KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 15 — Lim Guan Eng has convinced investors and market watchers that he is at least as able as Datuk Seri Najib Razak in handling the Finance Ministry.
Following initial fears that the portfolio was beyond the trained accountant’s abilities, predicated on a foreign capital exodus after the general election and his erratic remarks during early days in the role, economists now believe Lim is up to handling the crucial portfolio.
Lim did not help his case with the announcement that Malaysia’s “debt” was over RM1 trillion, with critics previously asking why the accountant would conflate liabilities with borrowings, but economists speaking to the South China Morning Post (SCMP) appear to have moved beyond that.
“The Malaysian public has given the thumbs up for his forthrightness and determination to straighten the country’s finances,” economist Yeah Kim Leng of the Sunway University Business School told the Hong Kong-based news outlet.
Aside from issues of his own making, Lim also had to contend with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s vacillations on China.
The PM’s trenchant criticism of projects the defeated Barisan Nasional previously awarded to firms in China stands in contrast to his solicitation of fresh investment from the Asian superpower, leaving Lim to reconcile the two conflicting positions.
The finance minister made a whirlwind visit to Hong Kong this week where he sought to assure investors that Malaysia remained very much open for business.
Senior economist at United Overseas Bank Julia Goh told SCMP she was satisfied with Lim’s handling of the economy so far, saying the targeted reform efforts would ultimately be positive for the local economy.
Lim still must pass the ultimate test as finance minister, however, when he presents Budget 2019 in Parliament on November 2.