Dr Mahathir: BNM governor ‘very independent’, refused my request to use reserves to pay 1MDB debts

BNM governor Datuk Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus speaks during a press conference on the BNM’s fourth-quarter 2019 gross domestic product (GDP) growthin Kuala Lumpur February 12, 2020. ― Bernama pic
BNM governor Datuk Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus speaks during a press conference on the BNM’s fourth-quarter 2019 gross domestic product (GDP) growthin Kuala Lumpur February 12, 2020. ― Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, July 14 — Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) Governor Datuk Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus is a very independent person who prioritises the country and will not bow down to anyone’s demands, even if the order comes from the prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today.

The former prime minister was asked in an interview with Investvine, a business news portal from Hong Kong, to describe the independence of Malaysia’s institutions.

He vouched for BNM, and recounted an instance when Nor Shamsiah flatly rejected his request when he was still PM to use the central bank’s reserves to pay off the government’s debts incurred by 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

“It depends much upon the character of the people that we appoint. For example, the governor of BNM is very independent. She will not take any directive from the government. She has her own ideas. Even I could not influence her to help out with our loans.

“We had to pay a huge amount of debt incurred by Najib’s government, so the BNM had a huge reserve that can finance eight months of retaining retail imports, so I don’t think that it was necessary.

“So I said what the BNM earns actually belongs to the government, we wanted to use that money to pay off our debts. She just said, no,” Dr Mahathir said.

The Langkawi MP commended Nor Shamsiah for building Malaysia’s finances, saying she had helped ensure BNM has “some of the biggest reserves” compared to other central banks.

Dr Mahathir also praised former Petronas president and chief executive Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin as “a very good man who has done very well”, but said the latter was removed for not bowing down to government demands.

Wan Zulkiflee was reported to have resigned last month purportedly after a disagreement with Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin over a plan to pay US$470 million (RM2 billion) in sales tax to Sarawak.

Petronas had been fighting Sarawak’s demand for the sales tax in court before the two parties announced a settlement last month — although Sarawak later said it would continue its legal action until an agreement is final.

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