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Relief for nation

Concerns that the RM322.5b Budget might be blocked proved unfounded

27 Nov 2020 / 16:04 H.

KUALA LUMPUR: The majority of MPs gave Budget 2021 the nod yesterday, signalling a major relief for the nation as much as it is a political redemption for Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

However, sentiments on the ground to Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) maiden budget has been mixed.

While some analysts gave it the thumbs up, others prefer to wait and see how it will take the nation out of the current economic doldrums before giving their approval.

Concerns that the RM322.5 billion budget that was tabled by Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz, a non-politician and newcomer to the government, might not see the light of day proved unfounded.

An attempt to call for a bloc vote fell through when it could garner the support of only 13 MPs, two short of the required number.

There were several improvements, made in response to suggestions raised by MPs during the nearly three-week debate, compared with the original draft.

Asian Strategic Leadership Institute chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said passing the budget was a wise move. He believes the majority of the MPs had heeded the advice of Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah to not add to the crisis the country is facing now.

However, the veteran economist pointed out that the budget must also achieve the desired goals. “As we say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” he told theSun.

Ramon also proposed that a special monitoring system be set up by a parliamentary select committee to safeguard against corruption. “There is a lot of doubt in the public mind about the government’s ability to spend efficiently,” he said.

Constitutional lawyer Lim Wei Jiet and academic Prof James Chin singled out the high allocation for the Special Affairs Department (Jasa) as a problem.

“The PN government has not shown any sign that it was backing down despite so much opposition to the RM85.5 million allocation for Jasa,” he said.

Chin, who is director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, expressed concern that while Jasa will be rebranded, there could still be “some sort of a propaganda unit”.

President and chief executive officer of Emir Research Malaysia Datuk Dr Rais Hussin said the most important factor that should be considered is stability.

“With the Covid-19 pandemic causing nationwide chaos, stability is most important if we want to overcome the challenges it has brought. If the approved 2021 budget meets the objective of providing such stability to the people, then it is a good thing,” he told theSun.

The important thing now, he said, is for politicians to stop the politicking and focus on the people’s needs.

Meanwhile, businesses have taken a more cautious approach in their response to the budget.

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said the real issue that needs to be discussed further is the moratorium on loan repayments.

“It is good that the moratorium will be automatically extended for those who are affected by the pandemic. However, it is also important that we review the applications that have been rejected by the banks,” he said.

Small and Medium Enterprises Association Malaysia secretary Yeoh Seng Hooi pointed out that the last moratorium had already expired in September and many SMEs have already resumed payments.

“If the SMEs have already restructured or rescheduled their loans, they would also be paying the amounts that they can afford,” he pointed out.

“It is already November. Unless the banks are going to credit our accounts for payments made in October and November, the effect of the moratorium is just symbolic,” he added.

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