Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said on Monday (21 May) that Malaysia's debt has reached RM1 trillion (S$337 billion).
The newly-sworn Prime Minister blamed the enormous debt on the previous government led by former protégé Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who now faces domestic graft investigations.
Dr Mahathir stated that important measures must be taken for the South-east Asian country to quickly recover from the situation, pointing out Malaysia had debts of about RM300 billion only when he was previously prime minister for 22 years.
Dr Mahathir said in his maiden address to civil servants of the Prime Minister's Department, "We find that the country’s finances for example, was abused in a way that now we are facing trouble settling debts that have risen to a trillion ringgit. We have never had to deal with this before. Before we never faced debts higher than RM300 billion, but now it has climbed to RM1 trillion."
Dr Mahathir, 92, was Malaysia's prime minister from 1981 and 2003.
The Prime Minister came out of retirement and joined hands with the then Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition pact to oust Mr Najib, whom he accused of corruption.
PH exceeded the expectation of many political observers and defeated the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition that has ruled the nation for six decades at the 9 May general election.
The next day, Dr Mahathir was sworn in as the country's seventh prime minister.
In his address, Dr Mahathir also lamented the decline in respect for the country, which was "once looked up upon as among the best in Commonwealth countries," saying, "Our country was well-respected previously, but now it is not the same as in the past. We must restore the country to ensure that it will be looked highly upon and respected once again."
He said that it was imperative to keep the country’s institutions independent and separate, saying, "The separation of powers among us must be maintained, as only through this way we can make sure there is not embezzlement in the country’s administration. We have to separate the lawmakers, the enforcers of the law, and the judiciary."'
He then noted that allowing the three pillars of government to intermingle would erode their accountability and allow one to dominate the others to the point that they could no longer check each other, adding that co-mingling of powers could even facilitate actions that were against the laws, as those entrusted to enforce these would be complicit with those breaking them.
Mr Najib was previously accused by critics of concentrating power in the hands of the executive that he controlled, neutering the powers of the legislature and judiciary to act as watchdogs to his administration.
Dr Mahathir said many changes needed to be made, however, he was heartened that it could be done with the help of civil servants.
"We are confident that we can overcome the challenges but we need civil servants who are efficient and trustworthy to achieve this changes. As administrators, one must put the rule of law above all else and those tasked to carry out their duties must help to clean things up so that Malaysia can be on the road of recovery. All of us must work together to achieve this," he said.
Dr Mahathir then said that possible changes were being thoroughly studied but it was too soon to disclose what they were.
He hopes for undivided support of the civil servants to get Malaysia back on the right track of economic recovery, adding, "It won't take too long for the country to recover and be respected once again, if all of us work together."