Nudging Mahathir into consensus mode


January 17,2019

Nudging  Mahathir into consensus mode

Opinion  |  P Gunasegaram

Published:  |  Modified:

 

QUESTION TIME | Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s current beef is wealth inequality, and so he wants to restart the redistribution of wealth – to Malays (and bumiputeras). This is something which I commented on here. But that’s not even a stopgap measure, because acquired wealth can be sold off. It also reflects the policies of old, which have been discredited.

The only way that wealth can be increased and retained within a community is to increase incomes, rather than to distribute existing wealth, even if it is held by the government. And the only way incomes can be increased is to put in place plans to raise incomes for all Malaysians, since 67 percent of the population is bumiputera, with Malays forming 50.5 percent of the population.

The issue of wealth and income equality comes back eventually to the effectiveness of the government and how successful it has been in narrowing opportunity gaps between rich and poor through well thought out and carefully implemented programmes.

For that to happen, it is necessary for some steps to be taken. I agree that for this to happen, it is not just the duty of Mahathir, but also the partners in the Harapan coalition government, to exert force, for at the end of the day, Mahathir only commands a small minority of MPs in the coalition.

Considering that he is advanced in age and may be lacking in vitality, it is necessary for change to start from his other partners – the leaders in PKR, DAP and Amanah – who had envisioned a different plan and programme than that of Mahathir’s Bersatu, a racial reconstruction of UMNO, where the membership is exclusively restricted to Malays and bumiputeras, with many of its members having come from UMNO.

Exerting influence

Thus, it is incumbent upon other leaders to push Mahathir into change and consensus mode. There are at least two ways this can be done – through the Harapan presidential council and the cabinet. First, Harapan’s presidential council rightly should be the place from which all broad policies for the government should emanate.

 

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Here is where Harapan’s de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim and his wife and Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail should exert their influence after discussions with DAP leaders such as Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng, and Amanah leaders such as Mohamad Sabu, Khalid Abdul Samad and Dzulkefly Ahmad.

Since the other parties are in the vast majority in terms of their number of MPs, their combined weight should hold a lot of sway, and Mahathir can be persuaded that the policies taken should reflect that of the majority view.

If the other Harapan leaders do not take such measures and wait patiently for Mahathir to exit the scene in a year and four months from now, they must also take joint responsibility for any wrong, improper move which delay things towards an open, freer country which moves forward based on government transparency, accountability, good governance and competence.

Pushing for Anwar’s inclusion in the cabinet

 

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The other thing that the presidential council should do is to push for Anwar’s inclusion in the cabinet and for him to become Deputy Prime minister like in 1998 soonest.

The other thing that the presidential council should do is to push for Anwar’s inclusion in the cabinet and for him to become deputy prime minister soonest. That is the natural thing to do if Anwar is to become prime minister 16 months from now, as agreed by all the coalition partners.

That may pave the way for Wan Azizah to step down from politics, as she has said many times beforehand that she wants to do after Anwar is in the picture.

It would ensure that Anwar has enough time to have a good grasp of everything that happens in the cabinet in the lead-up to him taking over as Prime Minister. It is necessary that Harapan leaders have the gumption, courage and conviction to push for this to take place.

With the presidential council becoming a greater force in making national policy with the input of all leaders, instead of being dominated by a minority leader, even if it is Mahathir, then decision-making is likely to better reflect the true aspirations of the overall Harapan coalition instead of that of Bersatu and Mahathir – as it is now. That would reflect, too, the aspirations of voters.

Get the necessary work done

Next, the cabinet. Cabinet members seem to be waiting for Mahathir’s approval before they do anything, even though it is impossible for Mahathir – or anyone else who is Prime Minister – to understand the full implications of all measures to be undertaken by the ministries.

Thus ministers should seek to take their ministries forward in terms of increased competence, work and efficiency, with full regard at all times to such key issues as integrity, honesty and doing away with patronage in decision-making and implementation. Surely no one, not even Mahathir, would fault them for coming up with good strategies and programmes for implementation that would work.

In other words, ministers should move their butts to get the necessary work done and not wait for orders and instructions from the top, who in this case is Mahathir. If they don’t take the initiative to get things done much better than before, they can’t turn around and blame Mahathir.

It’s their job to get action plans done and present them to the cabinet for approval. If their plans are found to be good and workable, it is unlikely that Mahathir or the other members of the cabinet are going to turn them down.

These are tough times and Mahathir may well need some help to initiate changes. If he is straying from the path the coalition agreed on, who better to tell him than his coalition partners and to steer him back to the right one?

That needs courage, conviction and the willingness to face confrontation, which could eventually lead to a conciliatory path that is more beneficial to the country. After all, is that not the way of consensus, which is how the election was won by Harapan?

Next: 10 ways to increase incomes and raise living standards.


P GUNASEGARAM believes consensus comes out of genuine desire to find the right path. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

DJT And His Team of Morons


January 15, 2019

DJT And His Team of Morons

DJT And His Team of Morons

by Paul Krugman

There have been many policy disasters over the course of U.S. history. It’s hard, however, to think of a calamity as gratuitous, an error as unforced, as the current federal shutdown.

Nor can I think of another disaster as thoroughly personal, as completely owned by one man. When Donald Trump told Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, “I will be the one to shut it down,” he was being completely accurate — although he went on to promise that “I’m not going to blame you for it,” which was a lie.

Still, no man is an island, although Trump comes closer than most. You can’t fully make sense of his policy pratfalls without acknowledging the extraordinary quality of the people with whom he has surrounded himself. And by “extraordinary,” of course, I mean extraordinarily low quality. Lincoln had a team of rivals; Trump has a team of morons.

If this sounds too harsh, consider recent economic pronouncements by two members of his administration. Predictably, these pronouncements involve bad economics; that’s pretty much a given. What’s striking, instead, is the inability of either man to stay on script; they can’t even get their right-wing mendacity right.

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First up is Kevin Hassett, chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, who was asked about the plight of federal workers who aren’t being paid. You don’t have to be a public relations expert to know that you’re supposed to express some sympathy, whether you feel it or not. After all, there are multiple news reports about transportation security workers turning to food banks, the Coast Guard suggesting its employees hold garage sales, and so on.

So the right response involves expressing concern about those workers but placing the blame on Democrats who don’t want to stop brown-skinned rapists, or something like that. But no: Hassett declared that it’s all good, that the workers are actually “better off,” because they’re getting time off without having to use any of their vacation days.

Then consider what Sean Hannity had to say about taxing the rich. What’s that? You say that Hannity isn’t a member of the Trump administration? But surely he is in every sense that matters. In fact, Fox News isn’t just state TV, its hosts clearly have better access to the President, more input into his decisions, than any of the so-called experts at places like the State Department or the Department of Defense.

Anyway, Hannity declared that raising taxes on the wealthy would damage the economy, because “rich people won’t be buying boats that they like recreationally,” and “they’re not going to be taking expensive vacations anymore.”

Um, that’s not the answer a conservative is supposed to give. You’re supposed to insist that low taxes on the rich give them an incentive to work really really hard, not make it easier for them to take lavish vacations. You’re supposed to declare that low taxes will induce them to save and spend money building businesses, not help them afford to buy new yachts.

 

Even if your real reason for favoring low taxes is that they let your wealthy friends engage in even more high living, you’re not supposed to say that out loud.

Again, the point isn’t that people in Trump’s circle don’t care about ordinary American families, and also talk nonsense — that’s only to be expected. What’s amazing is that they’re so out of it that they don’t know either how to pretend to care about the middle class, or what nonsense to spout in order to sustain that pretense.

So what’s wrong with Trump’s people? Why can’t they serve up even some fake populism?

There are, I think, two answers, one generic to modern conservatism, one specific to Trump.

On the generic point: To be a modern conservative is to spend your life inside what amounts to a cult, barely exposed to outside ideas or even ways of speaking. Inside that cult, contempt for ordinary working Americans is widespread — remember Eric Cantor, the then-House majority leader, celebrating Labor Day by praising business owners. So is worship of wealth. And it can be hard for cult members to remember that you don’t talk that way to outsiders.

Then there’s the Trump effect. Normally working for the president of the United States is a career booster, something that looks good on your résumé. Trump’s presidency, however, is so chaotic, corrupt and potentially compromised by his foreign entanglements that anyone associated with him gets tainted — which is why after only two years he has already left a trail of broken men and wrecked reputations in his wake.

So who is willing to serve him at this point? Only those with no reputation to lose, generally because they’re pretty bad at what they do. There are, no doubt, conservatives smart and self-controlled enough to lie plausibly, or at least preserve some deniability, and defend Trump’s policies without making fools of themselves. But those people have gone into hiding.

A year ago I pointed out that the Trump administration was turning into government by the worst and the dumbest. Since then, however, things have gotten even worse and even dumber. And we haven’t hit bottom yet.

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Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography.

@PaulKrugman

 

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Donald Trump And His Team Of Morons. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

 

 

 

 

 

Public policy and the role of the public intellectual


Public policy and the role of the public intellectual

Opinion  

COMMENT | How can the government encourage more people to adopt public transport so as to solve the problem of traffic jams?

Should local elections – if these are re-introduced – consider the issue of racial composition and representation?

Would the proposal to transform our current healthcare system into a social insurance model enable more people to have accessible and affordable healthcare?

Out of the various models of sustainable development, which would be the most suitable for particular places in Malaysia to adopt, in order to preserve our natural environment and also promote our cultural heritage?

Finally, would changing our country’s electoral system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation give our citizens a more democratic voice?

The questions above involve public policy discussions to a certain extent. Some may be ideologically oriented, while others may be more technical.

The influence and consequences of public policy may vary, from issues with huge implications that might potentially decide your individual rights as a citizen or foreign resident, to basic needs such as a right to shelter and food; or its impact might appear to be so insignificant that you feel it has nothing to do with you.

Some policies could have long-term impacts on groups of people several generations down the line, such as the New Economic Policy (NEP) in the 1970s.

Some policies also could bring about permanent and irreversible changes, such as certain forest land management policies which permit oil palm plantations to convert and replace primary forests.

Knowledge is power

In Malaysia, policy making decisions seem to habitually stem from a top-down process. Sometimes, it could be rooted in a certain political actor’s will or out-of-the-blue ‘creative’ thoughts, such as the third national car and property ‘crowdfunding’ policy.

To many people, the ability to influence public policy debates seems to be confined to the political elite.

Some may believe that the realm of public policy is out of their reach, leading them to forfeit any opportunity to participate in meaningful public policy discussions.

This self-defeating mentality probably has to do with the impression that policy making is technically too complex, or that they are unable to fully grasp the nuances of policy debates.

Furthermore, others may have lost faith and hope in the country’s political system. The euphoria that has been generated from witnessing the change of federal government for the first time in history has long gone.

Instead, they are more inclined to believe that policy discussion would change nothing, because it is politics akin to Game of Thrones – whereby politicians would act in a similar way to serve their self-interest by keeping the status quo when it comes to politically advantageous policies.

Former United Nations Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Laureate the Late Kofi Annan once said: “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

The statement should also apply to our political and civil education. This is because if the people can understand the issues and policies better, then they could be more aware of their own rights, and will not be easily swayed or cheated.

In that way, public opinion could be recognized and turned into a formidable force to oppose and resist unreasonable or unjust policies. It would also help to promote a rational, progressive, democratically mature society.

Policy discussions may take place in a kopitiam, grassroots style, or be held in a posh and premium hotel ballroom and rigorously debated by fellow academics. Despite all that, the outcome still has to go back to the discussant, and whether he or she has conducted any study.

Serious public policy work must show professionalism and integrity in taking account all possible facets of evidence (within a reasonable limitation), that would determine whether the analyses and deductions can convince the public.

If a public policy does not go through a deep and thorough research process, or does not rely on facts and evidence for future projections, it would lack robust theoretical support and a foundation in widely accepted international best practices. The probability of such a policy failing to reach its intended goals is high.

In the end, who should answer for the consequences, cost, and responsibility for such policy failures? Instead of delegating the task of scrutinising government policies to opposition parties, could the public themselves effectively monitor the government’s performance, and directly hold them accountable?

A learning process

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The Penang Institute

Public policy research is a learning process. As a member of the Penang state government’s think-tank and a public policy research analyst, it is my duty not just to amass knowledge but also to spread the seeds of thought, hoping that a new perspective could influence or change society or at least create public discussion.

In order to gain the public’s trust and confidence, what is most important is to be persistent in maintaining the standards of one’s objectivity and professionalism when expressing and defending one’s research outcome in a fair and transparent manner.

If public policy research is publicly funded, it should imply that public interest is very much involved, and thus the research outcomes should be shared with the public. In other words, I believe that I should be seen as an employee of taxpayers, and therefore held accountable to the public.

So, here I am in my position of some influence, and therefore I have to honour my obligation as a public intellectual. For that reason, I have to walk out of my ‘armchair and air-conditioned room’ comfort zone and walk into the daily lived experiences of the man on the street. Only then would my proposed policy be worth anyone’s salt.

If policy making were to be compared to a battle of ideas, policy advocates pacing around this ‘battlefield’ must recognise the current situation and be well-versed in the ‘topography’ of issues that one feels strongly about.

He or she could then be in control of the defensive-offensive strategy in winning the battle of influencing and implementing the said policy. There could be room for the omission of menial details, but policymakers or advocates must ensure that the crux of a policy should be steered in the right direction.

Penang is my base, and my work as a public intellectual originates from there. However, my work should not be constrained within the aforementioned locality.

In what is being identified as a strongly federated nation such as Malaysia, the most contentious policy ideas are arguably centred around Parliament in Kuala Lumpur and the corridors of power in Putrajaya.

We have witnessed the historic moment in the 14th general election when the peaceful democratic transition of federal power took place in Putrajaya. The new ruling coalition was named after ‘hope’ and consists of parties which fought for a long period persistently on the ideals of Reformasi and an overarching multiracial philosophy of ‘Malaysian Malaysia’.

The remaining question is, what are the policies and strategies in place to build a progressive and hopeful new multiracial Malaysia?

I would argue that policies that truly solve the needs of the public are the real backbone of reforms that are badly required in a country which had been mismanaged for decades.

For the coming weekends, my colleagues from the Penang Institute will talk about issues and policies, and share their stories in this space, hopefully to continue inspiring new narratives in the new political era of Malaysia.


Dr. LIM CHEE HAN is a senior analyst in the political studies section at Penang Institute. He holds a PhD in infection biology from Hannover Medical School, Germany. He believes that a nation would advance significantly if policy making were taken seriously.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Note: The Techo Sen Sen School of Government and International Relations,@The University Of Cambodia, Phnom Penh offers postgraduate programmes in Public Policy. http://www.tss.uc.edu.kh

 

“Look East” to Japan –MAKE Agriculture exciting and profitable for an ageing Malaysia


November 20, 2018

Look East” to  Japan –MAKE Agriculture  exciting and profitable for an ageing Malaysia –FIMA Group 2.0

Opinion

by Phar Kim Beng

COMMENT | Between 1990 and 2020, the size of the Malaysian population increased by 80 percent. But in the same period, the number of people who aged also increased by a whopping 210 percent.

By 2050, 23.5 percent of the total population of Malaysia will be above 65 years of age. By then, Malaysia will be an aged society. But Malaysia could be there even sooner. By 2030, 15 percent of the Malaysian population will be above 60 years of age.

An ageing society is one where up to seven percent of its population is above the age of 65; whereas an aged society is one which has 15 percent of its population above this age range. Currently, Malaysia is moving towards being an ageing society by 2030, then an aged society by 2040. Time is of the essence given the size, and speed, of this problem.

Based on the statistics of 1990-2020, those above the age of 65, in other words, have increased at almost three times the rate of youths in Malaysia.

While it took France 115 years to become an aged society, Malaysia will experience it in 24 years. Invariably, learning from Japan is not an option now but a strategic necessity. Between 2019-2025, Japan will be in need of 500,000 skilled and semi-skilled workers a year.

This labour shortage is caused by ageing effects which Malaysia will continue to face in 2030 and 2050 respectively. Therefore, it is important to learn from Japan now, especially when switching to robotics./technology and knowledge

Indeed, Japan has long passed the stage of being an aged society as defined by the UN. By 2045, its total population will further shrink from 130 million to 90 million people. But is ageing affecting the agriculture and fishing industry in Japan? Not quite. Malaysia should learn from this Japanese experience.

Research has shown that in 2016, the average age of Japanese farmers was already at 66 years. Those in the fishing industries are aged between 60 and 65.

But Japanese agriculture has increasingly used robotics and mechanisation to make up for the shortfall of labour. The top five Japanese fishing companies are Maruha Nichiro, Nihon Suisan, Toyo Suisan and Kyokuyo.

Each of them is doing well and will continue to do well with strong support from the Japanese government.

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Aquaponics, for example, can produce three times a higher yield than natural methods of farming. A greenhouse that uses robotics, and an automatic system of water sprinklers, can produce 30,000 to 50,000 tonnes of cabbage a day as opposed to 21,000 tonnes a day with just human labour

The Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industries in Malaysia may often be overlooked by the national planners. It received the lowest budget allocation last month. This is wrong and must be reversed if Malaysia wants to be the top food producer country in Asia.

Adapting to ageing

This ministry, however, can reverse the process of benevolent neglect especially if it begins to take the Look East initiative as a powerful policy compass. Looking East, it can learn from Japan on how to attenuate the problems of ageing and agro-farming and fishing in the long run.

To be sure, while Malaysia does not show it, the country will become an aged society in 15 years, when fifteen percent of its population will be above the age of 65.

Thus, it is incumbent upon Malaysia, especially the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry to Look East in order to understand how Japan adapts to the process of becoming an ageing society.

There is no silver bullet solution to all of the above. But a strong and confident ministry should not be ruled out as a potential national saviour; this provided it can set up a unit to learn from the aged population of Japan even as Malaysia is ageing. Why is this important?

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What about FIMA2.0?

First of all, the contribution of agriculture to the GDP of Malaysia has always remained between 8-11 per cent between 1957-2018. Japan has faced the same dilemma before and overcome it.

Agriculture in Malaysia is coming from a low base and contributes close to RM3.5 billion to the GDP every year. But this is also how and why the agricultural economy can grow further, according to the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister. All one needs is tenacity, a concerted effort of modernisation and mechanisation, all of which are possessed by Japan in abundance.

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Furthermore, the establishment of AirAsia, a low-cost carrier, has expanded the reach of Malaysia to half of the world’s population within a span of six hours. The latter is critical. What was originally an impediment – a large Asian geography – is now a strategic opportunity.

If anything, it is important to learn from Japan in terms of how fast it can deliver its exotic fruits and food to almost half of Asia. Indeed how? Even with a low population farmer base of fewer than two million farmers in Japan in 2017, Japan has become adept at combining robotics, aquaponics and the use of farmland banks to improve its exports.

Nevertheless, farming and fishing are two planks of the industry that require careful planning at all stages. Malaysia is no exception. This is why it is better to learn from Japan now.

If the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry seems to feel that Malaysian agriculture might be facing the same problems in terms of an ageing society, shortage of labour and high migration to urban centres, it is high time that it has a Look East policy that draws from the inspiration of Japan.

In this sense, in an interview with Johan Jaffar in Sinar Harian last week, Salahuddin Ayub was right in affirming the importance of Look East, not just in focusing on the revival of Malaysian agriculture but also learning on other matters from Japan.

The sooner this ministry learns from Japan, including Japan’s industry and livestock, the sooner Malaysia will move away from the perpetual fear that the farmlands and industries will collapse.

Indeed, it would be wonderful to see Malaysia’s Agro Bank and farmland banks working side-by-side to make Japan and Malaysia the fruit basket of the whole of Asia ranging from tropical fruits to saltwater fish.


PHAR KIM BENG is a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution at Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Budget 2019:Tough Times Ahead for Malaysia


Budget 2019:Tough Times Ahead for Malaysia–The Price of UMNO’s Fiscal Indiscipline

Domestic Demand to grow at 5 and 4.8pct in 2018 and 2019

by Bernama@www.malaysiakini.com

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BUDGET 2019 | Domestic demand growth is expected to remain resilient at five percent and 4.8 percent this year and in 2019 respectively, steered by sustained private sector expenditure.

READ THIS:

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/450171

According to the Economic Outlook 2019 report released by the Ministry of Finance today, private sector growth expenditure is expected at 6.5 percent this year and 6.4 percent in 2019, constituting about 72 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Meanwhile, the report said public sector expenditure is anticipated to further decline to 0.9 percent in 2019, after recording a marginal growth of 0.1 percent this year, mainly due to lower investment by public corporations.

“Private consumption will remain the major growth determinant, expanding by 7.2 percent and supported by a stable labour market, benign inflation and conducive financing conditions.

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“Other factors such as the zerorisation of the Goods and Services Tax, subsidised pump prices, the general elections, FIFA World Cup season, and termination of toll collection on two highways, provide further impetus to household spending,” the report said.

Private investment, the report said, is expected to grow 4.5 percent this year, accounting for 17.3 percent of GDP with capital outlays concentrated in the services and manufacturing sectors.

It is expected to post a higher growth of five percent next year, attributed to capital spending in technology-intensive manufacturing and services sectors, it added.

According to the report, as Malaysia moves towards digital technologies and the Industrial Revolution 4.0, investment will focus on catalytic industries.

These include the Internet of Things (IoT), software, advanced electronics, smart machinery, automation and robotics, automated guided vehicle, aerospace and medical devices.

On the other hand, public consumption is anticipated to expand marginally by one percent this year, in line with the continuous efforts by the government to rationalise and optimise expenditure without compromising the quality of public service delivery.

In 2019, the report said, public consumption is expected to expand 1.8 percent on account of higher spending on emoluments as well as supplies and services.

As for public investment, it is expected to decline 1.5 percent and 5.4 percent in 2018 and 2019 respectively, mainly weighed down by public corporations’ lower capital spending.

Nevertheless, sustained federal government capital formation is expected to continue to support overall growth of public investment. Despite lower capital spending by public corporations, some of the ongoing projects are expected to continue in the oil and gas industry.

The report said capital spending in the utilities and transport segments is projected to continue to expand capacity and upgrade services.

Meanwhile, federal government development expenditure will be channelled mainly to upgrade and improve transport, infrastructure and public amenities, as well as enhance the quality of education and training.

“In line with steady economic growth, Gross National Income (GNI) in current prices is expected to grow 5.6 percent in 2018 to RM1.4 trillion, while gross national savings (GNS) is anticipated to increase marginally by 0.4 percent to RM387.8 billion with the private sector accounting for 82 percent of total savings.

“With the level of GNS continuing to exceed total investment, the savings-investment gap is expected to record a surplus between 2.5 percent and three percent of GNI, enabling Malaysia to continue to finance its growth primarily from domestic sources.

‘’Growth momentum in GNI is also expected to continue next year expanding 7.1 percent to RM1.5 trillion, with the private sector accounting for 86.9 percent of total savings, while GNS is anticipated to grow 3.4 percent,” the report noted.

Total investment is projected to increase five percent to RM366.8 billion, leading to lower savings-investment surplus, ranging between two percent and three percent of GNI.