THERE are reasons to rejoice as we welcome 2018. In the first week of the New Year, our currency breached the RM4 level for the first time since August 2016. The ringgit emerged as the best performer among Asian currencies, soaring to between RM3.9960 and RM3.9950 against the US dollar.
Our stock market is also rallying to a good start as the benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI (FBM KLCI) last Thursday closed above the psychological level of 1,800 points for the first time in three years.
Analysts attributed this favourable trend to growing optimism about global growth, higher oil prices, positive macroeconomic outlook, better external trade performance, bullish sentiment and the weakening US dollar.
The New Straits Times quoted MIDF Amanah Investment Bank Bhd chief economist Dr Kamaruddin Mohd Nor as saying that the improved sentiments are being driven by good macroeconomic figures, such as the November trade data, which would attract foreign funds to our country and support the ringgit rally.
These are clear signs that our economy is off to a good start. Anything good for the country’s economy is good news for the people and let us pray that the Almighty will continue showering Malaysia with blessings for a prosperous year ahead.
As the menteri besar of Kedah, I wish to see the state ride on these positive waves to achieve sound development and growth, which will directly benefit the people.
Economic growth can only be achieved based on strong fundamentals and I am grateful that the Barisan Nasional state government has recorded favourable performance throughout last year to propel Kedah’s economy to greater heights this year.
Let me highlight three key results that we achieved last year.
FIRST, the state revenue has increased to between RM100 million and RM150 million.
SECOND was the ability of this administration to significantly slash the state budget deficit by almost half, compared with the deficit before I took over as the menteri besar two years ago.
THIRD, the state economy recorded steady growth of between four and five per cent, while the state coffers were at a healthy stage to cover both administrative and development expenditures.
While we are striving towards better economic growth, this administration has always put the people’s interest first by focusing on education development, human capital and people’s welfare , as well as religious matters.
Initiatives, such as increasing monthly allowances for imam, bilal and siak by between 50 and 90 per cent to strengthen mosques as the centre of excellence for the Muslim community, will continue this year.
The Kedah government will continue to support Islamic religious schools by setting aside a specific allocation to support the management and procurement of kitab for 84 pondok schools and maahad tahfiz as part of our vision to make Kedah the national hub for maahad tahfiz institutions.
As a caring and responsible state government, my administration will continue to emphasise supporting the needy and this is clearly reflected by the RM20 million allocation for this year. This welfare incentive is being distributed directly to target groups through six clusters of the Barakah programme.
Education is always close to my heart and this year, the Kedah government is introducing a RM100 incentive for 30,000 Year One pupils in the National Education Savings Scheme (SSPN-i).
Apart from showing this administration’s appreciation to parents, this scheme also encourages them to start saving for their children’s education early.
I am a strong believer in the fact that education is a potent tool to achieve social justice, and that poverty is not supposed to be passed down from one generation to another.
Only through education, can we change the fate of a family.
As such, in addition to the aid provided by the government, it is equally important to spread awareness among parents on the importance of saving for their children’s tertiary education so they can secure a better future.
This administration is also intensifying and expanding the social safety net.
The state’s offer of 20 cubic metres of free water will directly benefit some 221,000 account holders. The state government is allocating RM18 million for the initiative.
The interesting fact is that this directly promotes water conservation because consumers with monthly water bills of RM10 and below will no longer be required to pay their bills.
To address water supply woes in certain parts of the state, which were not resolved by the previous state administration, we are upgrading five treatment plants.
To secure sustainable water supply for Langkawi island, our tourism gem, the state government will implement an off-river storage project with a RM600 million allocation from the Federal Government.
The year 2018 is also a crucial turning point for Kedah’s development as some integrated mega-scale projects with massive spillover effects will take off.
They include the inland port logistics hub, Special Border Economic Zone, Bukit Kayu Hitam Duty Free City, Kedah Science and Technology Park and Kedah Rubber City.
As such, I wish to stress that this continuous development synergy between the state and Federal Government should be preserved so that we will be able to achieve the dreams for a greater Kedah.
It is very important for all Kedahans to come to our senses and not be overcome by emotions. We need to think wisely for the future of the state.
All the initiatives mentioned above are to enable us to prepare a strong foundation for the future generation as the world economy is rapidly changing. What we decide now will affect the future of the state, and also the future generation.
This is the time for us to work together to build the foundation of Kedah to diversify our economy and prepare the future generation for the coming challenges.
The writer is Kedah menteri besar