Najib: Guan Eng an ‘expert’ in selling off assets

Reuters pic.

PETALING JAYA: Former prime minister Najib Razak today poured scorn on the government’s plan to sell off its assets in Khazanah Nasional and Permodalan Nasional Bhd.

In a Facebook post, he also took aim at Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, saying the former Penang chief minister was an “expert” in selling off assets

“When he was chief minister, he sold a lot of land and shares owned by the state government to produce a surplus budget every year, even though the state’s expenditure increased three to fourfold over 10 years,” he claimed

Yesterday, Lim’s political secretary Tony Pua said Khazanah and PNB would review and offload non-strategic assets as part of the government’s cost-cutting initiative.

Najib said during his administration, Khazanah’s assets grew from RM33.7 billion to RM115.7 billion, while PNB’s assets grew from RM120 billion to RM279.2 billion.

He said the sale of assets in the form of listed shares was the easiest way to sell them off, but the cost versus benefit scenario should be weighed first.

This, Najib said, was especially since the government’s debts in the form of bonds and sukuk were subject to interest of 3.6% a year.

On the other hand, he said, the average growth of Khazanah and PNB’s assets were 9.6% and 9.2% a year, much higher than the interest costs on the debts.

“As an example, in 2008 Khazanah’s assets stood at RM33.7 billion. If we sold it off then, we could have reduced the country’s debts by RM33.7 billion.

“It also means we would reduce the burden of the 3.6% interest on the debts by RM1.2 billion a year, and save RM10.1 billion over nine years until the end of 2017.”

But since the government hadn’t sold off Khazanah’s assets, Najib said, they had grown to RM115.7 billion at the end of 2017, a profit of RM82 billion.

“Which is better? A profit of RM82 billion or savings of RM10.1 billion? Merely selling off assets isn’t smart.”

Najib reiterated that the country’s debt was not RM1 trillion, saying the problem lay in the government’s populist initiatives such as the three-month tax holiday, return to the sales and services tax and reintroduction of blanket subsidies, all of which had seen the government lose RM40 billion in revenue.

“Because of this, the people are urged to sacrifice and prepare for hard times,” Najib said, adding that he was worried the government’s plan to sell off its assets was to plug the revenue gap, not reduce its debts.

He said this would be made clear if the coming budget was a deficit budget.