Malaysia’s debt reaches RM630.5bil
The Finance Ministry announced that the Federal Government’s debt has reached RM630.5 billion, equivalent to 54.4% of GDP, as at December 2015. RM609.1bil (96.6%) of the amount was domestic debt, while the rest is offshore debt. “The Government is committed to ensure that the Federal Government’s debt does not exceed 55% of GDP. Fiscal consolidation plans will be continuously carried out to reduce the deficit level in phases,” the MoF stated. (The Star Online)

Affin: Property sector could be reaching turning point
According to research house Affin Hwang Capital, the slowdown in the local property sector may have hit bottom, thus reaching an inflection point that could see a turnaround following three consecutive quarters of subdued transactions. Historically, over the past 10 years, the industry has only suffered at most, four quarters of negative growth (4Q2012 to 3Q2013). Affin also said it sees signs of an improving macro environment. Private consumption had rebounded to 4.9% in 4Q2015 from a low 4.1% in the third quarter. Payrolls also continued to expand, with the average wages of 4.6% year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2015 and 4% for 2015, while unemployment remained at a healthy 3.2%. (The Star Online)

BAT shuts down Malaysian plant
British American Tobacco (Malaysia) Bhd (BAT) has decided to close down its factory in Petaling Jaya and source tobacco products from its sister companies in the region. The closure follows BAT’s struggle with high sin taxes and a growing illegal market. Just a few weeks ago, fellow tobacco player JT International Bhd (JTI Malaysia) said the country had reached a tipping point in terms of the amount of tax the industry can absorb. The factory in Jalan Universiti will be closed in stages and completed by the second half of the year as part of a restructuring exercise. 230 workers will be let go with a benefits package and an option for a career transition programme. BAT plans to sell the factory land measuring over 49,000 sq m via public tender exercise. (The Edge Markets)

Mdec plans to make Malaysia a Big Data hub for ASEAN
Multimedia Development Corporation (Mdec) is planning to make Malaysia the ASEAN hub for Big Data Analytics (BDA) within the next five years. One of the main goals is to increase awareness on BDA and encourage adoption among business in the country this year. Malaysia already has a leading ecosystem when it comes to technological infrastructure in Asean, and the focus this year will be adoption, which will be pushed through a three-pronged key initiative plans namely in talent creation, the Big Data Week Asia 2016 (BDWA16) and the launch of the Asean Data Analytics Exchange (ADAX). (New Straits Times Online)

Guan Eng: Penang used Budget 2012 prices for affordable homes
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said that the prices for affordable housing capped at RM400,000 was according to the rates announced for Budget 2012. Lim produced news reports by Bernama to prove his point, after being accused by Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan of lying about the housing price cap set by the federal government. Lim also said that not all affordable housing units were priced at RM400,000; some were priced lower starting from RM120,000 up to RM400,000. (The Malay Mail Online)

HSL consortium wins RM750mil treatment plant contract
Hock Seng Lee Bhd’s (HSL) 75%-owned consortium has been awarded the a RM750 million contract for a wastewater treatment plant and sewer network project in Kuching, Sarawak. The project was awarded by the Sarawak state government through Jabatan Perkhidmatan Pembetungan Sarawak for the Kuching city central wastewater management system. It is expected to be completed and start commissioning in six years. (The Star Online)

Malaysia has consistently topped the ranks of Muslim tourism lists (Photo from Halaal Quest)

Malaysia has consistently topped the ranks of Muslim tourism lists (Photo from Halaal Quest)

Malaysia a favourite destination for Muslim tourists
Malaysia is now a favourite holiday destination for Muslims, especially those from the Middle East, due to its favourable culture, said Islamic Tourism Centre director-general Zulkifly Md Said. Malaysia was named the second best global shopping destination for Muslim travellers after Dubai by Crescent Rating and MasterCard in September last year. Malaysia was also declared the number one destination for Muslim travellers in the inaugural Global Muslim Travellers index in March 2015. A report by Thomson Reuters and the Dubai Islamic Economy Development centre ranked Malaysia the country with the best Islamic economy ecosystem for halal travel in 2014 and 2015. The country has the advantage of providing high quality accommodation, food and places to pray, among others. Many countries are now trying to provide shariah-compliant services and facilities to meet the growing needs of Muslim travellers, with some having halal tours and promoting religious tourism. (The Malay Mail Online)