinet reshuffle, saying this would not happen during his time.
“If I change a minister and replace (him) with another, the candidates I have will all be new,” he said, adding that Cabinet reshuffles create problems.
On talk of a recession, he said the country could avoid one if it was well managed. He also said the government had the expertise needed to help prevent an economic decline.
Mahathir also repeated the government’s stand on controversial Indian preacher Dr Zakir Naik, saying not many countries wanted to take him in.
He said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, had not asked for the preacher’s return during their recent meeting.
“The previous government took him (Naik) in, not us,” he said.
“We are trying to find a place he can go to, but at the moment no one wants to accept him.”
He added that there was a political cost to the Naik issue, saying the government needs to be careful about taking action against him as it would mean going against his supporters.
“In Malaysia, you have to be very careful about how you deal with all this,” he said.
“It’s not a simple (situation) where you find there is a problem, you pick it up and throw it out. That’s not the way we do things. (If) we do that kind of thing, we (will) get more trouble.”
Naik, who is wanted in India for questioning, was granted permanent resident status in Malaysia by the previous Barisan Nasional government.
He recently created a furore through his remarks about Indians and Chinese in Malaysia, and has been barred by the police from speaking in public.
Mahathir gave the example of those in the Chinese community who want Chinese schools, even though he said it would not bring people together.
“It is not what we need in this country, but we also respect the sensitivities of the Chinese. We don’t say shut it, we need to deal with it in a way that does not hurt the sensitivities of the Chinese.
“We made some suggestions like putting all the schools (national and vernacular) in one campus, but even that was rejected by Chinese educationists. They don’t want their children to mix with other children.”
On racial politics, Mahathir said it had “no role to play” if the people saw themselves as Malaysians.
“At this moment, we still identify ourselves with our country of origin,” he said.