KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 6 — The Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) has opposed a call made by certain quarters to allow Employees Provident Fund (EPF) members to withdraw additional funds from their retirement accounts, arguing that such withdrawals should be guided by sound economic reasoning.

“The EPF is not designed to deal with calamities and pandemics, rather, it is intended to ensure that its contributors enjoy a decent life after retirement.

“This is compounded by the fact that Malaysia is fast becoming an ageing society. Malaysia is just nine years short of becoming an aged nation in 2030, and further EPF withdrawals will put additional pressure on the future cost of healthcare, income security and a post-retirement income stream,” it said in a statement.

MIER said this in response to certain quarters that have been urging the government to allow a one-off i-Citra withdrawal of RM10,000 for contributors affected by floods in the country.

Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz, on Sunday, said the EPF should not be seen as a solution or a way to overcome challenges, as this will affect the retirement savings of contributors, especially when Malaysia is expected to hit aging nation status by 2030.

MIER said the government-initiated withdrawal schemes, namely i-Lestari, i-Sinar, and i-Citra, that amounted to RM101 billion, while managed to provide some financial relief, have resulted in severe depletion of retirement funds for most of the EPF members.

“The mass withdrawals have resulted in 6.1 million members now having less than RM10,000 in their EPF accounts, with 3.6 million members having less than RM1,000 in their retirement fund. This level is undoubtedly a far cry from the threshold of RM240,000 essential savings by the age of 55 for members to enjoy a dignified retirement,” it added.

MIER stressed that the previous three EPF withdrawal schemes were short-term measures, which should have been avoided in the first place and must never be repeated.

“To address the short-term fiscal constraint Malaysians face, there is a strong economic justification for the government in providing sufficient unconditional cash assistance to the households and firms,” it said.

MIER suggested that long-term measures are imperative to ensure that the members have adequate savings for retirement, of which, employer’s EPF contribution rate can be adjusted without increasing the employers’ labour cost burden.

“The government can marginally increase employers’ contribution rate for workers above a specific threshold limit and simultaneously decrease the rate for those below the threshold level,” it added.

MIER said the government must also consider broader social protection and social safety net strategies, whereby, there should be contingency plans and schemes that can kick-in in the face of calamities and other crises.

“The recent past has taught us that we, as a nation, cannot be complacent since emergencies and other unexpected disasters can occur. The burden of these events is usually worst felt by those who are least prepared to face them, and they need the government’s support to rebuild their lives.

“A disaster relief fund should also be considered. At the same time, the coverage and adequacy of social protection, particularly towards the self-employed and those in the informal sector, must be strengthened,” the economic think-tank said. — Bernama