Pleasant surprises in Budget 2020 on wellbeing, especially for women


THE few surprises and allocations announced in Budget 2020, particularly schemes and programmes that are dedicated for women, have been receiving positive feedback and good impression from various parties.

The National Council of Women’s Organisation education committee co-chairperson Dr Sharifah Syahirah Syed Sheikh said Budget 2020 is considerate towards women’s wellbeing by introducing more incentives to encourage women to earn and return to the workforce.

However, she said it is rather inaccurate to say that only 52% of women are working when what it really meant was, the percentage only represents those who are earning. She also lauded the plan of ensuring all mothers to receive 90 days’ leave instead of 60 days, but the government needs to urge all employers to adopt the family-friendly policy.

“Most private sector, and sadly the government-linked companies still refused to follow the government’s policy of giving 90 days maternity leave. I hope fathers too get more paternity leave, as mothers need their husbands during the confinement period,” she said.

As for the RM30 million allocation for nurseries, Sharifah Syahirah said the quality childcare centres are needed and they must be equipped with qualified caretakers, basic facilities and food supplies.

Regarding the “i-Suri” programme for full-time housewives, Sharifah Syahirah said that although 2% is still small, it is a good start. Under the “i-Suri” programme, husbands have the option to voluntarily contribute 2% of their monthly 11% Employees Provident Fund (EPF) remittance to their wives’ “i-Suri” accounts.

The government recently announced that the study on making it mandatory would take three years.

Sharifah Syahirah added that the allocation of RM10 million for the government’s “Rahmatan Lil-Alamin” initiative is a good move.

“I hope there will be a substantive allocation from RM10 million to revisit and train religious officers as well as the Muslim society on women’s rights, as well as to eliminate all discriminatory teaching and practices,” she said.

Earlier last year, the United Nations-committee of Women Convention gave negative concluding remarks on Muslim women’s status as being two steps backwards due to the patriarchal and discriminatory interpretation of Islam.

Sunway University Business School economist Prof Dr Yeah Kim Leng said that the theme — “Driving Growth and Equitable Outcomes towards Shared Prosperity” — is manifested schemes that particularly help ease the cost of living for the low-income groups.

On bringing women back into the workforce, Yeah said low female labour participation rate has been identified as one of the key constraints to achieving a higher level of growth and development for the country.

The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs senior fellow Dr Carmelo Ferlito said the message to enhance Malaysia’s digital economy is good for the people but it comes with a new digital tax, which seems contradictory.

“It will depend on how the economic environment will react to the combination of incentive schemes and the new digital tax,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

Ferlito is in favour of the accent on education, the opening of the housing market and the attempt of being inclusive, particularly towards women who might have temporarily left the workforce to become mothers and wish to come back.

On the “Rent-to-Own” scheme, Ferlito also said it can present some opportunities but at the same time, people should avoid getting overexposed with debt.

“I understand the desire to help first-time homebuyers, but providing easy credit to those who cannot afford the 10% down payment is putting them more at risk of financial instability in the long run instead of helping them.

“The same goes for the youth financing as the desire to help them purchasing a house should not be stronger than the imperative of avoiding overexposure,” he said.

The extent of carrying out Budget 2020 coherently and free from any forms of misconduct practises for the wellbeing of the people remains vital.