Vanity Car Plates Are Malaysia's Latest Revenue Strategy

(Bloomberg) -- As Malaysia grapples with its 1 trillion-ringgit ($252 billion) debt burden, it is banking on public support to raise funds via unconventional methods, from donations to a vanity plate auction.

The government will offer a series of car number plates bearing the country’s name, ranging from Malaysia 1 to Malaysia 9999, to “cultivate love for the country” while generating proceeds for the federal coffers, Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook said in a press statement Monday. Bidding will start on July 2 and run for two weeks, he said.

The move comes after the finance ministry set up a bank account called Tabung Harapan, or Hope Fund, to collect public donations that has amounted to 31.4 million ringgit in a country with 32 million population.

A previous V-series car number registration auction fetched 22.5 million ringgit in total, with bids for individual plates reaching up to 990,000 ringgit.

Local companies are also contributing, with Ewein Bhd. announcing it pitched in 1 million ringgit and Matrix Concepts Holdings Bhd. hosting a press briefing on Tuesday to say it is donating 3 million ringgit.

While the enthusiasm shows that Malaysians are voting with their wallets after doing so at the polls, the funds collected from the public may amount to a drop in the bucket compared to state liabilities.

After securing a surprise election win in May, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s cabinet looked through the nation’s accounts and raised alarm over debt that was nearly double than was previously disclosed by the previous administration. A number of liabilities, including guarantees on troubled state fund 1MDB’s borrowings, brought the total burden to 1 trillion ringgit, compared with the federal debt at 686.8 billion ringgit.

The government is now in the middle of cost-cutting measures including disbanding agencies, cutting ministerial salaries and canceling mega projects to meet its budget deficit target of 2.8 percent of gross domestic product in 2018.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.