Opposition demands in Malaysia Budget, including $10b for SMEs: Anwar Ibrahim

KUALA LUMPUR – Several demands by opposition pact Pakatan Harapan (PH), including RM30 billion (S$9.7 billion) in aid for Malaysia’s small and medium-sized enterprises and targeted loan moratoriums, will be included in the government’s budget for next year, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim revealed Wednesday (Oct 27).

The Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president added that other policies such as including environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns as well as gender responsive budgeting in the administration of public funds were also tabled during “no less than 13 consultations” for Budget 2022 with the Finance Ministry.

“We did not ask Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz to account for all this on Friday (when tabling the budget) but to consider these when preparing the budget,” he said during PH’s press briefing on its proposals.

Detailing the coalition’s suggestions to “Recover and Build Back Better”, Democratic Action Party publicity chief Tony Pua explained that the amount allocated to SMEs would be part of a RM45 billion top up to the government’s Covid-19 Fund set up specifically for fighting the deadly pandemic and dealing with its economic fallout.

This quantum of increase was agreed in the historic confidence-and-supply agreement (CSA) inked between Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s administration and the main opposition pact last month, and approved in Parliament on Oct 11.

PH also wants the Covid-19 Fund to be channelled to wage subsidies (RM6 billion) geared towards creating new, higher paying jobs, upgrading public healthcare (RM4 billion) and cash handouts to ailing households (RM5 billion).

A targeted interest waiver would also be extended to the poorer half of Malaysians, said Mr Pua, who served in the Treasury when PH was in power for 21 months until early last year.

These items confirm a report by The Straits Times last week outlining PH’s key demands from the series of discussions with the federal administration ahead of the vote on next year’s budget, the first major test of Datuk Seri Ismail’s tenure since taking office in August.

Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu also pointed out that there was a misconception that “we have agreed to everything” and would not be playing the opposition’s role to act as a check and balance to government spending.

“We agree on the policy items, but we don’t control the execution. So that is the role of MPs to debate, and expose any corruption,” the former defence minister said.

“As usual, when you table the budget it all looks great. But the implementation, about whether public funds are used properly, this is where the opposition can play a role. I am confident the debate will be even more heated than before.”

The CSA was a key initiative by PM Ismail to bolster support and weaken the hold of uneasy allies in his ruling pact, which only controls 114 out of the 220 members of the federal legislature.

But Datuk Seri Anwar has cautioned that the unprecedented Memorandum of Understanding for Transformation and Political Stability deal inked last month was no guarantee that his four-party PH would support the budget, as their backing is contingent on concrete outcomes of the consultations with government.

PKR lawmaker Wong Chen, who was part of the PH negotiating team with the finance ministry, said “the feedback is that in principle they agreed to 90 per cent of our proposals.”

“But we have to see on Friday whether they are putting their money where their mouths are.”

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