1. As we begin 2017, first let me express my deepest gratitude to Tuanku Abdul Halim ibni Almarhum Sultan Badlishah for his service to Malaysia. His Majesty has a deep and personal interest in all matters concerning the rakyat, and his advice and wisdom have been of incalculable value to our country as the 14th Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Indeed, Tuanku Abdul Halim will have a unique place in the annals of Malaysian history having served twice as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
2. I join all Malaysians in welcoming Sultan Muhammad V as our nation’s 15th Yang di-Pertuan Agong. I look forward to serving His Majesty and am sure that his energy and guidance will prove invaluable in the years ahead.
3. 2016 was a year of great change across the world, and the uncertainties these changes have provoked affected us all. The currencies of emerging markets, including Malaysia, have not escaped the consequences of the recent rise in the US dollar.
4. But here the Government has remained steadfast in our commitment to building a safer, more prosperous, and more equitable society. We have seen the results. We have kept the budget deficit, inflation and unemployment low, and the resilience we have been building in our economy has seen us through times of global turbulence. Our economic plan is working.
5. Our estimated growth rate of 4.3-4.5 percent for this year is one that developed countries in Europe and North America can only dream of.
6. Malaysians should be proud of the growth we are achieving. Just as they should be proud that the latest IMF report concludes that, “Despite headwinds, the Malaysian economy continues to perform well.”
7. It praised the Government for implementing policies of diversification, exchange rate flexibility and deepened financial markets, and for our reforms to encourage female labour participation, to improve the quality of education, enhance productivity, invest in infrastructure, and promote research and development.
8. Assessments such as these are independent and conducted by the world’s top experts. They reflect the true picture of Malaysia – contrary to the smear campaigns of those who have been trying to commit economic sabotage against their own country just for their own selfish political objectives. We will not allow it, because it is the people and country who would suffer.
9. The IMF commends us for having made “significant progress toward achieving high-income status”. That is the reality, and I urge all Malaysians not to fall for lies that are spread. Fake news and the proliferation of false stories has become a worldwide phenomenon, and is a grave problem in our country as well.
10. At the same time, we know that the conclusions of IMF experts and GDP growth figures may seem remote to many Malaysians. The Government is deeply committed to easing the burden of those who sometimes struggle to afford a decent life for their families.
11. This is why in Budget 2017 we paid particular attention to the needs of the Bottom 40 and Middle 40, and announced a huge range of measures to ensure that no one is left behind – from new affordable housing, to tax relief and nutritional food packages for hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren.
12. Our efforts, to improve the well being of the Malaysian people, are underlined by a commitment to good governance. I thank the numerous individuals within our civil service for the work they have done, and continue to do, to improve efficiency and ensure that government allocations are used in the most meaningful manner.
13. In the longer term, our growth must be sustainable and we want it to be shared equitably. The large-scale infrastructure projects we are driving across the country will help us achieve this aim.
14. Just a few weeks ago, we launched phase one of the Kuala Lumpur MRT – on time and below budget – and work on phase three of the LRT has already commenced. Malaysia desperately needs this new infrastructure, and it should have been built long ago.
15. Furthermore, the implementation and delivery of projects such as Rapid Pengerang in Johor, Malaysia Vision Valley (MVV), Bandar Malaysia, Tun Razak Exchange (TRX), the Pan Borneo Highway and Rail project, East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and the High Speed Rail (HSR) will bring employment, stimulate local economies, and make a tangible improvement in the lives of our citizens.
16. The Pan Borneo Highway, for instance, will not only connect Serundong in Sabah to Semantan in Sarawak, it will also help re-energise numerous towns along the way. I am determined to see this project through as I know the sheer number of communities, many of whom I have visited, that will benefit from it.
17. On the international stage, Malaysia continues to play a leading role in the region and beyond. We will not shy away from speaking out on, and playing an active role in bringing attention to, the global issues that matter.
18. In response to the tragic events involving the Rohingya population in Myanmar, we successfully requested a gathering of ASEAN Foreign Ministers to discuss possible solutions to what is an increasingly concerning situation.
19. Further afield, we remain committed to supporting the quest for peace in the Middle East, as reflected by the adoption of our resolution against illegal settlement building in the Palestinian territories by the United Nations Security Council last week.
20. At home and abroad, we continue to be at the forefront of the fight against extremism and radicalisation. We suffered our first Daesh-linked attack in June, and only the tireless dedication of our brave police and armed services have prevented there being more. The Government and security forces will continue to protecting Sabah, especially the Eastern Sabah Security Zone, from the threats posed by terrorists and kidnappers.
21. I would like to thank all our police and armed forces for their huge efforts, and to assure the Malaysian people that the Government will always be vigilant. We will always place the security and welfare of the rakyat first.
22. This year was, of course, also one in which we were uplifted by the unforgettable performances delivered by Team Malaysia at the summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. While all of our athletes are worthy of mention, to have won our first two gold medals was a truly historic achievement, and one which swelled the hearts of all Malaysians.
23. The sporting heroics may have been achieved in Rio de Janeiro, but I took an equal amount of pride in the way that all Malaysians – in cities and kampungs across this great land of ours – came together in support of the national team. It truly was a reflection of 1Malaysia.
24. That is who we are when we are at our best. That is who we must be as we look to the future, to our 2050 National Transformation policy (TN50) and the nation we aspire to be by the middle of this century. A nation confident in ourselves, celebrating our diversity, proud of our successes, and always looking to ensure that all our brothers and sisters are fully part of this great journey that Malaysia is on.
25. I ask all Malaysians to be united in this spirit, and I wish you a happy, safe and prosperous New Year.