KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will require three years to restore its fiscal health and take its position as “the most promising emerging economy” to achieve high-income status, according to Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.

He noted that Bloomberg had already placed Malaysia at No. 1 among the top 20 emerging economies in the world and all three international credit rating agencies, despite the need to clean up the “financial mess” caused by the previous government, maintained the country’s ratings.

The new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government under the firm and reform-minded leadership of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had notched up some clear successes, Lim said.

“Malaysia liberated itself from being the symbol of global kleptocracy by seeking full accountability for the 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd) scandal, pursuing the return of stolen monies and prosecuting those responsible,” Lim said in DAP’s 2019 New Year message in his capacity as the party’s secretary-general and MP for Bagan.

He said 2019 would be a better year for Malaysia if the people “stay together for a brighter future for our children.”

“Being stronger together, our economy can roar again and Malaysians (can) be once more respected globally,“ said Lim, adding that economic growth and prosperity enjoyed by all was the best antidote to the “poisonous politics of polarisation, exploiting racism and religious extremism that threatens Malaysian polity.”

He cited encouraging economic indicators such as the resurgent growth in exports in October 2018 to a historic high in a single month of RM96.4 billion, leading to a record trade surplus of RM16.3 billion.

Another indicator was the 379% growth in approved foreign direct Investments (FDI) in the manufacturing sector to RM35 billion in May-September 2018 compared with RM7.3 billion in the corresponding period in 2017.

Lim said the PH government, undeterred by the funds shortfall resulting from the removal of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), and financial damage caused by the 1MDB scandal and its RM1 trillion debt, still managed to continue its welfare assistance programme to those in need.

“Petrol prices and highway toll hikes were not allowed to increase, and for the first time, government civil servants got their special year-end payments in the same year, and not the following year,” he said.

The B40 (low-income) group, he noted, would also enjoy free health insurance protection in the form of a one-off payout of RM8,000 spread over a yet-to-be-determined time frame, and yearly 14-day hospitalisation income of RM50 per day or RM700 annually.

The PH government had managed to find extra savings of RM1.6 billion at the end of the year, which has been disbursed and shared with civil servants, rubber tappers and small-holders, Felda settlers and parents earning less than RM3,000, he said.

Lim also said RM19.4 billion in unpaid GST refunds would finally be returned to taxpayers in 2019, after a two-year delay when the previous government “refused to pay back the money.”

The GST was replaced by the Sales and Services Tax effective Sept 1, 2018. — Bernama