By Ali Nufael and Noah Ali
Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Friday said his new government fulfilled only one third of election promises within its first 100 days of office, blaming the previous administration for leaving the country in a far worse than expected mess.
He said his ruling Pact of Hope coalition, which stormed into power during the May election, managed to deliver on 21 of the 60 pledges made in its election manifesto.
“But the process has begun to fulfill the other pledges,” said Mahathir, who at 93 is the oldest prime minister in the world. He listed the steps taken to achieve the goals.
Mahathir said the financial mess left behind by the previous administration of corruption-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak was worse than expected, adding it had hindered the new administration’s ability to bring about quick results.
“A big burden left behind by the previous government is the trillion ringgit (U.S. $243.77 billion) debt. Repaying the interest alone can make us bankrupt, what more repaying the principal sum,” he said.
“It would take many days to relate all the pitfalls of the previous administration,” Mahathir said in a nationwide broadcast marking his government’s 100 days in office. “Therefore, we would concentrate on fulfilling the promises made in our manifesto.”
He said one of the promises that his government delivered quickly was the abolition of the much-maligned goods services tax (GST).
The government is moving to implement a sales and services tax (SST) regime which covered a much broader range of items and services but has not announced the rate for the revived levy.
Mahathir also defended his government’s decision not to conduct – as promised – a royal commission of inquiry into high profile scandals and corruption allegation involving government linked companies, including the multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
He said that the cases are being investigated by authorities and the government will allow the courts to decide on them.
Najib has been charged with three counts of money laundering and four charges of criminal breach of trust and abuse of power in connection with alleged misappropriation of funds at a former unit of 1MDB.
Among the other election pledges that have not been fufilled by the new government within the 100 days in office are the setting of a minimum wage and introduction of a “healthcare” scheme.
Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said there was no need for the government to apologize to the people for not delivering all its promises within the stipulated period.
“No need, (to apologize to the people). Maybe not as what we hoped for, but we tried our best,” she said.
According to a recently conducted survey by independent local pollster Merdeka Center, two-thirds of Malaysian voters appear satisfied with the performance of the new government and more than half of respondents said the nation was headed in the right direction.
The main concern of the 1,160 registered voters who were polled between Aug 7 and 14 by the center was the economy, with more than half saying they were dissatisfied with measures to address cost of living pressures.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng in May announced that the government was in one trillion ringgit in debt and in July suspended three China-backed mega projects as the country finds ways to cut cost in dealing with mounting debt.
Mahathir, who began his five-day working trip to China on Friday, would hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the possibility of renegotiating the terms of the stalled mega projects that were considered to be unfair to Malaysia.
Economist Barjoyai Bardai of National University of Malaysia said the new government must underline its seriousness in making good its unfulfilled promises.
He proposed that it outline a plan to the public detailing what can be expected in six months or 12 months.
“From the onset, we know the 100 days is an impossible time frame. They were ambitious,” he said.
“To say that the country’s debt is huge and giving excuses will not change anything. They must now make good of the promises,” he told BenarNews.
Awang Azman Awang Pawi, a professor of social studies of University Malaya, said the government might have placed “extra focus” on unearthing Najib’s alleged wrongdoings.
“They must stop whining about the past,” Awang Azman said.
Former cabinet minister Wee Ka Siong told BenarNews that Mahathir’s coalition should have done a thorough study before making promises and stop blaming the former government for its failure in delivering on its pledges.