KUALA LUMPUR: Unlike its predecessor Proton, a new national car project flagged by the prime minister must be backed by the private sector as the nation has no public funds to spare, Malaysia’s Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said.
Mahathir Mohamad announced his ambitions for the project at a press conference in Tokyo on Monday, despite problems faced by the national automaker he started during his first stint in office in the 1980s.
Proton was privatised and a 49.9 per cent stake sold to China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group by the previous government last year – a deal Mahathir had said made him so sad, he “can cry”.
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia’s Conversation With, Lim said he discussed the proposed new project with the prime minister when the latter returned from Japan.
“I told the prime minister that we don’t have the money, and he knows it … So it is not from public funds, it’s not like Proton, no,” he said.
“If there are private parties who wants to do it in Malaysia, using their own money, I think that is something that would be worthwhile looking at – but not from public funds.”
Lim said he believed a private party had mooted the idea of a car to Mahathir in the first place but that the government has not seen a proposal yet.
Earlier this week, Mahathir said Malaysia would need to depend on foreign technology and partners at the start of this new car venture “but eventually we’ll be able to do everything by ourselves”.
The 92-year-old – who had fiercely criticised Proton’s sale as damaging to national pride – said a second car project will create opportunities for local engineers.
However, opposition MP and former minister Khairy Jamaluddin has called the plans “regressive and backwards” in light of the cancellation of public transport initiatives like the MRT 3 train link in the Klang Valley.
Pakatan Harapan has been on a mission to trim its debts and liabilities – which it says exceed US$251 billion, or 80.3 per cent of the country’s GDP – since assuming government for the first time in the nation’s history on May 9.
Watch the full interview on Conversation With, Thursday, Jun 21, at 9.30pm (SIN/HK).