Malaysia’s parliament passes 2021 budget

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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s speaker of parliament declared the 2021 budget passed on Thursday (Nov 26).

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The Supply Bill was passed with a voice vote, based on lawmakers verbally indicating whether they support the budget or not. No bloc voting was held.

With the budget now approved at the policy stage, debate at the committee stage will take place from next week onwards until Dec 15.

During the committee stage, budget for each ministry would be scrutinised in detail.

The vote on the Supply Bill has been largely seen as a confidence vote in Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government, which took over from the previous Pakatan Harapan in an abrupt political shift in February and March this year.

Mr Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition holds a very slim majority over the opposition.

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The parliament has 222 seats but there are currently 220 MPs following the deaths of opposition MP Liew Vui Keong and Barisan Nasional (BN) MP Hasbullah Osman.

The RM322.5 billion (US$79 billion) budget, the largest budget ever tabled in Malaysia, was presented in the parliament on Nov 6 as the country was reeling from the economic impact of COVID-19.

It was also the first Malaysian budget in which opposition members were consulted by the government in the run-up to the budget presentation. The Malaysian king has urged politicians from both sides of the political divide to support the budget for the sake of the people’s well-being and the country’s economic recovery.

The budget has seen an intense debate at the policy stage over different allocations including a proposed RM85.5 million (US$20.7 million) allocation for the government’s “propaganda arm”, the Special Affairs Department (JASA).

Politicians in both the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition and BN, an ostensible ally in the PN coalition, have also called for certain provisions to be included in the budget.

Malaysia budget (2)
This handout photo from Malaysia’s Department of Information taken and released on November 6, 2020 shows Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (left) and Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz (right) posing for pictures with the national 2021 budget after unveiling at the parliament in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo: Malaysia Department of Information/AFP/Nazri Rapaai) 

From PH, politicians have demanded for six points to be included in the budget. One of them was extending the loan moratorium, which was implemented from April till September this year, until the end of the first quarter next year.

BN politicians, including former prime minister Najib Razak have also called for the moratorium, which is now implemented in a targeted manner, to be extended until the end of June 2021.

The coalition’s backbenchers club also called for Employees Provident Fund (EPF) account holders to be allowed to withdraw up to RM10,000 from their Account 1, which normally imposes strict conditions for early withdrawal.

Ahead of the voting, BN ministers and deputy ministers in Mr Muhyiddin’s Cabinet issued a joint statement on Tuesday proclaiming their support for Mr Muhyiddin, but also called for a general election to be held once the public health situation was under control.

PN Backbenchers Club also expressed its support to approve the budget.

On the other hand, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said he and “his friends” have decided to reject the budget.

Veteran BN lawmaker Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has chosen to abstain from budget debate as long as the legitimacy of Mr Muhyiddin and his Cabinet is not tested.

RULES FOR PENSION FUND WITHDRAWAL RELAXED

In wrapping up the debate just before the vote on Thursday, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz announced that the pension fund withdrawal programme is now open to all members whose income has been affected by the pandemic.

The withdrawal limit has been raised to RM10,000 from the Account 1 of the EPF, he said, in a move that will benefit 8 million EPF members. Previously, the withdrawal limit was RM9,000 for those with an account balance below RM90,000.

The finance minister also announced that he has prepared a motion to reduce allocation for JASA, which the government announced earlier would be rebranded to Department of Community Communications (J-KOM).

It would be announced later during the committee stage debate, he added.

-CNA

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