Former second finance minister Datuk Seri Haji Johari Abdul Ghani said the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) is important for the country's development after the COVID-19 pandemic
According to New Straits Times, he said the five-year national plan is crucial at this juncture due to the effect caused by the pandemic, which has limited government fiscal space and curtailed its fiscal sustainability.
He said the government debt currently stands at RM958 billion — 61.2% of gross domestic product (GDP). The amount includes debt guaranteed by the government amounting to RM300 billion consisting of bonds issued by Danainfra and Prasarana, and other off-budget government commitments.
He said he is uncertain how Putrajaya can finance hundreds of billion in development expenditure for the next five years without having to raise the statutory debt limit every year.
Hence, he said the government must be transparent with its spending and that all infrastructure projects must plan with the rakyat in mind
"The government must be transparent with the practice of off-budget spending via debt guarantee to avoid total government's debt and liability ballooning to [an] unsustainable level which will further reduce the government's already deteriorating fiscal position," he said in a statement.
Johari also stressed that any spending on infrastructure projects that involve commitment guaranteed by the government must only involve projects that will bring benefit to the rakyat in terms of providing employment and boosting economic growth in the next five years.
"All unplanned projects outside 12MP should not be considered if it is not necessary," he added.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob unveiled 12MP in Parliament and said that Putrajaya will allocate RM400 billion to development projects, both existing and new ones, reported Free Malaysia Today.
He said 12MP is a holistic plan as it strives to stimulate the economy, eradicate hardcore poverty, and reduce the income gap, among others.
Some of the new developments announced are railway projects between Rawang and Salak, Gemas and Johor Bahru, Johor Bahru and Woodlands in Singapore, and a highway connecting Bentong in Pahang to Kuala Krai in Kelantan.
In the same statement, Johari also said the government should improve the public healthcare system and the nation's food security position
He said the pandemic has exposed two areas that Malaysia needs to pay close attention to.
"According to World Bank data, Malaysia's government healthcare expenditure lags behind the average of 3.8% GDP among upper-middle income countries with Malaysia only spending 2% of its GDP on public healthcare," he said.
Johari suggested the government increase the capacity of public healthcare so that it can face major pandemics.
Additionally, he also said Malaysia's food security position was also vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"If other countries stop exporting important foods such as rice, flour, sugar, corn, and other food commodities to protect their needs, it puts importing countries like Malaysia at risk of food shortages," he told Utusan Malaysia yesterday, 26 September.
"With food imports reaching RM55.5 billion last year and increasing every year, the government should increase domestic production and reduce dependence on imports."
"This requires strategic planning by the relevant ministries in food security," said Johari.
He is of the opinion that the government must improve local food production and farming by adopting high technology systems, engineering precision, and sustainable concepts.
According to him, the goal can be achieved by allocating resources to initiate this strategy at the beginning so that the private sector can participate in this initiative to create their own sustainable food security ecosystem.
The former minister said 12MP — which was supposed to be tabled last year — was delayed due to the declaration of emergency and suspension of Parliamentary sitting
He said the circumstances forced the 2021 Budget to be introduced before 12MP.
"I hope 12MP will provide a clear direction for the government to formulate the upcoming 2022 Budget as this is important to boost investor's confidence which has been waning for the past couple of years, as evident by FDI (foreign direct investment) inflow to our country that has been trailing regional economies like Indonesia and Vietnam," he explained.
"MPs (members of Parliament) must be given enough time to debate and discuss 12MP in Parliament as this is an important strategy to be adopted by the country in the next five years. In fact, this is more important than the budget as our budget annually will have to follow whatever strategy that has been put forward in this 12MP."