APRIL 15 — On April 6, 2020, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyuddin Yassin presented a RM10 billion additional PRIHATIN Package for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and guaranteed three months’ employment.
The Perikatan Nasional government (PN) also promised toensure that prudent spending is always transparent in accordance with the provisions of the federal constitution and the law. The Ministry of Finance has set up a LAKSANA unit that will monitor and report on the implementation of incentives to the finance minister and the prime minister. However, the guarantees provided by the government require serious, transparent and open scrutiny from institutions that can evaluate government decisions.
While the urgency of implementing incentives is much needed at the moment, it will also be exposed to issues of integrity and misuse of power that are advantageous to some, especially as the Movement Control Order (MCO) period lasts more than a month. Like Covid-19, corruption and greed do not recognise the victims and affect everyone regardless of economic, ethnic and religious class.
Transparency International said that the check and balance mechanism becomes even more important as the government manages the Covid-19 crisis to avoid abuse of power. Authorities cannot do anything outside of the power bestowed on them by law. We need to avoid any form of corruption in times of crisis to ensure that those who are in need can be reached.
Every government plan concerning the Covid-19 must face scrutiny and be subjected to checks and balance. It is a means to ensure that every programs and initiative introduced benefit the people. However, in Malaysia, the function of the institute which acts as a check and balance does not seem to work during the MCO period at both the federal and state levels.
The Prime Minister has announced that economic stimulus packages will be brought to Parliament in the form of a supplementary bill to be passed in Parliament. However, parliament is not only responsible for approving economic stimulus packages, but also involves the participation of lawmakers in reviewing the government’s expenditures of public funds during the Covid-19.
The decision to delay a special parliamentary session will have implications that will delay the cooperation of the government and the people’s representatives in seeking to resolve the country’s economic and health crisis early. Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) reports that Malaysia’s economic growth rate will contract to -2.0 to 0.5 percent due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) sees the Covid-19 case in Malaysia increase by mid-April 2020, which could cause the MCO to expand and the people’s economic standing to be affected.
Therefore, the projection from the WHO and BNM should be a key factor in why the Malaysian parliament should urgently discuss the government’s plans for the long term, in particular efforts to save and create jobs, increase the income and welfare of the people with elected representatives. The government’s economic planning should not only focus on resolving economic and health issues in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it would have to go beyond the MCO to address the needs in the post-Covid-19 economic situation.
In addition to being accountable, transparency in providing detailed information is an important aspect of this crisis. Information sharing today is not just infographics, but quality, comprehensive and up-to-date data. However, the issue of access to detailed Covid-19 data from the federal government is currently limited. This was raised by Dr. Dzulkefli Ahmad, former health minister when the Ministry of Health did not share Covid-19 clinical data with state government agencies.
Without open data access, it makes it difficult for the state government to perform patient tracking and micro-screening. Instead, the federal government should adopt a ‘holistic approach to government and society’ organized by WHO to share information, especially with state authorities.
As parliament convenes next month, there are several effective measures that can be used to measure government transparency in public spending and open data. The federal government needs to release a report on spending on the Economic Stimulus Package 2020. The LAKSANA unit can do this report for the benefit of the public, not just the ministers and the prime minister.
This report should provide clear information on the amount of government allocation on Prihatin 2020, the approach used and the list of companies or owners who have benefited from government contracts to provide health facilities. The impact studies need to focus on this report as a preliminary analysis of economic stimulus packages to plan long-term planning before being debated in parliament.
The role of government agencies such as the National Center for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption (GIACC) should be the institution that reviews, monitors and reports the management of federal and state government expenditures during the Covid-19. The GIACC together with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) must ensure that no elements of leakage and misuse of power happens to the public funds.
The Urgency for Transparency is as great as the urgency in overcoming the Pandemic. The people and leaders of the country cannot compromise on the issue of leakage and misuse of power or information today. Without openness, transparency and access to complementary information from government spending can have a negative impact on the economy and health, especially after the MCO ends.
*Fakhrurrazi Rashid is a Research Coordinator at Research for Social Advancement (REFSA), a progressive think-tank in Malaysia.
**This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.