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BTS: Why Daim Left - Dwindling Reserve
By Eddie Toh

13/6/2001 4:18 am Wed

[Mahathir menafikan hubungan beliau dengan Daim adalah renggang. Daim dikatakan berhenti kerana merasa tidak dihargai serta tidak senang dengan tohmahan yang dilemparkan kepada beliau. Mahathir juga menafikan khabar angin kediaman Daim telah digelidah oleh pihak berkuasa sebagaimana yang terlapur merata. Walaupun begitu sikap Mahathir mencampuri urusan tugas Daim beberapa kali menggambarkan ada sesuatu yang tidak kena sehingga Daim yang diam itu berkata-kata. Sudah tentu kerana sakit sudah tidak tertahan dirasa.

Lapuran BTS yang kedua telah mendedahkan sesuatu yang harus dipandang berat. Rezab negara telah susut dari US$34 bilion kepada US$25 bilion. Ini bersamaan dengan ketahanan 3.8 bulan impot = hanya lebih sedikit sahaja dari paras kritikal antarabangsa sebanyak 3 bulan. Kata orang tua-tua paras air sekarang sudah ditahap tengkok. Entah besuk lusa ia akan mencecah paras bahaya di atas kepala. Jika ini berlaku akan menggelabahlah semua dan banyak pihak akan merana kerana terpaksa dikorbankan jua.

Menurut Dr Ariff dari MIER, Rezab Malaysia bukan sahaja amat rendah berbanding piawai sendiri sebanyak 5-6 bulan impot bertahan, malah ia sudah seperti nazak jika dibandingkan dengan Singapura (12.3 bulan), Taiwan (9.6 bulan), Indonesia (6.1 bulan) dan Thailand (5.7 bulan). - Editor] story/0,2276,11126,00.html?

The Business Times, Singapore
12th June 2001

Mahathir: Daim left because he felt unappreciated

PM dismisses lingering talk of rift between them

By Eddie Toh

MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has disclosed that his former economic adviser Daim Zainuddin quit earlier this month because he felt unappreciated, but he dismissed lingering talk of a rift between them.

'There is no rift. It was a friendly parting. He felt that some people didn't quite appreciate what he was doing and he thought that it was time for him to leave the government,' the premier told reporters yesterday after launching a book on Malaysian oil major, Petronas.

He added: 'I'm still very friendly with him.'

When asked to comment on rumours that Mr Daim's residence had been raided by the authorities, the premier said: 'Not true. Not that I know of. I don't know anything about that.'

Dr Mahathir did not elaborate on why Mr Daim felt unappreciated, but according to analysts, the former finance minister may have felt slighted by the barrage of criticisms against some of his decisions despite his success in turning the Malaysian economy around.

One of his most controversial decisions was the re-nationalisation of Malaysia Airlines this year.

Critics said the finance ministry should not have paid such a high price to buy a substantial block of the national airline from Tajudin Ramli, a protege of Mr Daim.

The price tag was RM1.79 billion (S$853.8 million) or RM8 a share - slightly below Mr Tajudin's cost of RM8.70 but more than double the debt-laden carrier's net tangible assets.

On June 1, Mr Daim resigned all his official posts - finance minister, minister of special functions, executive director of the National Economic Action Council and treasurer of the dominant political party, United Malays National Organisation. No reason was given. Dr Mahathir has temporarily taken over all the posts.

The premier yesterday declined to indicate his choice for the two powerful seats vacated by Mr Daim - finance minister and Umno treasurer.

When asked what would be the prerequisites of the new finance minister, Dr Mahathir said: 'He must be clean and not a controversial figure.' He declined to say if he will announce the appointments during the annual convention of Umno on June 21.

'I don't want to be hurried on this. I will have to report Umno's finances to the general assembly. For this, I will seek the help of Daim.'

Like his brief stint as finance minister following the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim in September 1998, Dr Mahathir is not expected to head the finance ministry for too long.

'I'm still working out how to operate because the work of a prime minister is very heavy and the work of the finance minister is also very heavy,' he said yesterday.

The Business Times, Singapore
12th June 2001

Ringgit pressure revives call for peg to currency basket

Fixed rate to US$ leaves little room for flexibility, analysts say

By Eddie Toh

THE continued pressure on the ringgit has led to renewed calls for Malaysia to adopt Singapore's approach in controlling its currency within a band based on a trade-weighted basket of currencies, instead of fixing the ringgit against the greenback.

'This will allow it more flexibility and less strain on domestic prices and competitiveness should regional currencies move adversely from current levels,' said SG Securities in a report.

But Khatina Nawawi, one of the authors of the SG report, argued that it was still too early to tinker with the Malaysian currency peg, fixed at the height of the regional financial crisis in September 1998. 'We don't see it's time for the ringgit peg to change,' she said.

But in the event of a devaluation by the government, SG Securities reckoned that the Malaysian government may fix it at between RM4.10 and RM4.30 against the greenback by the middle of next year against the current level of RM3.80.

Similarly, Song Seng Wun, regional economist at GK Goh in Singapore, argued that a trade-weighted peg will be less disruptive.

'The trade-weighted system provides a better alternative. A break of the fixed exchange rate system will be disruptive. They may have no choice but to devalue the ringgit if the outflow continues,' he said.

They were reacting to comments by Mohamed Ariff, executive director of the independent think-tank, Malaysian Institute of Economic Research, who had argued for a switch to a floating peg based on a basket of currencies of Malaysia's trading partners.

'A transparent basket peg would appear to be a better option than a single currency peg, as it would provide exchange rate stability against a basket of currencies, without exchange rates rigidity against any one currency,' he wrote in the New Straits Times over the weekend.

The idea of the managed band system is not something extraordinary.

The National Economic Action Council had initially proposed the idea as one way to help stabilise the gyrating Malaysian currency during the regional economic crisis.

But Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad eventually opted to fix it at RM3.80 against the US dollar to ensure maximum stability and predictability.

The control held off currency speculators and enabled the government to pursue an expansionary fiscal policy and keep interest rates soft.

However, the ringgit has come under pressure lately due to perceptions that it is overvalued against regional currencies.

'The relative strength of the ringgit now vis-a-vis the Thai baht, Indonesian rupiah, Philippine peso and Singapore dollar far exceeds that of the pre-crisis early July 1997 situation. In other words, the ringgit has moved clearly out of sync with the rest of the regional currencies,' said Dr Ariff. Confidence in the currency has also been shaken by the dwindling reserves.

The country's reserves have fallen from US$34 billion to about US$25 billion, which is enough to sustain 3.8 months of retained imports - just slightly above the internationally accepted financially prudent level of three months.

Dr Ariff said Malaysia's reserves are low, not only by the country's own standards of six to seven months of retained imports, but also in comparison with Singapore's 12.3 months, Taiwan's 9.6, Indonesia's 6.1 and Thailand's 5.7. 'Much will hinge critically on the external reserves,' he added.