Despite the hammering he has received for being forthright, Lim Guan Eng is resolute he will not tell lies, even white ones, about the country’s finances.
The finance minister believes that in the end, investors and the people will appreciate the new government’s honesty and transparency.
To act otherwise, said Lim, would be to repeat the sins of the previous Barisan Nasional administration where scandals such as 1MDB were allowed to fester and blow up in the people’s faces.
“I never expected to be scolded for telling the truth. That I should tell white lies so as to not spook the market. (But) You only spook the market when you are living a lie.
“The previous government did not tell the truth and look where it has gotten us,” he said, referring to the mammoth debts 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) chalked up which in the end are borne by the taxpayer.
Lim estimates 1MDB will cost the government RM50 billion in debts, misappropriated funds and interest payments.
BN had claimed the state firm could service its borrowings with money from its rationalisation scheme. But when the Pakatan Harapan administration took over, Lim had revealed that the government had been paying 1MBD’s debts to the tune of RM7 billion.
“I will not tell white lies because the country is in trouble because government officers did not speak truth to power,” he told The Malaysian Insight (TMI).
“This practice will have to be turned on its head. We have to re-engage with the truth. Now power will speak truth to the people.”
Lim has been chastised, mostly by BN leaders, for his disclosures of financial scandals that had been hidden by the previous administration in secret files that were inaccessible even to the auditor-general.
He has also been blamed for roiling the stock market by announcing that the country’s true debt bill amounts to RM1.0873 trillion, or 80.3% of gross domestic product (GDP).
Lim’s straight talk earned him a rebuke from fellow Pakatan Harapan leader and former finance minister Anwar Ibrahim, who wanted Lim to pacify investors.
Lim responded by saying it was Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad who had instructed him to reveal the scandals.
“Anwar called me after that,” Lim told TMI but refused to divulge what was said.
“You’ll have to ask him,” Lim said while stressing there was no misunderstanding between him and the PKR leader.
In the end, Lim believes investors will come around to the new administration’s way of thinking.
“Markets will want to be able to rely on a government that is credible and truthful. Whose financial statements can be trusted and have value? A person who tells the truth instead of a person who lies.
“Otherwise you can get Jho Low to be your finance minister,” Lim joked, referring to fugitive financier Low Taek Jhow, who is alleged to be have masterminded the scheme to defraud 1MDB.