Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you, Tan Sri Tong Kooi Ong and The Edge, for inviting me to this evening’s gala dinner to recognise and celebrate the best-performing companies on Bursa Malaysia.

Since The Edge Billion Ringgit Club began in 2010, I understand that last year was the only year that the awards ceremony could not be held due to strict containment measures to beat Covid-19.

In fact, I attended many Billion Ringgit Club award ceremonies before, when I was still in the banking industry and later as the group CEO of a regional bank. It is therefore a pleasure to be able to once again gather for this awards ceremony in this manner, just two months since the Klang Valley moved into Phase Four of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) on Oct 18.

There is something about face-to-face meetings that communicates ideas more clearly to build trust, something most took for granted previously but has been sorely missed since Covid-19 started.

Being a former banker and banking CEO not too long ago, I remember and fully understand the difference a handshake can make in business deals as well as expectations to deliver strong performance quarter after quarter, year after year. Prestigious corporate awards such as The Edge Billion Ringgit Club not only recognise pure profits, shareholder returns, but also acknowledge corporate responsibility initiatives that contribute to strong sustainable performance, all of which inspire others to achieve more.

All of you know the fiscal impact that Covid-19 has had on governments around the world. Global debt jumped 14% to a record high of US$226 trillion in 2020, with public debt rising to US$88 trillion, or close to 100% of GDP.

Malaysia’s debt burden had already exceeded RM1 trillion before the pandemic when the government had to implement a series of stimulus and recovery packages totalling RM530 billion, of which RM83 billion or about 5.6% of GDP was direct fiscal injection.

At RM332 billion, Budget 2022 is not only the country’s largest to date, but one that is highly focused on the rakyat’s well-being, businesses’ resilience as well as economic prosperity and sustainability.

From the businesses’ viewpoint, Covid-19 may have been a nightmare for business continuity, causing many plans to be sent back to the drawing board. But what is most important is how it has encouraged all of us to build back better and stronger.

We must all emerge from Covid-19 a better, stronger version of ourselves with the aid of new technology, and our experience from new ways of working and living.

Building back better: ESG,SDGs and Keluarga Malaysia

Ladies and gentlemen,

In building back better, we need to embed into our operations not just ESG principles, but also the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) like building resilient infrastructure, fostering innovation as well as promoting decent work, sustainable industrialisation and inclusive growth. I am pleased to share that the Ministry of Finance (MoF) has begun mapping its measures to the UN SDGs and ESG considerations since my first budget tabled in 2021.

Related to that, I note that even The Edge’s Responsible Business annual magazine has evolved into what is simply called ESG, with a focus on the “Investing Revolution” for this year’s issue, to reflect how ESG awareness has grown rapidly and is fast developing into global best practices of more and more industries.

And this is where I would like to highlight how the government’s Keluarga Malaysia concept is, in essence, the operationalisation of ESG and the SDG goals. Its concept is both cogent and intuitive: that family members ought to support one another, especially in times of need.

Indeed, if there’s one silver lining in the Covid-19 cloud, it is the fact that in many countries, both the government and private sector have realised how ESG considerations can help reduce the wealth and digital gap to secure a more stable society in future.

So, it is good to know that many Malaysian corporates — particularly those that represent the Billion Ringgit Club present here today — have also begun mapping their growth plans to the SDG and ESG concepts.

This makes commercial sense, too, because investors are increasingly looking beyond profits, to ensure their investments also result in more widespread and equitable socioeconomic and environmental benefits for the communities in which their investee companies operate.

Taxes: Literal livesavers during the pandemic

Ladies and gentlemen,

As Corporate Malaysia’s Billion Ringgit Club members, I am sure lessons from the pandemic are already turned into opportunities and fresh competitive advantage, guided by ESG principles, to build resilience for future shocks.

In relation to that, I have been informed that this year’s 186 members of The Edge Billion Ringgit Club paid some RM23 billion in taxes to the government from RM69 billion profits made in 2020. This is sizeable, considering corporate tax collection was RM50 billion last year. For this, I sincerely thank all the taxpayers here for helping us to help, among others, the B40 households or micro/SME businesses in need of working capital. Equally important is how we have used your taxes to ramp up vaccination and support our public healthcare system.

In relation to this, I do realise I may not be popular among the Billion Ringgit Club members of Corporate Malaysia right now because of Cukai Makmur announced in Budget 2022.

Let me reassure all of you that Cukai Makmur is a one-off corporate tax on profits above RM100 million for assessment year 2022. The government recognises that big corporates have been diligently paying taxes, investing or reinvesting and contributing to Malaysia’s economic development on top of hiring, training, nurturing and keeping Malaysia’s talent.

Nonetheless, I strongly believe that all of us sitting here are truly privileged to further share the collective responsibility of ensuring that the nation recovers quickly, including in helping the nation to procure booster shots for 140% of our population. This is to ensure that our socioeconomic growth and development can be back on track as outlined in our 12th Malaysia Plan.

My promise to all of you is that the Ministry of Finance will disclose how taxes collected from the additional step up to 30% for just one year goes to aid the people and the economy. In fact, we have been issuing a weekly report on stimulus and budget measures’ spending and outcome through the National Economic Implementation and Strategic Coordination Agency (Laksana) since April last year, and I am pleased to share that, next week, we will be issuing our 80th Laksana Report.

Malaysia’s recovery: Constant engagement is key

Ladies and gentlemen,

This government believes in healthy and regular engagement with Corporate Malaysia to yield the best outcome for the country’s economy. Tell us how we can help you perform better because that is key to the country’s recovery.

In fact, we are already seeing green shoots of recovery, like unemployment numbers coming in at 4.3% in October 2021 compared to 5.3% in May 2020; and GDP growth of 3% for 9M2021 versus a 6.4% contraction for 9M2020 — all in line with the reopening of most economic and social sectors. This means that we are on track to achieve 3% to 4% projected GDP growth for 2021.

Moving forward, the government is ready to support corporate efforts towards shared prosperity as Malaysia endeavours to achieve between 5.5% and 6.5% GDP growth for next year. Let us work together to ensure that the country, businesses and our people can stand resilient and strong in the face of future challenges.

Last but not least, I would like to congratulate all those who will be receiving awards tonight. To the nation’s corporate family, thank you for supporting the government in saving and supporting lives and livelihoods. I am confident that, together, all of us here can do so much in the spirit of #KeluargaMalaysia.

To The Edge and all guests, thank you for having me and enjoy the evening!