KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 3 ― Opposition lawmakers have taken a cautious approach to the government’s Budget 2021 that will be tabled on Friday, with Parti Amanah Negara leaders expressing a willingness to back this if the policies will benefit Malaysians.
Parti Amanah Negara vice-president and Pokok Sena MP Datuk Mahfuz Omar said the Budget should not be viewed only in terms of addressing the Covid-19 pandemic but holistically as in previous years.
Instead of focusing on whether Budget 2021 would be a “unity budget” incorporating Opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) six proposals, Mahfuz also said it was more important to judge whether the policies would ultimately help Malaysians.
“The Budget must be accepted if there is benefit to the rakyat,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.
However, he qualified this by saying the Budget could still be rejected by the Opposition if it were found not to be in the public’s interest.
He also said this would not be unprecedented, noting that the federal Opposition had rejected the Budget during the Najib administration while PAS and Umno also not supported previous Budgets when the PH coalition had been in power.
“If it cannot fulfill the rakyat’s needs and it burdens the rakyat — for example if there are high taxes on the public or if the Goods and Services Tax is reintroduced — definitely it will not be accepted,” he said.
Mahfuz, who confirmed that he was not involved in government consultations regarding Budget 2021, said he has not decided whether to back the Budget that will be tabled this Friday.
While he said he would support one that would be good for the country, Mahfuz said he still must see the contents before deciding.
Mahfuz also said he viewed Budget 2021 as a chance for Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to implement cost-cutting measures by reducing the size of his Cabinet, questioning the need to have such a big Cabinet and noting that there are almost 70 ministers and deputy ministers in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration.
Asked about the ramifications of an MP rejecting Budget 2021, Mahfuz said he did not see this as a “problem” and that disagreement with the proposed federal spending plan simply meant that improvements were necessary.
“I don’t see that there will be problems if the Budget is rejected, it doesn’t mean we don’t want the Budget. It means we amend it to be a better Budget. It doesn’t mean if the Budget is rejected, there will be late payment of salaries,” he said, noting that the government could still continue to pay for civil servants’ wages promptly while pending the approval of a revised Budget in such a situation.
As for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s advice for MPs to set aside their political disputes and to prioritise the public’s welfare and country’s welfare to ensure Budget 2021 is passed in Parliament smoothly, Mahfuz stressed again on the need for the Budget to meet the public’s needs and not be burdensome.
“MPs from any parties, government or not, must support the public’s will, they must protect the rakyat’s interests, not the MPs’ interests, so we must see the budget,” he said, adding that MPs could then choose to back the Budget if it is good for Malaysians or reject it if does not benefit Malaysians.
He said that an MP could justify withholding support for the Budget by demonstrating how the proposals would be oppressive, noting that an elected representative’s role was to defend his constituents’ welfare.
“The issue of MPs who reject (the Budget) not respecting the Agong’s advice doesn’t arise, because the Agong’s advice is for no disruptions, from the aspect of changing governments.
“It’s not that we want to change the government. If the Budget is rejected, it doesn’t mean changing the government. The government can present a new Budget,” he said, adding that it would then be up to the government especially the finance minister to present a revised and improved budget.
Mahfuz was among PH lawmakers contacted for comment on DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng’s remarks about the Budget.
Lim yesterday said there would be no “Unity Budget 2021” that could work to benefit the nation’s economy and Malaysians, if the PN government rejects the six fiscal and financial measures that PH proposed for inclusion.
When contacted, Parti Amanah Negara deputy president and Pulai MP Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub indicated that he would consider backing the government’s Budget even if PH’s six proposals were not included, due to the obligation for MPs to support the Budget for the public’s sake.
At the same time, Salahuddin expressed hope that the PN government would still take into account the six ideas by PH.
“When we look at the whole country, a lot of shops are closed already. I think this is the most difficult time, hard time for people. I think I want to see this budget focus on this target group. I think the government also has to ponder the six agenda by Pakatan Harapan.
“Because for me, people first. Because I don’t want to mention if the government denies or brushes away our six agenda, then we will reject the Budget, I think it’s not good for the rakyat,” he said, pointing to the big picture of needing to roll out measures to ease the hardship for the public.
“It is my obligation and also the obligation of all MPs to support because it’s for the rakyat, but of course I’m hoping the government will also look into what we have discussed yesterday about the six items,” he said.
Salahuddin also predicted that Budget 2021 would include most of the six proposals by PH, touch on these, or incorporate elements.
“I think the government of the day will also consider what we discussed yesterday, even though not 100 per cent, I think the government will listen to us,” he said.
When contacted, PKR’s communications director and Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil indicated that PH MPs would only decide after viewing the actual proposed Budget 2021.
“PH has a very clear position and we have stated that Budget 2021 must fulfill the objectives and aspirations as set out in the Agong’s decree. We believe that our six key proposals will go a long way to ensure His Majesty’s stated objectives are met.
“I believe PH will first listen to and assess the actual Budget delivery this Friday, after which we will discuss and set our next course of action.
“I also believe that if he is sincere in working with us, Tengku Zafrul should take on all six measures, not least because they are very reasonable initiatives and are much desired by the rakyat,” he told Malay Mail.
PKR’s Subang MP Wong Chen also noted the need to wait for the actual Budget 2021 to be presented on Friday in Parliament.
“Lim Guan Eng is correct that if the PH recommendations are rejected, then it cannot be regarded as a unity budget but will just be a PN budget.
“The government has until 6th November to incorporate our six recommendations. When they table finally table the budget on the 6th, we will study the content and then PH will meet to make a decision on whether to support it or not.
“There are rooms for amendments but there are also political reform demands, as such the budget must be considered in both the fiscal context and the democratic context,” he told Malay Mail.