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Malaysia vows to meet deficit target, plug RM21b tax hole

Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIA will be able to meet its budget deficit target for 2018 even though the scrapping of a goods and services tax (GST) will blow a US$5 billion hole in the government's wallet, the country's finance minister said on Thursday.

Lim Guan Eng said that the RM21 billion (S$7 billion) in lost revenue from the tax due to be axed on Friday would be offset by rising oil-related revenues, spending cuts on non-essential projects, increased dividends from government-linked firms and a new sales tax expected to be introduced in September.

Malaysia's new government has said that it has RM1 trillion in debt and liabilities, blaming the ballooning figure on abuses by the previous administration led by scandal-plagued Najib Razak. "We are mindful that federal government debt, which has exceeded RM1 trillion, requires fiscal discipline," Mr Lim said.

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He said that the government's projected fiscal deficit would increase slightly to RM40.1 billion in 2018 from RM39.8 billion, which would maintain the budget deficit at 2.8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

He said that the current account balance - government revenue after operating expenditure - will remain positive, and that there were no plans to revise economic growth forecasts for now. When asked about a possible public listing of state petroleum firm Petronas as an option for raising funds, Mr Lim said that such a proposal "has not been put forward to the government".

He said that higher dividends from government-linked entities such as Petronas, sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad and the central bank could deliver an extra RM5 billion this year. That would be alongside RM5.4 billion of extra tax revenue from oil companies in Malaysia, and RM10 billion saved through reviews of high-priced projects. REUTERS