Thursday, September 23, 2021

Looking beyond Parliament’s political theatrics

The government has committed to pulling out all the stops to cushion the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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What would you do if you were given RM16,500 over a period of 18 months? For most Malaysians, a lot. Especially during these economically troubling times brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since March 2020, the government has allocated some RM530 billion in eight economic stimulus packages to help prop up the economy and thrown a lifeline at its people, particularly the vulnerable groups. If the amount were to be distributed equally among Malaysia’s 32 million population, each of us would be getting around RM16,500.

Granted, not all the monies allocated by the government are direct fiscal injection. Some are in the form of subsidies, waived taxes or other indirect aid. But these do not diminish the government’s commitment to pull out all the stops to cushion the blows this global pandemic has inflicted on our economy.

The stimulus packages, namely Prihatin, Prihatin PKS, Penjana, KitaPrihatin, Permai, Pemerkasa, Pemerkasa+ and Pemulih, have helped keep the country’s head above the water as Covid-19 sweeps through the world, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

But it is easy to lose sight of the government’s efforts to mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19, especially with the spectacle of yet another acrimonious parliamentary sitting. We are drawn to the notion that political theatrics equal governance paralysis. The truth is that the government has dug deep into its pockets to splurge in an unprecedented fashion to help tide Malaysians over.

By any standards, RM16,500 per capita in the cumulative stimulus packages is massive, even if some of it is indirect aid.

The finance ministry’s Unit for the Implementation and Coordination of National Agencies on the Economic Stimulus Package (Laksana), in its latest report, shows that these packages contributed 22.7% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) which is comparable to other developed countries and higher than regional developing countries.

In the UK, stimulus packages contributed some 24.6% of GDP in 2020, New Zealand 22.4%, and the US 17.7%. In this region, Singapore contributed 19.3% of its GDP while countries like China, Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan, contributed below 10%. In other words, Malaysia’s stimulus packages exceed many other countries’ in scope and size.

Just to cite a few examples, the Malaysian government allocated RM7 billion in cash handouts to the economically troubled group under Bantuan Prihatin Rakyat, and a further RM18 billion under Bantuan Prihatin Nasional. This brings the cumulative amount dished out under both schemes to a whopping RM25 billion, a quantum and reach unprecedented in our history!

Since January this year, over 700,000 food baskets have been distributed to underprivileged households, worth RM150 million. Recently, the government allocated a further RM300,000 for each of the country’s 222 parliamentary constituencies for the food basket programme. This is expected to benefit over 600,000 households nationwide.

The country’s economic stimulus packages are not just reaching out to the ordinary Malaysians. Small, medium and micro enterprises have also been beneficiaries.

For example, the government’s wage subsidy programme saved 2.7 million jobs costing the government RM20.5 billion, involving some 330,000 employers. In the latest instalment of the programme announced under Pemulih, even those earning more than RM4,000 a month are eligible, something not available in earlier schemes.

This is expected to benefit 2.5 million workers, costing the government RM3.8 billion. With the removal of the salary cap, employers will be incentivised to retain workers in the M40 or even the T20 groups.

The government has also thrown a lifeline to small, medium and micro enterprises via the Geran Khas Prihatin). Some one million had benefited from the grant totalling RM5.08 billion.

With its “no one left behind” approach, all Malaysians are beneficiaries, whether directly or otherwise, of the largest government stimulus packages the country has ever seen. It is easy to lose sight of this, what with the political mudslinging that has hogged our headlines, especially now that Parliament is back in session.

Lest this slip our memory again, it’d be useful to remember that the government has allocated at least RM16,500 for each and every Malaysian to help see us through this pandemic.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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