Mahathir should explain why he has not been able to appoint a new Finance Minister when he had been orchestrating and preparing for Daim’s resignation in the past two months

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): The surprise yesterday was  not the announcement of the resignation of Tun Daim Zainuddin as Finance Minister, but the failure of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to appoint a new Finance Minister, especially as it is now evident that he had been orchestrating and preparing for Daim’s resignation in the past two months - like the appointment of former Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Ali Abul Hassan Sulaiman as special adviser on  economic affairs to the Prime Minister.

When he replied to a press query as to  whether he had a successor in mind with the remark “belum fikir lagi” and that he had none so far, the Prime Minister was not being frank or truthful.

Now that Daim has finally resigned as Finance Minister, ending the bizarre situation of a Finance Minister on leave from Cabinet but still going to the Finance Ministry daily to clear papers to  discharge his duties as Finance Minister - raising the question as to whether the decisions taken by Daim as Finance Minister during the two months of his “bizarre” leave are proper and legal - the two-month uncertainty as to who is really in charge in the Finance Ministry must be ended with the appointment of the new Finance Minister especially as the the second Malaysian economic crisis in four years  has taken a turn for the worse.

Although Mahathir sought to paint a very rosy picture about the Malaysian economy in his  speech yesterday pledging loyalty to the Yang di Pertuan Agong on behalf of government and people on the occasion of the King’s 75th birthday, claiming that Malaysia’s economic growth was expected at between 5% and 6% this year, market analysts are forecasting a GDP growth for this year as low as 2%.

Furthermore, the Malaysian economy has fared worse than the other regional economies despite three “Viagra-type” injections in the past two months, namely the RM3 billion economic stimulus package to counter the US economic recession announced by the Prime Minister on March 27, the Third Outline Perspective Plan 2001-2010 and the Eighth Malaysia Plan 2001-2005.

The Malaysian economy and the stock market should perform as well if not better than their regional counterparts which do not benefit from three “Viagra-type” boosts  for their economy, but this is not the case when the KL stock market is compared to the other  regional markets, whether Singapore, Bangkok, Seoul, Hong Kong or Tokyo.

In fact, the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange has been the worst performer in the Asian league of leading stock markets despite three economic "Viagra" jabs since the announcement of the RM3 billion economic stimulus package.

The Mahathir-Daim fall-out, resulting in Daim’s resignation as Finance Minister, can only aggravate market uncertainty and depress investor confidence, especially as there are no indications that Daim’s departure will signal long-awaited economic reforms toward greater transparency, accountability and good corporate governance and an end to the policy of bail-outs and buy-outs of crony companies and individuals at public expense.

The Mahathir-Daim fall-out is not over policy differences as to whether to end the policy of bail-outs and buy-outs, but over differences as to who should be the beneficiaries of such government bail-outs and buy-outs at a time when the government must pick and choose the beneficiaries as public resources are stretched to the limit and are incapable of saving all crony companies and individuals.

The inability or indecisiveness of the Prime Minister to fill the vacancy of the Finance Minister, when he has two months to mull over it, is not reflective of a confident premiership.

Is Mahathir going to personally take over the Finance Ministry until after the UMNO General Assembly, when he would appoint Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to the finance portfolio while taking back the Home Ministry himself?

Or would he appoint Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah or some other UMNO leader as Finance Minister - including doing another Musa Mohamad in helicoptering a non-politician to the post, although Musa Mohamad’s appointment as a Education Minister has proved to be quite a disastrous decision.

Be that as it may, the uncertainty as to who would head the Finance Ministry should not be prolonged any further and a new appointee  should be announced immediately without any further delay.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman