KUCHING, June 23 — Sarawak DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen today defended minister Lim Guan Eng’s warning that the state could go bankrupt and see its reserves wiped out within three years if it continues tabling large state budgets.
He said ruling pact Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) should take Lim’s statement seriously, claiming Lim’s position as the finance minister means he has a lot of information and knowledge on financial matters of the country, including its states.
“Surely, for him to come up with such a statement, which may sound bold or unpleasing to the ears of many, he has certain ways of giving warning that the state government should heed,” Chong told reporters here.
He dismissed suggestions that he has to support Lim because both are from the same party, DAP, citing instead Lim’s track record and qualifications.
Chong also expressed concern with the way Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg, who is also the state finance and economic planning minister, is allocating state funds.
He cited the proposed RM10 billion Light Rail Transit project from Santubong to Kuching, and Kuching to Serian as an example of huge fund expenditures.
He also questioned the construction of the coastal highway and the second trunk road, costing over RM11 billion, and asked if the returns from the construction of these two projects would justify the amount spent.
“If all the projects that the chief minister has boasted would go ahead as planned, surely they would finish all the state reserves,” he said.
On the chief minister’s warning to Lim not to stop the collection of sales tax on petroleum and petroleum products by the state government, Chong said the state government has always maintained that the imposition of sales tax is the state’s right.
“If you can collect the sales tax, you collect it, that is, if you are entitled to collect the sales tax. If you think it is your right, then nobody can stop you,” he said when asked to respond to Abang Johari’s warning in his speech at a joint Gawai Dayak and Hari Raya gathering and the launch of GPS Zone 10 in Mulah yesterday.
Chong said he considered it childish of GPS leaders, including Petra Jaya federal lawmaker Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof and state tourism minister Datuk Karim Rahman Hamzah, for telling Lim to first take care of the country’s “weak” economy and the declining ringgit, before claiming Sarawak would become bankrupt within three years.
Lim came under fire from GPS leaders and Sarawak-based Opposition parties for alleging that the state would go bankrupt if it continued with plans for an RM11 billion State Budget.
He had also claimed the large budget would wipe out RM30 billion in state reserves.
Abang Johari, who rubbished Lim’s claim, had said Sarawak would not touch the state reserves as it had other sources of revenue, including the sales tax on petroleum and petroleum products, for the State Budget.