Opposition demands, such as $10b aid for SMEs, to be included in Malaysia's 2022 budget: Anwar

Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim revealed that several demands made by Pakatan Harapan were included in the government's budget.
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim revealed that several demands made by Pakatan Harapan were included in the government's budget. PHOTO: ANWAR IBRAHIM’S OFFICE

KUALA LUMPUR - Several demands by opposition pact Pakatan Harapan (PH), including RM30 billion (S$9.7 billion) in aid for Malaysia’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and targeted loan moratoriums, will be included in the government’s budget for next year, its leader Anwar Ibrahim revealed on Wednesday (Oct 27).

The Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president added that other policies, such as including environmental, social and governance concerns and gender-responsive budgeting in the administration of public funds, were also tabled during “no fewer than 13 consultations” for Budget 2022 with the Finance Ministry. 

“We did not ask Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz to account for all this on Friday (when tabling the budget) but to consider these when preparing the budget,” he said during PH’s press briefing on its proposals. 

Detailing the coalition’s suggestions to “Recover and Build Back Better”, PH economic committee chairman Tony Pua said the amount allocated to SMEs would be part of a RM45 billion top-up to the government’s Covid-19 fund, which was set up specifically for fighting the pandemic and dealing with its economic fallout. 

This quantum of increase was agreed in the historic confidence-and-supply agreement (CSA) inked between Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob's administration and the main opposition pact last month, and approved in Parliament on Oct 11.

PH also wants the Covid-19 fund to be channelled towards wage subsidies (RM6 billion) aimed at creating new, higher-paying jobs, upgrading public healthcare (RM4 billion) and cash handouts for ailing households (RM5 billion). 

A targeted interest waiver would also be extended to the poorer half of Malaysians, said Mr Pua, who served in the Treasury when PH was in power for 21 months until early last year. 

These items confirm a report by The Straits Times last week outlining PH's key demands from the series of discussions with the federal administration ahead of the vote on next year's budget, the first major test of Datuk Seri Ismail's tenure since taking office in August.

Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu pointed out that there was a misconception that “we have agreed to everything” and would not be playing the opposition’s role in acting as a check and balance on government spending. 

“We agree on the policy items, but we don’t control the execution. So that is the role of MPs – to debate and expose any corruption,” said the former defence minister. 

“As usual, when you table the budget, it all looks great. But the implementation, about whether public funds are used properly, this is where the opposition can play a role. I am confident the debate will be even more heated than before.” 

The CSA was a key initiative by PM Ismail to bolster support and weaken the hold of uneasy allies in his ruling pact, which controls only 114 out of the 220 members of the federal legislature.

But Datuk Seri Anwar has cautioned that the unprecedented Memorandum of Understanding on Transformation and Political Stability deal inked last month was no guarantee that his four-party PH would support the budget, as its backing is contingent on concrete outcomes of the consultations with the government.

PKR lawmaker Wong Chen, who was part of the PH negotiating team with the finance ministry, said "the feedback is that in principle, they agreed to 90 per cent of our proposals."

"But we have to see on Friday whether they are putting their money where their mouths are."