KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said he is prepared to place the nation’s long-term interests before his own short-term popularity when it concerns the country’s economic health.
Explaining the importance of the ongoing subsidy rationalisation and the move to introduce Goods and Services Tax (GST), the prime minister said the measures should be seen as part of a phased programme to further strengthen the country’s finances.
“I did not take the decision to reduce subsidies – or to introduce GST – lightly. I thought long and hard about the risks and the possible impact on the rakyat,” Najib said in his speech at the National Economic Summit and Dialogue here, organised by Bernama and the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli).
Najib said the country’s economy would suffer if the Government chose to avoid making tough decisions.
“I am prepared to put the nation’s long-term interests before my own short-term popularity,” he said.
He said he understood that some people felt that the Government was doing “too much, too fast” in terms of subsidy reforms and the introduction of GST.
“That is why I wanted to take this opportunity to speak through this platform to the rakyat,” said the Prime Minister in his speech aired live on Bernama TV and RTM.
The Prime Minister said leadership was about doing what was right, not what was easy.
“As Prime Minister, my ultimate responsibility is to protect the people of Malaysia.
“I will never allow our nation’s progress, the wellbeing of our people or our sovereignty to come under threat and that is why this government has acted to keep our finances under control.”
Najib said the Government spent 15% of its budget on subsidies and incentives in 2010, a figure that climbed to 21.4% in 2012.
“That meant that money that could have been spent building hospitals or schools was being used to pay for cheaper fuel for tourists and expatriates.”
GST, he said, would help the economy by broadening Malaysia’s tax base and allow the Government to increase development spending.
Many things will be GST-exempt – including basic food items like rice, flour, and oil; and essential services like household water supplies and public transport.
Najib said the Government would continue to help Malaysians with the cost of living by spending more than RM40bil this year on food, fuel and education subsidies and on support for lower income households.
“But by switching from blanket subsidies to more targeted support, we are getting better value for money.”
Najib said the Government would ramp up its fight against corruption and that all Malaysians must work together across the political divide to make graft socially unacceptable.
He urged the people not to be taken in by claims that there would be no need to reform subsidies or introduce GST if corruption could be stopped completely.
“We must be honest. We cannot click our fingers and make corruption disappear in a day, a month, or a year.
“And so we must tackle corruption, reform subsidies and introduce GST to make the budget balanced,” he said.