KUALA LUMPUR: The opposition will only support the budget for 2021 tabled by the government if it really helps the people, said Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s leader Anwar Ibrahim on Monday (Nov 9) as he kicked off the budget debate in parliament.
In his speech, he stated that it is not clear how the current budget will help Malaysians amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have been asked to support this budget, which we were told would be a COVID-19 budget meant to help the people. Let me make it clear that we will only support this budget if it is indeed that and only that. I therefore move a motion for the Minister for Finance to please relook and reevaluate this,” he said.
This budget, which was tabled last Friday, is the first budget of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration.
There have been fears earlier that Members of Parliament (MP) would block the passage of the budget and turn it into a no-confidence vote against Mr Muhyiddin. The king had earlier urged MPs from both sides of the political divide to support the Bill.
Mr Anwar commented on Monday that the budget was “misleading” and claimed that it was benefiting cronies instead of the people.
“Yes I am aware that the king has asked us to support the budget, but his decree does not say support without debating.
“So I am urging for all the following to be considered, because unless this budget 2021 truly serves to help the people, we are not going to support it,” he said.
AMOUNT FOR COVID-19 FUND TOO SMALL
In his debate speech on Monday, Mr Anwar pointed out that only 5.3 per cent of the RM322.5 billion (US$78.2 billion) budget was directed to the COVID-19 Fund.
He was referring to the RM17 billion which Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz allocated to manage the current pandemic.
Mr Anwar urged the finance ministry to consider increasing the amount to RM36 billion, by shifting RM19 billion from the development expenditure to the COVID-19 Fund.
“Only 5.3 per cent, it does not make sense, given that budget 2021 has been referred to as COVID-19 budget. It was supposed to be benefiting the people, so this portion of allocation is clearly unreasonable.
“I urge the minister to reconsider and for RM19 billion from the development budget to be directly shifted into this fund. Of course, by this I do not mean stop all developments. All I am saying is that the scale of the development could be reduced to allocate more funds for COVID-19 measures,” he said.
Mr Anwar explained that the scale of projects such as the Pan-Borneo Highway could be reduced.
“I am not saying stop these projects, but if you bring down the scale for Pan-Borneo Highway for example, that money could be directed to helping the people in Sabah and Sarawak to manage the effects of the pandemic,” he stressed.
RECONSIDER RETIREMENT FUND WITHDRAWAL LIMIT
On the monthly withdrawal of RM500 from the Employees Retirement Fund (EPF), Mr Anwar urged the government to reconsider the limit.
“I am aware that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin himself is not to pleased by this (permission to withdraw from EPF) because he feels that the funds should be kept for future, for post-retirement, but what we need to address is that the fact people have turned to withdrawing their retirement funds means the government has failed to effectively help them.
“What it means is that they are so desperate, that they are pushed so far into making ends meet, that they need these withdrawals to help them get by these challenging times,” he said.
Mr Anwar then added that RM500 was an insufficient amount to help any family, especially those from the lower income groups.
“So, I urge for the government to reconsider this limit that has been imposed. More flexibility should be given so that people will be given better access to their own money,” he said.
As for the loan moratorium which has been extended for targeted groups, the Port Dickson MP said a blanket extension should be considered and stressed that the banks would not lose money.
“We are truthfully grateful for all the measures announced by the ministry with regards to this, but the truth is, it is very limited. Maybe it is difficult for those earning in millions to empathise with those earning only RM 3,000 a month.
As of Nov 8, Malaysia has a total of 40,209 COVID-19 cases, of which 11,689 were active.
BUDGET SHOULD BE “MORE REALISTIC”: MAHATHIR
In a Facebook post, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad called for the budget to be modified so that it is “more realistic”.
He said that the pandemic requires more money to be spent by the government, but it has also affected the revenue for the government.
The Pejuang party leader wrote: “The question that I would like to ask is where the money will come from. The deficit is said to be about RM85 billion. It is bigger than the development budget of RM69 billion.”
“I suppose the government will have to borrow to implement the budget. This is estimated to increase government debt to RM1.3 trillion. That is a lot of money. If you fail to service loans, you may be bankrupted,” he said.
He called for the salaries of MPs and ministers to be reduced.
“I think people earning high salaries in the government or private sector should forgo 10 per cent of their salaries. It is a sacrifice but I don’t think it would hurt them if there is a reasonable cut-off point, say RM20,000 per month”.
The money should be used to provide food to the unemployed and those without income, he suggested.
Dr Mahathir added: “I hope this budget would be modified in order to become more realistic. Then we can support it. We need not be bribed for our support. We do not want to precipitate a crisis.”