KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s speaker of parliament declared the 2021 budget passed on Thursday (Nov 26).
The Supply Bill was passed with a voice vote, based on lawmakers verbally indicating whether they support the budget or not. No bloc voting was held.
With the budget now approved at the policy stage, debate at the committee stage will take place from next week onwards until Dec 15.
During the committee stage, the budget for each ministry would be scrutinised in detail.
The vote on the Supply Bill has been largely seen as a confidence vote in Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government, which took over from the previous Pakatan Harapan in an abrupt political shift in March this year.
Mr Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition holds a very slim majority over the opposition.
The parliament has 222 seats but there are currently 220 MPs following the deaths of opposition MP Liew Vui Keong and Barisan Nasional (BN) MP Hasbullah Osman.
READ: While heeding calls for bipartisan effort towards budget 2021, Malaysia’s opposition says no blanket support for PN
The RM322.5 billion (US$79 billion) budget, the largest budget ever tabled in Malaysia, was presented in the parliament on Nov 6 as the country was reeling from the economic impact of COVID-19.
It was also the first Malaysian budget in which opposition members were consulted by the government in the run-up to the budget presentation. The Malaysian king has urged politicians from both sides of the political divide to support the budget for the sake of the people’s well-being and the country’s economic recovery.
KING THANKS LAWMAKERS FOR BACKING BUDGET
In a statement, King Al-Sutan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah thanked all lawmakers who supported the budget.
The statement, issued by palace comptroller Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin, said the support for passing the budget was welcomed by the king, to ensure the welfare and continuity of citizens’ lives, as well as the country’s economic recovery which has been affected by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The budget’s approval, the king added, was important to the government and authorities, especially those at the frontline, to continue and carry out policies and efforts to contain and defeat the pandemic’s spread.
“As Head of State, Al-Sultan Abdullah greatly respects every registered political party in this country. The king also appreciates the role and trust held by the MPs in defending the people’s welfare.
"In connection with that, the King greatly appreciates the commitment and spirit of consensus and linked arms of every member, as it is very important to maintain the momentum of economic recovery for shared well-being," the statement added.
The budget has seen an intense debate at the policy stage over different allocations including a proposed RM85.5 million (US$20.7 million) allocation for the government’s "propaganda arm", the Special Affairs Department (JASA).
Politicians in both the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition and BN, an ostensible ally in the PN coalition, have also called for certain provisions to be included in the budget.
From PH, politicians have demanded for six points to be included in the budget. One of them was extending the loan moratorium, which was implemented from April till September this year, until the end of the first quarter next year.
BN politicians, including former prime minister Najib Razak have also called for the moratorium, which is now implemented in a targeted manner, to be extended until the end of June 2021.
READ: BN's support for budget 2021 hinges on retirement fund withdrawal, loan moratorium extension, says Najib
The coalition's backbenchers club also called for Employees Provident Fund (EPF) account holders to be allowed to withdraw up to RM10,000 from their Account 1, which normally imposes strict conditions for early withdrawal.
Ahead of the voting, BN ministers and deputy ministers in Mr Muhyiddin’s Cabinet issued a joint statement on Tuesday proclaiming their support for Mr Muhyiddin, but also called for a general election to be held once the public health situation was under control.
PN Backbenchers Club also expressed its support to approve the budget.
On the other hand, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said he and "his friends" have decided to reject the budget.
RULES FOR PENSION FUND WITHDRAWAL RELAXED
In wrapping up the debate just before the vote on Thursday, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz announced that the pension fund withdrawal programme is now open to all members whose income has been affected by the pandemic.
The withdrawal limit has been raised to RM10,000 from the Account 1 of the EPF, he said, in a move that will benefit 8 million EPF members. Previously, the withdrawal limit was RM9,000 for those with an account balance below RM90,000.
The finance minister also announced that he has prepared a motion to reduce allocation for JASA, which the government announced earlier would be rebranded to Department of Community Communications (J-KOM).
It would be announced later during the committee stage debate, he added.
In a statement issued after the budget was passed, Mr Muhyiddin said the refinements were made after taking into consideration viewpoints from various parties, including MPs who participated in the debate.
"I wish to stress that the PN government is a government that has an open attitude in receiving any viewpoints, reprimands and criticism.
"May budget 2021 be the catalyst for the efforts in improving the people’s lives and the country," he said.