KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government has taken a new, inclusive approach towards budget 2021, which included consultations with the opposition, and this is “for the benefit of all”, said Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Saturday (Nov 7).
Mr Muhyiddin, who was speaking in an exclusive interview with Malaysian television channel Astro Awani, was asked to comment on the government's decision to seek input from opposition lawmakers on the formulation of this budget, the first time in the country’s history.
Mr Muhyiddin said: "I would like to view this new approach as something which is for the benefit of us all. It's not the government's budget, it's a budget for the people."
He said that the government was keen to gain different input from all over the country, and this included consulting opposition leader for their views and perspectives.
"We are open minded. We are inclusive in our approach to this budget. We admit that we don't know everything, and we want input from everyone including the opposition," said Mr Muhyiddin.
"To adopt an inclusive approach is a good thing. It doesn't matter who, even if they are opposition, but we listen and consider. If they are good ideas, we can consider them," he added.
READ: Malaysia’s economy projected to grow up to 7.5% next year, says government as it tables expansionary 2021 budget
The prime minister also outlined that this was "just the first step" in involving the opposition to help the government overcome issues faced by the people.
Mr Muhyiddin said he would like to invite opposition leaders to be part of the country's Economic Action Council, which he chairs, as well as invite them to contribute to the government's special meetings on how to combat COVID-19.
"(This is) an opportunity for the opposition to give their views. If they say these steps (the government have formulated) are not effective, I want to hear their suggestions. It's not a question of giving them credit but it's for the benefit of the people," said Mr Muhyiddin.
"We will take one step at a time. But what's most important is the plight of the people, not political issues. What's important now is COVID-19 and economic revival," he added.
This was Mr Muhyiddin’s first interview on national television since the 2021 national budget was tabled on Friday afternoon by Minister of Finance Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz.
Tengku Zafrul unveiled an expansionary budget geared towards helping Malaysia recover from COVID-19, allocating RM322.54 billion (US$77.9 billion) of the gross domestic product (GDP) for total expenditure in 2021. The amount represents the largest budget expenditure in Malaysia's history, added Tengku Zafrul.
BUDGET AIMED AT ECONOMIC BOOST: MUHYIDDIN
After the budget was tabled, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said that the main weakness was that there were no plans for any boost or stimulus for economic recovery.
When asked to respond to Mr Anwar's comments, Mr Muhyiddin highlighted that with the budget that was tabled, the government is projecting the country's economy will grow between 6.5 per cent and 7.5 per cent next year, a sharp rebound from the current situation.
Malaysia's economy is projected to contract 4.5 per cent this year.
"A big part of what we have a proposed is that there will be a boost for economic recovery ....this strategy was based on suggestions from experts both in the country and overseas," said Mr Muhyiddin.
"We want to boost growth from minus to plus, that's a big boost," he added.
READ: PM Muhyiddin says 2021 budget ensures people’s well-being, while Anwar calls for concrete plans to revive economy
MORE FLEXIBILITY FOR THOSE IMPACTED BY COVID-19
Besides that, Mr Muhyiddin was also asked to comment on calls by Malaysians who are impacted by COVID-19 to withdraw money from Account 1 of their Employees Provident Fund (EPF).
The EPF is a compulsory savings plan and retirement planning for private sector workers in Malaysia.
Mr Muhyiddin said the government was reluctant to allow workers to withdraw from this account but he noted that the calls have been "strong".
"I told the finance minister that we have to consider this. But we are allowing the withdrawals to be done via a targeted approach, focusing only on those who have been impacted," said Mr Muhyiddin.
He was also asked to respond to requests from Malaysian individuals and companies, who are seeking extensions to the loan repayment moratorium.
Mr Muhyiddin maintained that the government has held discussions with the national bank, and have urged the bank "to be more open" to individual requests for moratorium extensions.
The Southeast Asian nation has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Saturday, Malaysia reported 1,168 new coronavirus cases, taking the country's tally to 39,357 infections, as the government extended a partial lockdown order to more states until Dec 6.
This is the fifth consecutive day Malaysia has registered more than 1,000 new daily infections.
To mitigate the impact of the pandemic, Tengku Zafrul has proposed in the budget that a total of RM45 billion of fiscal injection be allocated under a COVID-19 Fund, a temporary fund which spans over three years until 2022.
Of the total, RM38 billion will be disbursed this year, while the balance of RM17 billion is expected to be spent next year on wage subsidy programmes, small scale infrastructure projects, small- and medium-size enterprise (SME) soft loans and food security, the government said.
In a statement issued after the budget was tabled, Mr Muhyiddin said the national budget for 2021 was formulated based on the principle of protecting people and businesses for them to rebound from COVID-19.
However, opposition leader Mr Anwar was of the opinion that the budget failed to spell out a clear picture on how to stimulate and develop the economy which has been badly affected by the crisis.
"It did not address the issue of unemployment and helping workers who have lost their jobs as a result of this pandemic," he said in a video posted on Facebook.
He added that among other issues he would raise during the debates include the RM80 million allocation to revive the Special Affairs Department (JASA), which was previously disbanded by the Pakatan Harapan government.
"When compared to the allocation for the disabled and poor people, (they only receive) a small sum," he said.
Debates on the budget will begin on Monday and are scheduled to end on Dec 15.