Mahathir reserves stand on budget 2021, says he is not confident that current plan will help pandemic

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KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said that he will reserve his stand on whether to support or reject budget 2021, while asserting that the current proposed allocations were not “wholesome” enough to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“I reserve myself and my party from supporting or otherwise the Perikatan Nasional government’s budget 2021.

“I hope the constructive suggestions made in this chamber will be given a place in budget 2021,” the chairman of Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) said while wrapping up his 30-minute on the budget in the parliament.

In a press conference following his debate, Dr Mahathir told reporters that his support for the budget would be dependent on whether or not constructive suggestions are added into the final budget.

“We have not reached the end of the debates. I am confident constructive suggestions will be given. If it is all taken into consideration, then we can consider supporting.

“As of now though, we are not confident that budget 2021 is wholesome enough to help the pandemic we are facing,” he said.

Asked on whether this meant his support for the budget was conditional, he said: “Well, I need to hear the conditions first, then we will see.”

Dr Mahathir was formerly the chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, until he was removed from the party along with several other federal lawmakers.

Dr Mahathir then founded Pejuang, a Malay-based party, in August. It now has four Members of Parliament (MP) after Dr Maszlee Malik quit the party early this month, while Mr Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said he would form a youth-centric party instead.

In his debate on Thursday, Dr Mahathir questioned the reasoning behind giving a small fraction of the RM322.5 billion (US$77.9 billion) budget to COVID-19 vaccine when bigger allocations were given to other departments and ministries.

“I see that only RM3 billion has been allocated for the COVID-19 vaccine. This is only one per cent of the total budget. How is this amount sufficient, when this budget is supposed to be a COVID-19 budget?

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“It also was noticed that the allocation for the Prime Minister’s Department was increased from RM7.9 billion in 2020 to RM11.7 billion in this budget. Also the increase for special projects to RM1 billion from the previous RM100 million. What is the need to spend RM125 million on the Angkasapuri complex?” he said, referring to the building that houses the headquarters of Malaysia’s national broadcaster.

The Langkawi MP stressed that all these allocations need to be postponed and added that there should be more focus on handling the pandemic.

“Among the things that could be done is to increase the allocation for (COVID-19) testing. Instead of enforcing a nationwide conditional movement control order, it should be enforced only where there are clusters. In these areas, everyone should be isolated and tested.

“This way, those who are healthy will continue to be productive and in that way contribute to the economy. Yes I know (swab) testing costs a lot of money, but the government would be able to make back at least half of the expense if they allow those who are healthy to work and travel,” he said.

BEST TO LET BANKS DECIDE ON LOAN MORATORIUM EXTENSION

Separately on conditions by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club chairman Najib Razak on the extension of loan moratorium and the increase of retirement fund withdrawal limits, Dr Mahathir said he would need to look into these issues.

“The moratorium does not involve the government. It is not the government’s money, it is the bank’s so if the bank thinks it is something that will benefit the country they should visit the idea of extending the moratorium.

“As for the increase of Employee Provident Fund (EPF) withdrawal limit, we will look into it,” he said.

Mr Anwar, when debating the budget on Monday, had said that his support for the budget was subject to the condition of the government extending the loan moratorium and increasing the EPF withdrawal limit.

He was echoed by Najib who on Tuesday said that the loan moratorium should be extended to Jun 30, 2021 and that the EPF withdrawal limit should be increased to RM10,000 one-off as opposed to RM500 monthly for 12 months.

Debates on the budget are scheduled to end on Dec 15.

-CNA

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