Sweetened budget passes policy stage

‘Goodies’ include withdrawals of RM10,000 from Account 1 by all affected EPF contributors

pic by BERNAMA

THE budget proposal was passed in Parliament at policy level yesterday, with little effort despite expectation that it would be contested by the Opposition.

The Supply Bill (Budget) 2021 was passed by voice vote, after only 13 MPs stood up, short of the minimum 15, to ask for bloc voting.

The ease in which the bill was passed was a contrast to the heated arguments that preceded it during the winding-up speech by the finance minister.

When asked by Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun for the lower house to pass the Supply Bill, 13 MPs stood up to oppose the motion. However, the number is not enough to declare a bloc vote, which requires support from 15 MPs.

Among those who stood up were former Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is leader of still-unregistered Parti Pejuang Tanah Air.

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim later said he had asked Opposition MPs not to oppose the budget at this stage because there were some improvements since the budget was first tabled on Nov 6.

Critics of the government had projected that the vote on the Supply Bill was a confidence vote for PM Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration which took over in March and is seen to be holding on to a slim majority in the 222-seat Parliament.

The government has proposed its biggest expenditure for the country in the 2021 budget amounting to RM322.5 billion, about RM30 billion higher than allocated for 2020.

Operating expenditure will account for 73.3% or RM236.5 billion of the total expenditure, while development expenditure will be at RM69 billion or 21.4%. About RM17 billion or 5.3% also will be reserved for the Covid-19 Fund.

In his winding-up speech, Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz  (picture) appealed to both sides of the House to approve the budget despite differences.

He announced several sweeteners including the government allowing all contributors to the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) who are affected by the pandemic to withdraw up to RM10,000 from their Account 1.

The government is also proposing to pay a one-off Covid-19 bonus to more frontliners, including non-medical officers, such as policemen and soldiers, who will be receiving RM300.

The additional allocation was given after several quarters, including Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services Malaysia, requested for the government to extend the RM500 one-off payment announced in the budget earlier, which only benefit 100,000 medical officers.

To encourage digital transaction, the government will also increase the one-off RM50 e-wallet credit to RM100. Targeted for those aged between 18 and 20, this will be extended to university students above 20.

Addressing the small and medium enterprises (SMEs), tax exemption for landlords who provide rental reduction to SMEs will be extended for another six months until March 2021.

The one-off payment of RM500 for 40,000 retired policemen who received the “Pingat Jasa Pahlawan Negara” will also be extended to retired and former policemen, doubling the number of recipients to 80,000 and cost RM40 million.

Tengku Zafrul also made a remark on reducing the allocation made for the Department of Special Affairs, or JASA, which came at RM85.85 million during the budget tabling and has been one of the highly-debated topics at Dewan Rakyat.

Meanwhile, the EPF said the details of i-Sinar facility will be unveiled early next week, following the announcement by Tengku Zafrul.

The fund said it will cover the eligibility criteria of members who suffered significant impact to their income which includes loss of employment or reduction of pay.

“The fund anticipates that eligible members who fit the criteria can begin applying for i-Sinar from mid-December 2020, with the first payout beginning a month after their application is approved,” it said in a statement.