The Malay Chamber of Commerce has joined widespread concern over a campaign by politicians led by former leader Najib Razak to pressure the government into letting people withdraw their savings from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), days after the retirement fund warned that Malays formed the majority of those who will face a financial crisis upon retirement.
The body which acts as a main lobby to protect Malay business interests in the country said more withdrawals from EPF were not only unrealistic, but a form of “exploitation of the people’s misery to score ugly political points”.
“After the two EPF i-Citra programmes allowing the withdrawal of savings from contributors’ Accounts 1 and 2 before their retirement, we urge the prime minister not to continue i-Citra for a third time on the pretext of easing the burden of flood victims or dealing with a new variant of Covid-19,” it said in a statement.
The government had introduced schemes such as i-Lestari, i-Sinar and i-Citra allowing EPF members to withdraw their savings to cushion the financial impact of the various movement control orders implemented to curb the Covid-19 pandemic.
But EPF said last month that the schemes had led to the outflow of RM101 billion involving 6.1 million members, leaving them with less than RM10,000 in their accounts, as well as some 3.6 million with less than RM1,000.
The rare statement from EPF warning of depleting funds came amid pressure from Najib and politicians aligned with him to allow another round of withdrawals.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has refused to entertain the requests, sparking scathing attacks by Najib on Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz.
“Don’t listen to the advice of the outdated PN finance minister,” he said, referring to the previous Perikatan Nasional government.
EPF’s data shows that a majority of those who made withdrawals were Bumiputeras.
“As a result, 4.4 million or 54% of Bumiputera members now have less than RM10,000, and two million or 25% have less than RM1,000,” the fund had said.
The Malay Chamber of Commerce said old-age poverty facing Malaysians was just as serious a crisis as natural calamities.
It said the two i-Citra withdrawal programmes had not succeeded in addressing the people’s financial hardships, and had only made them suffer more.
“Allowing withdrawals will not help the Bumiputeras either because although they make up the largest group of EPF contributors in terms of numbers, in terms of the value of their savings, they cannot be the target group to get help with i-Citra 3.0.”
It said there are other ways to help people in the wake of the financial crisis caused by Covid-19 and the recent floods.
It cited interest-free loans and a moratorium as announced by the government, whose implementation it said should be simplified.