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IMF Says Cautious Malaysia Was Spared Worst of Financial Crisis

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International investors love Malaysia. This is due to the fact that our nation's economic fundamentals are in good shape. And a series of high profile IPOs this year have drawn attention to the success story, unfolding here in the face of global uncertainty.

It is also because it is now becoming easier to invest. International companies will soon be able to set up their own branches here without having to partner with local businesses, and the financial sector is being liberalised in favour of foreign banks entering the market.

To some observers this is long overdue. Could it be that our cautious approach has in the past cost us valuable investment? Perhaps. But now there is another reminder of the benefit of carefully maintained rules and regulations.

The International Monetary Fund has released a report that says our low degree of exposure to the international banking sector has helped us to avoid the worst effects of the international banking crisis.

"India and Malaysia appear insulated from foreign banks by almost all indicators when compared with all peer groups except developing Asia and the economies (besides India) that make up the BRIC Group (Brazil, Russia and China)," said the International Monetary Fund in its Global Financial Stability report.

"Malaysia had relatively low reliance on foreign liabilities compared with other peers whereas in 2007 India was close to the BRIC average," it stated.

What this means is that our domestic banks, funded by a nation of careful savers and cautious in their lending practices, were spared the worst excesses of the global banks who were caught out in 2008, passing buckets of toxic debt between each other until the game came to a shuddering halt.

It's what former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was referring to in 2011 when he told Europe to get back to "proper business" such as making things that people need. As one of the architects of our present financial system he had little time for reckless speculation and global corporate greed.

So the challenge now is for Malaysia to introduce sensible reform. Liberalising our banking sector is inevitable now that we are becoming a regional investment hub spearheaded by Bursa Malaysia. But how can this be done to ensure we keep the good elements of what the IMF confirms has served us so well in the most recent crisis?

The answer, according to Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is for the Government to work with would-be investors and assess how they can best enter the Malaysian market.

These are exactly the type of discussions that take place under the auspices of the Economic Transformation Programme, which last year registered RM830 billion in Gross National Income above the target of RM797 billion.

The ETP has also drawn praise from the IMF, which, along with the World Bank, Standard and Poor's and the Wall Street Journal have noted its positive role in boosting investment and creating more than 300,000 jobs.

These are economic victories that can't be denied by Pakatan Rakyat. As we approach GE13, the Opposition coalition - knowing full well that it can't be seen to talk down our booming economy - instead ignores Malaysia's success as if it doesn't exist.

That's why voters, the Government, investors and indeed, the IMF will be waiting carefully to see what economic polices Pakatan comes up with as part of its manifesto.

It can choose to either continue Najib's cautious but positive reform agenda if it wins GE13 (at risk of being accused of having no ideas of its own) or it can put at risk everything we have achieved for the sake of a compromised policy that somehow pleases the fractious parties of Pakatan Rakyat.

The Choice is theirs.

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