If more withdrawals are allowed, EPF will be force to liquidate its holdings in equity and bonds, creating market uncertainties
Pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL
OF LATE, the issue of further i-Citra withdrawals continues to dominate. I get it that many have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. This was made worse by the floods where many Employees Provident Fund (EPF) contributors have had their property like houses and cars washed away. Hence, they are lobbying for the government to allow them withdraw what is their own savings to tide them over.
But I am not here to discuss the merits of the withdrawal. Much has been written about this and I believe we are all familiar with both sides of the argument.
What is perplexing, however, is the insistence of certain politicians to aggressively push for the government to allow the withdrawals.
People like Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki have been endlessly pressuring the government to allow further i-Citra withdrawals, purportedly to throw a lifeline at contributors drowning in challenges brought on by the pandemic and floods.
Surely experienced administrators like these Umno leaders know what kind of fallout such withdrawals will have on contributors and the country not just in the longrun, but in the short-term too.
It’s not just about contributors staring at the prospects of having insufficient savings upon retirement, even as Malaysia becomes an ageing population by 2030, which is just eight years from now. As it is, contributors have withdrawn around RM101 billion under i-Sinar, i-Lestari and i-Citra schemes.
But further withdrawals can undermine the equity and financial markets. As mentioned by Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz recently, EPF’s investments in the equity market is around 16% of the total market capitalisation which is approximately RM1.7 trillion.
Meanwhile, its investments in government bonds are around 26% (RM247 billion) of the total size of RM950 billion. EPF also holds 21% of corporate bonds (RM166 billion) with a size of RM791 billion.
If further withdrawals were allowed, EPF would be forced to liquidate its holdings in equity and bonds, both domestically and abroad, creating market uncertainties.
Investors’ confidence will fall, resulting in capital flight. In other words, those who withdrew from their EPF accounts would be worse off than before.
Now, why would experienced political leaders choose to go down this road? Surely with their decades of administrative experience, they would know what the decision would entail. If they know about the tailspin the economy will be going through, then this raises the question of whether this was their original intention all along?
Past experiences have shown that economic turmoil almost always results in political upheavals.
Are there sinister plots being hatched now to precipitate an economic turmoil?
These are many unanswered questions, which are not just conjectures but are based on past experiences and present realities. Because at the end of the day, no politician in his or her right mind would want to champion further i-Citra withdrawals, going by how it would adversely affect EPF contributors not just in the distant future, but in a matter of months or even weeks.
As rakyat, we need to be more discerning about the motivations of those who allegedly champion the plight of the people.
Sometimes, it’s worth wondering if these people are really concerned about how the national retirement funds are being used or about their own retirement, preferably free from any legal headaches.
- Choong Kah Howe Balakong
The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.