1. In 2017, we celebrated 60 years since the cry of “Merdeka!” rung out in the Padang in Kuala Lumpur. Although we live in a very different world today, one with very different challenges, I believe that the fathers of our independence would be proud to see what their countrymen and women have achieved in the subsequent decades.
2. For Malaysia, 2017 was a year of many milestones.
3. Our economy beat all expectations, with the World Bank revising its estimate for our growth this year upwards not once, not twice, but three times – to a very healthy 5.8 per cent. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and many other respected independent global bodies have commended the Government’s prudent handling of the economy, and recognised that its resilience and competitiveness has been built up, for the good of the Malaysian people. This sentiment has been echoed in the confidence the international community has shown in Malaysia over the past year.
4. In February, for example, Saudi Aramco announced that it was investing US$7 billion in the Petronas Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development in Johor – making this Aramco’s largest downstream investment outside Saudi Arabia. HSBC is investing more than RM1 billion to build its new regional headquarters at the Tun Razak Exchange. And many more multinationals are following suit, investing and building up their presence in Malaysia.
5. Why? Well, as Alibaba’s Jack Ma explained, he chose Malaysia to launch the world’s first Digital Free Trade Zone outside of China in 2017 precisely because of the efficient, business-friendly environment this Government has been creating.
6. These investments, the new buildings, the new businesses and new infrastructure projects – from the Pan Borneo Highway to public transport such as the superb new MRT in the Klang Valley – are making and will make a real difference to the Malaysian people. More than 2,000 SMEs stand to get easier access to the global market, especially the Chinese market, through the DFTZ, for example; while the first two phases of the Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT Line have created 130,000 new jobs – 70,000 of which are direct employment.
7. Better still, they were completed ahead of schedule and RM2 billion below budget – which shows that Malaysia has the ability to handle future large scale projects, like the East Coast Rail Line, which will do so much to help the people of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan and boost their local economy.
8. I am fully aware that some amongst us still face challenges and hardship, but the steps we have taken – and continue to take – will ensure that our country’s growth is sustainable and inclusive, spreading to and lifting up all segments of society.
9. Because I want all to share in the nation we are building, and for no Malaysian to be left behind.
10. This is why I announced tax cuts benefiting all middle income earners in the recent budget, allocations for farmers, fishermen, smallholders and rubber tappers, discounts on outstanding loans for students, easier working hours for pregnant women in the civil service, and a host of other measures to help ease the burden on the people and facilitate their full participation in our unique and richly diverse society.
11. Alongside the progress made at home, we have also continued to take a principled position on the global stage, elevating Malaysia’s standing internationally.
12. Our efforts on behalf of our suffering Rohingya brothers and sisters have shifted global opinion, as is shown by the fact that senior American officials have taken a far firmer stance after I raised their plight during my visit to the White House in September. We have been unafraid to insist that ASEAN’s policy of consensus cannot extend to staying silent about this unfolding catastrophe, and we saw results at the November summit when Myanmar made new commitments to resolve this appalling crisis.
13. We also will continue to make clear internationally that Jerusalem cannot be recognised as the capital of Israel. This Government’s solidarity with the Palestinian people is well-known around the world, and nothing will stop us from voicing it and pushing for justice.
14. Our status as a forward-thinking moderate Muslim majority country was recognised when the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques chose Malaysia as the place to establish the King Salman Centre for International Peace, which will be an important institute to combat extremism and promote the true and authentic Islam of which Malaysia is such a good example.
15. Malaysia’s leadership was also recognised at the United Nations, when our Global Movement of Moderates resolution to combat extremism and radicalisation was adopted in a vote at the General Assembly. And the many capitals which have given Malaysian government delegations a warm welcome in 2017, from Washington DC to London, and Riyadh to New Delhi, demonstrate the high regard in which our country is held.
16. Coming back to our achievements at home, there could have been no better way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Merdeka than by Malaysia winning the Southeast Asian Games, with our best ever performance. Our hearts thrilled to see our magnificent athletes taking 145 gold, 92 silver and 86 bronze medals, setting a bar of excellence that is a tribute to the fine young Malaysians who contribute so much to our country.
17. At the same time, 2017 was also marked by challenges and tragedies that will not easily be forgotten.
18. The 23 students and teachers who lost their lives in the fire at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz school in September. The flash floods and deadly landslide in Penang. The outrageous murder of Kim Jong Nam on Malaysian soil in February. And the sad deaths of Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah of Kedah, who had the unique distinction of reigning as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong twice during his long and illustrious life, and Pehin Sri Haji Adenan bin Satem of Sarawak. Both earned a very special place in their peoples’ hearts, and we sincerely mourn their passing.
19. 2017 also marked a different milestone, for it was a year in which we redoubled our efforts to ensure good governance in all sectors – which included not allowing past mistakes to remain unaddressed. Some politicians such as Lim Kit Siang had long called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the forex losses between 1992 and 1994. Last year we answered that call by forming an eminent panel to investigate. They concluded that Bank Negara incurred losses of RM31.5 billion during that time which, they said, had “a significant negative impact on the economy of the country, whereby it deprived the country of development opportunities.”
20. The Malaysian people had a right to know what had happened in the past, just as it is right that a newly reinvigorated MACC has shown wrongdoers that they will be rooted out, and just as it was right for me to announce last July that the Government is cracking down on the crony capitalism culture created by a former leader. The Malaysian people have paid a heavy price so that a few of friends of this former leader could make enormous profits, no matter what the cost to the people.
21. We made it clear that this has to end. Lapses of governance, in either the private or the public sector, cannot be tolerated. They must be investigated and rectified – not just because this is necessary for Malaysia to continue on its path to high income status, but because the people deserve nothing less.
22. The Malaysian people also deserve more from their politicians. There is an honourable role for opposition parties to scrutinise legislation and hold governments to account. Driven by principles and ethical behaviour, they can and should play a responsible part in nation building.
23. It is neither honourable nor responsible, however, to attempt to sabotage the Malaysian economy by making wild and false claims that could undermine the people’s welfare and livelihoods. Lying about your country for personal political gain is morally wrong – such people are betraying Malaysia.
24. Neither is it acceptable for a former leader to attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government in the hope that his ambitions for his son may be realised. In a democracy all that should matter is the wishes of the people as expressed at the ballot box, not the selfish dynastic desires of one man.
25. Nor is it responsible for politicians to oppose for the sake of opposing – even when they secretly agree that the measures being put forward by the Government are right. We have seen too much of this, whether it be over GST – which almost every reputable economist around the world has praised, and which is a reform that most other countries including India and Saudi Arabia are also implementing – or over 1Malaysia. Opposition figures concede privately that they are in favour of this concept to promote national unity – as all patriotic Malaysians should be – but they have opposed it for deceitful, personal political ends. This is shameful.
26. We can have differences of opinion, of course, but we should still be decent and have decorum. It should not be considered unusual, for instance, to visit longstanding opponents in hospital to express sympathy and good wishes for their speedy recovery. That should be accepted and understood in a civilised society, for we do not believe in, and nor will we return to, the viciousness practised under a former leader.
27. A better way has also been shown by PAS under the leadership of Tuan Guru Dato’ Seri Haji Abdul Hadi bin Awang. We are in different parties, but we surmount those divisions when it comes to matters of common interest, such as supporting the causes of the Rohingya and the Palestinians.
28. This is a more mature politics which helps build our country, not attempt to burn it down; it helps unite us, not divide us; and it concentrates on what we have in common, rather than make a weakness of our diversity – which as far as the Government is concerned, is our strength, and we will never cease to defend it.
29. This is the choice that will be presented to the Malaysian people in 2018. A Government that has continued to work for their betterment, with a clear direction and policies to move Malaysia forward in the short, medium and long term – or parties who can only campaign negatively, hoping to cause public anger and unhappiness to win votes, because they have nothing to offer Malaysians but division and populist illusions that would damage the country.
30. Electing the government is a serious business, and we are confident in the wisdom of the people. We are confident that they will see through the false promises of certain parties, knowing who is working for the true interests of all Malaysians, and recognising who has the proven track record that has delivered and is continuing to deliver.
31. In 2018, as we begin to look forward to the middle of this century with our Transformasi Nasional 2050 initiative and the Malaysia of the future, there are many reasons to be optimistic.
32. The World Bank reports that “The Malaysian economy is progressing from a position of strength”, and we expect healthy growth next year and further reduction of the deficit, as we continue to take all steps necessary to build the nation and promote the safety, welfare and happiness of the Malaysian people.
33. We hope that all will support us in this great task. It is a task that our forefathers began, a task that my father continued, and a task that I feel personally responsible for.
34. We were able to witness the embodiment of the dreams of the fathers of Malaysia when the nation came together in celebration after the SE Asian Games. That is the Malaysia this Government is fighting, and will always fight for. A Malaysia of many faiths and ethnicities, of a rich variety of customs, languages and foods, but one which unites as 1Malaysia to be justly regarded around the world as a model of harmony and diversity, an example to developing nations – and to many developed countries too.
35. It is a Malaysia we should be proud of, so let me invite all Malaysians to join us as we welcome 2018 with joy and the spirit of unity in our hearts.
36. May I wish you all a very happy, prosperous and safe New Year.