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Friday, November 1, 2013

Steps to help nation bite bullet

Publication: NST
Date of publication: Oct 26, 2013
Section heading: Main Section
Page number: 006
Byline / Author: By Mustapha Kamil

IN a nutshell, the 2014 budget is all about shoring up Malaysia's position against the backdrop of a still uncertain global economy and one that will encourage Malaysians to always aim high while living in reality.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak took slightly more than two hours yesterday to lay out measures to fulfil his administration's promises made to the people before the 13th General Election, together with other strategies to move the nation forward amid the tough global environment.

To describe the budget as Malaysia biting the bullet would be close, as the negative views expressed by analysts recently, including the cutting of outlook for its sovereign credit by Fitch Ratings in July, spooked the investing community.

Najib, however, surprised everyone, perhaps, even his sometimes larger-than-life political foes and armchair critics who thought that by the small margin of victory the Barisan Nasional achieved in the last general election, the Najib administration would not have the courage to announce any new tax system.

But with the elections having been contested, and won, the BN government has gone back to the real issues of governing.

Not only did Najib announce a definite timeline for its introduction, he surprised many economists and analysts by announcing a goods and services tax (GST) rate of six per cent against four to five per cent anticipated by many.

Any fears of the new consumption tax system should be allayed quickly as Najib moved to another subject in his speech, the one where he announced measures to lighten burdens of the people amid the escalating cost of living.

The widening of several financial assistance to the low-to-medium income people as well as announcement of stronger measures to make housing more affordable and increasing the personal income tax threshold should be more meaningful than to worry about a tax that lies well within an individual's control based on how he or she spends.

Prudence is another word not far from the 2014 budget as clearly absent is multi-billion ringgit construction spending, save for much needed infrastructure projects in Sabah and Sarawak, and continuation of high impact transportation and logistics projects in the peninsula.

Najib looked determined when he also announced that the government is drawing the line as far as wastage and leakages in government spending are concerned. No more hanky-panky will be tolerated and those who sign on the dotted lines will be held accountable.

What he said was as clear as day. Just six more years to its goal of achieving developed nation status in 2020, the last thing the government could afford now is to be reckless in its spending, more so when much of the global economy is still struggling to find its footing.

Several strong measures to strengthen Malaysia's social fabric were included in the budget as Najib rallies Malaysians to keep their focus on the challenges ahead, while promising spending on matters that will keep them safe and secure, such as in the armed forces and police.

Amid the domestic shoring up, however, opportunities are not lost for Malaysians as the budget also contains measures to promote entrepreneurship and even more strategies to take the education system to a higher level.

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