LETTER | Risks of Budget 2021 being voted down

Julian Chua


LETTER | The country's largest-ever budget, at RM322.5 billion, has been tabled. It is no coincidence the unprecedented proposed mega-spending comes at one of the most critical junctures in the country's history.

The Covid-19 pandemic, and the trail of economic turmoil it left behind, has necessitated fiscal and monetary interventions unlike any we have ever seen before, whether in quantum or approach.

In healthcare alone, a whopping RM31.9 billion has been allocated. This will go into buying some of the most critical items in the fight for Covid-19, whether personal protection equipment (PPEs) for frontliners or kits to test for the coronavirus, just to state a few.

For cash aid to the B40 group, some 8.1 million Malaysians stand to benefit from the RM6.5 billion allocated under the Batuan Prihatin Rakyat (BRR) programme. This is up from the 4.3 million beneficiaries under the Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH), the predecessor to the BPR.

In terms of jobs creation, the Human Resources Ministry has been allocated RM4.134 billion for a social safety net, skills training and recruitment incentives. With unemployment rate climbing, these measures are set to provide relief to tens if not hundreds of thousands fired or retrenched due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The list of people-centric initiatives under Budget 2021 goes on and on. From jobs to healthcare to welfare and women's and entrepreneurship development, just about everyone gains from it, whether directly or indirectly through the spillover effect.

Be that as it may, it is not a given that Budget 2021 will enjoy a smooth passage through the legislature. Already, there are threats to vote down the bill unless amendments are made, such as redirecting the proposed RM85 million allocation for the Special Affairs Department (Jasa) to other more critical agencies.

Regardless of whether tweaks are made in the bill before it is put forward to a vote, here are some of the things that would happen if Budget 2021 fails to be passed:

  • Federal civil servants will not be paid salaries come January, including for many of the frontliners battling Covid-19

  • The various cash aid allocated to the B40 and M40 groups would be withheld, robbing them of an economic lifeline during such hard times

  • Vulnerable groups such as the handicapped and single mothers would be deprived of aid promised in Budget 2021

  • Retraining and re-skilling programmes to help Malaysians who lost their jobs would be put on hold

  • The cabinet would need to resign

  • A snap general election may be held, significantly elevating the risk of Covid-19 transmission, going by the Sabah polls experience

  • Capital flight as jittery investors, including foreign fund managers, look for more politically stable markets

  • The stock market will nose-dive, exacerbating the already weary economy

Are the above necessary, especially at a time when we need to rally around efforts to put the country's economy back on track? Do we really want to see the intended beneficiaries being deprived of the economic and social lifelines? Are we so heartless to let politics cloud our morality?

Much of the grouses on social media on Budget 2021 surround the allocation for Jasa. Of the RM322.5 billion in Budget 2021, the RM85 million allocation for the department is only 0.026 per cent. How would you feel if you are fired because of a 0.026 per cent deficiency in your KPI?

By all means, tweak the budget before it is put forward to a vote because that's what the legislature is there for. But there is really no need to cut our nose to spite our face just because we fail to see the big picture in what the most critical budget in recent times entails.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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