Lawmakers, researchers, analysts and the general public alike view the budget with a mixture of optimism and scepticism
by AFIQ HANIF
BUDGET 2023 is getting mixed reviews from lawmaker, researcher, analyst and public alike following its tabling in the Parliament last Friday by Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz.
Talent executive Robert Tse said the allocation of RM1.3 billion to widen the 5G Internet coverage nationwide echoed with the pace of digitalisation that has been intensified nationwide.
“At the same time, the allocation also raises the urgency for reskilling and upskilling of the workforce to meet with the demands of accelerated digital transformation.
“I applaud the government’s focus in narrowing the connection gap through initiatives such as the allocation of funding to certain projects to fill the growing needs of the ICT industry and funding for the Higher Education Ministry to encourage further upskilling and professional certification for new graduates,” he said when met by The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently.
For secretary Mariani Abdul Muin, the expansionary measures set out in Budget 2023 clearly outline the government’s strategy in elevating the employability of the Malaysian workforce and developing relevant skillsets that match emerging jobs, especially in the digital space.
“This will greatly shape the future of work in Malaysia and its economic resilience moving forward,” she said.
However, project manager Lim Sze Ng questioned the source for government’s income next year when Tengku Zafrul announced there will be tax cuts.
“How will the tax changes announced by the minister today help the government to gain income?” he asked.
During the budget tabling last week, Tengku Zafrul said the revenue collection is estimated at RM272.6 billion, a slight drop in revenue collection compared to 2022’s revised revenue projection of RM285 billion.
According to the government projection, the revenue collection approximately at RM273 billion compared to this year’s revised revenue projection of RM285 billion showed a drop in revenue collection.
Subang MP Wong Chen is also seeking more clarifications from the government on the nation’s operating expenditure (opex) when they are lowering it down by a total of RM12 billion.
“Are subsidies being actively cut for 2023? We need clarification from the government,” he tweeted.
NGO researcher Suhail Wan Azahar said the budget presented is not really a recovery budget but an election budget.
“Yes, I agree there are elements that if used properly can assist the economy to prosper, but that is a given since you are pumping money into the economy,” he said.
He said, based on Budget 2022, approximately 35.7% of government spending came from income tax but 25% went to emoluments such as government workers and ministers’ salary.
“For next year, government has doubled spending for social assistance and subsidies — from just 5.2% under Budget 2022 to 11.3% under next year’s opex, a no surprise moves as it is already anticipated given the proximity of the general election,” he said.
For tech entrepreneur Reza Razali, only one word could describe Budget 2023.
“Nothing!” his response to TMR in an interview.
Meanwhile, financial analyst Dr R Siva Prakash said the tax budget will quickly amount to over RM372 billion and there are questions about whether the country can afford this as the budget variance is another jump on year-on-year deficit for Malaysia.
“Finance, Education and Health Ministries are the top three recipients. It seems like the government got the priorities right as usual and surprisingly, the budget is also prepared to please the middle 40% income household group (M40),” he said.
He added that as much as he welcomed the financial support towards the M40 and the bottom 40% income group, he is perplexed to witness the lack of long-term solutions for the people.
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime,” he quoted philosopher Lao Tzu.
Siva viewed this budget as a sugar-coat to gain political mileage for the anticipated general election, nothing more and nothing less.
Commenting on the continued incentive for the National Higher Education Fund Corp (PTPTN), student leader Aliff Naif said the news is a great opportunity for working adults to settle their debts.
“I believe working adults with a fixed income should take advantage of this initiative. The discounts for loan repayments are welcome news for PTPTN borrowers who have stable employment,” he said.
“They should make use of the 15% discount for repayment via salary deduction or direct debit on a pre-determined schedule to create a consistent payback schedule,” he told TMR.
Echoing the same sentiment, university student Rafiq Shahmie said the discounts would encourage borrowers who lost their jobs or have had their income cut due to the Covid-19 pandemic to continue with their scheduled repayments.
“Although we are now in the post-pandemic period, there are still many people who are out of jobs. Whereas, those who manage to retain their jobs either have to endure pay cuts or unpaid over-time,” he said.
He wished the discounts can ease their financial burden and enable them to cope with their scheduled payments while they secure a new job.
During the budget tabling, Tengku Zafrul announced three forms of discounts to encourage and facilitate loan repayment for PTPTN borrowers.
Among it were borrowers who make a full settlement from Nov 1, 2022, to April 30, 2023, will get a 20% discount on their outstanding balance.