Malaysia debt limit 55%, we are now at 52% yet we are told it is manageable. What do you think?

Malaysia debt still at manageable level


MALAYSIA’s government debt level is still at a manageable level even though expenditure will increase further this year, said Deputy Finance Minister Senator Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai.

The figure may be high but we need to spend on various projects in areas such as infrastructure and healthcare, he said. As at the end of last year, the percentage of public debt to GDP ratio is 51.8 per cent. Although there is a self-imposed cap at 55 per cent, the government is careful in ensuring that the ratio will not exceed that level.

“At RM400 billion (total public debt), it is quite high but we have infrastructure needs now,” he said, at a media briefing after launching a one-day seminar on the recently announced Private Retirement Scheme. It was organised by the Financial Planning Association of Malaysia and Malaysia Financial Planning Council.

Standard and Poor’s Rating Services, in a report on Wednesday, said Malaysia’s public debt is on the high side for an A-rated sovereign and it expected it to rise to 53.9 per cent by the end of 2012. Lim said it is unfair to compare the debt levels with that of neighbouring Singapore or Hong Kong as Ma-laysia’s current priority needs include infrastructure.

“We are building our first MRT line and we are looking at the financing model in countries like Taiwan and Hong Kong to see if we can adopt some of their financing schemes which do not place a burden on the government.” Unlike the high debt levels of advanced economies like the US, coupled with high unemployment and slow growth rates, Malaysia still continues to enjoy strong growth, low inflation level, healthy foreign reserves as well high foreign direct investment (FDI) interest. On concerns of the economy being dependent on the oil income, Lim said the level of dependence has reduced greatly from the 1990s when it was about 50 per cent.

“Our revenue is well spread now – with oil and gas, commodities such as palm oil and rubber, manufacturing, retail market and tourism. The contribution from the services sector has also risen as Kuala Lumpur gains its recognition as the regional financial hub.” In 2011, 35 per cent of the revenue was derived from the oil and gas sector, another one-third from corporate and individual taxes and the remaining one-third from the customs tax collection from cigarettes, liquor and gaming (sin taxes).

“This year we had initially targeted revenue collection to total RM107 billion but our first half collection has already reached the RM99 billion mark. But the income tax payers form a small portion,” he said. Of the 12.8 million in the workforce, only 1.7 million pay tax while in the case of the 700,000 firms, only five per cent, or 35,000, pay taxes.Lim said the middle income bracket’s usual grouse is that the government tends to overlook their interest in the annual fiscal budget.

“Remember for every litre of petrol utilised, the government is giving a five-sen subsidy while for every kilogramme of rice consumed, the government is providing a 60- sen subsidy.” On the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Lim said it was now in the final study phase as the government is still undertaking its awareness campaign. The second reading in the Parliament is expected to proceed soon after the government receives the feedback from the business community


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