KUALA LUMPUR (Jan 3): PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali was named the economic affairs minister to ensure that the Malay community would not be upset at having Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng (pic, right) take charge of both finance and economic affairs, the prime minister has revealed.
“If we let Guan Eng be in charge of everything (finance and economic affairs), the Malays will not be happy, but if we let Azmin take care of everything, Guan Eng will not be happy,” he said in an interview with Sin Chew Daily, which was published yesterday.
Dr Mahathir said both finance and economic affairs are important positions, and he has broken a tradition by appointing Guan Eng as the country’s first Chinese finance minister after more than 40 years.
“I have broken a tradition that lasted for many years by appointing Guan Eng as finance minister. The last one was Tun Tan Siew Sin.
After Siew Sin there was no Chinese finance minister. But I chose to appoint Guan Eng, partly because of his track record in managing Penang. To strike a balance, I had to let Azmin manage economic affairs,” he said.
Dr Mahathir also commended both Azmin and Guan Eng’s performances as ministers.
Although Pakatan Harapan had inherited a financially-troubled government from Barisan Nasional, both Guan Eng and Azmin drafted the Budget 2019 well despite the country’s heavy debt load, said Dr Mahathir.
“Considering the country’s current situation, I think both of them have done quite well. We initially thought that [Budget 2019] will have a very big deficit, but it is not as big as we had expected,” he said.
Pakatan has been doing everything it can to reduce the government debt since it took over, according to Dr Mahathir.
“Of course, new ministers are learning. They are the government now; the government needs to be business friendly. We want them (businesses) to earn more, and 25% of that will go to the government’s coffers,” he added.
Dr Mahathir said currently, local businesses are generally pessimistic about the country’s economic outlook because the global economy is slowing down, exacerbated by the trade war between the US and China, which has affected Malaysia as well.
“The boycott on palm oil is also affecting us negatively,” he said.
Dr Mahathir also gave an assurance that he will keep his promise to hand over the prime minister’s role to PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
“He (Anwar) doesn’t say ‘I want to be earlier’ or anything like that. He is still in the position to be the PM (prime minister) when I step down. I think I will give myself two years plus, or slightly more than that perhaps,” he said.
“So you can’t say that he will never be [prime minister]. Others who wanted to be PM like Tun Musa Hitam, no more; even Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, I don’t think so. But [for] Anwar, he is in the party, part of Pakatan Harapan, and I have made a promise that I will give up [the PM’s position]. I wanted to just help them win the election, although I was not very sure about that (winning the election),” he added.
This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on Jan 3, 2019.