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Expect to see a tougher side of Najib Razak, PM and Minister of Finance, when he tables the 2014 Budget this afternoon. Which won't be a bad thing, if you ask me.
For example, I hear that he's going to stress on what insiders are calling "disciplined spending". Prompted by the revelations made year after year by the Auditor-General, on how some departments have blundered, Najib wants to go after authorities guilty of wasting public funds. "He's going to make a very clear commitment on that this afternoon," I heard one insider say.
It will also be about toughening up the domestic economy without burdening the poor. One of Najib's main concerns is the seemingly never-ending economic and financial crisis around the world - from the US subprime crisis to the Euro debt crisis - and how the local economy continues to get banged up each time that happens. The 2014 Budget's strategy is to help toughen up the local economy to better absorb the impact of the next crisis. "It's not a question of IF, it's WHEN the next crisis will happen," the insider said.
Toughening up means further subsidy rationalization. Rest assured that the 2014 Budget will still contain a lot of subsidies for the rakyat. Malaysians are a heavily-subsidized lot who are slowly coming to terms with the fact that subsidies can't go on forever but that can't be done overnight. Hence the GST, which will enable Malaysians to start paying for what they consume. The insider won't give anything away on GST. I get the impression - and I hope I'm wrong - that the GST might even be taken off the 2014 Budget!
Anwar Ibrahim & Co are lining up protests against the GST not really because the GST is "regressive" but because, like Lynas, it is a politically-viable subject matter. I mean, how can it be t hat when only Malaysia, Myanmar and Brunei have not implemented GST in Asean while some 160 and nearly ALL the developed countries have also adopted it, right?
It's them testing Najib Razak's will to see just how tough he is ...