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Hope Fund: Malaysians are 'patriotic millionaires', says academic

Bernama  |  Published:  |  Modified:

The overwhelming response to the government's crowdfunding initiative, Tabung Harapan Malaysia (THM) or Hope Fund, shows that the majority of Malaysians share the patriotic spirit.

"They can be billed as 'patriotic millionaires','' declared Associate Prof Nurhaizal Azam Arif, a lecturer in International Business and Multinational Enterprise at Hiroshima City University in Japan.

In the United States, the patriotic millionaire label was accorded to individuals who were willing to pay higher taxes or make financial contributions to amend inequalities in society, he told Bernama.

He said the fact that international credit agencies like Fitch have affirmed Malaysia's credit rating at 'A-' with a stable outlook proved that the government has the means to manage the nation's administration and pay its debts.

Nevertheless, the people still wanted to do their part to help the government settle its debts and hence, came about the THM initiative.

Launched by the Finance Ministry on May 30, THM was set up as a trust fund to enable the ministry to manage all contributions and donations in a systematic and transparent manner.

As at 3 pm on June 17, the fund's total collections stood at RM74,695,510.12.

Other similar initiatives

Last month, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng (photo) had disclosed that the federal government's actual debt and liabilities stood at RM1.087 trillion or 80.3 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, as of Dec 31 last year.

Nurhaizal Azam said the idea for the fund probably came about following public sympathy towards the new government which had to zero-rate the Goods and Services Tax to fulfil a pledge by Pakatan Harapan in its 2014 general election manifesto to abolish the GST.

"The people knew zero-rating the GST will lead to a reduction in income for the government. Besides that, Malaysians may have also wanted to help the government to settle the 1MDB debts without wasting revenue earned from income tax," he said.

Similar initiatives have also been carried out in other countries. In South Korea, for instance, during the Asian financial crisis in 1997 which brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy, the people donated their gold jewellery to help their government repay its loans.

The United States established a fund at the end of 2000 to collect "gift contributions" to reduce public debt. This fund still stands today.

On allegations from some quarters that the people are being pressured to contribute to THM, Nurhaizal Azam said there was no room for polemics as the idea of setting up such a fund came from the people themselves.

"The issue of them being coerced into contributing doesn't arise at all because it is entirely up to the individual to give a donation or not. Such debates even cropped up in the US as there were some who supported the fund while others didn't."

He said when people express their desire and willingness to help their country, factors like transparency and integrity would be topmost in their list of expectations of the government.

"A system of checks and balances will be in place if there's transparency of information which, in turn, will smoothen out the process of governing the nation.

"If the government is transparent, the people's trust and confidence will soar and they will grow more patriotic than ever and even be willing to make sacrifices for the country," he added.

Political fund

When asked for his views on THM, political analyst Md Shukri Shuib said the fund should, by right, be managed by the Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia (IRB) or monitored by Parliament through a special committee comprising MPs.

This is to avoid the impression that THM is just a "sensational political fund", he said, adding that in the next few years the fund's objectives can be enhanced for the betterment of the people and the nation.

Pointing to the tax exemption given to donations made to THM, he said it amounted to "one for the exchange of another" and feared that the fund would become an alternative to IRB.

"The taxation aspect is crucial to building a strong domestic economic system," he said, adding that he hoped the government would not use THM as a political gimmick.

"Pakatan Harapan is now governing this country, hence it should focus on the needs and welfare of the people and no longer play up political sentiments."

Young generation

International Islamic University Malaysia law lecturer Prof Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmod, meanwhile, said the establishment of the trust fund to help the government repay the nation's debts has inculcated a sense of responsibility in the young generation who, previously, probably did not care much about national issues.

"At least now the people have started thinking about what they can do for the country, rather than always expecting the government to give them something.

"However, the government still bears the responsibility of taking care of the people's welfare and maintaining peace and harmony in the country, in line with the mandate given to Pakatan Harapan following the 14th general election (on May 9)," he said.

Faizul Akmal Hassan, 39, a private-sector employee, said it was not THM that instilled patriotism and love for the country but the collective spirit of the people in wanting to give their best to the country which was a quality that cannot be bought with money.

"The rakyat's responsibility is not just to be keyboard warriors but to help improve this nation's image and (tell the world) that it is free from corruption, misappropriation of funds and abuse of power.

"I hope our new government will listen to us and take care of our well-being and give hope to the people," added Faizul Akman, who himself has contributed to THM.

--Bernama

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