KUALA LUMPUR, July 10 – The Dewan Rakyat which will convene next Monday is likely to discuss Malaysia’s economic recovery and the charting of the country’s future as it slowly emerges from the COVID-19 associated setback.
The second meeting of the third session of the 14th Parliament will also see 222 lawmakers discuss a host of issues associated with getting the country firmly back on its feet again after the pandemic hibernation.
The 25-day of sitting, up to Aug 27, have been set aside for debate on the motion of thanks to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for the royal address as well as other government matters and bills.
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah had opened the third session of the first meeting on May 18.
Only a one-day sitting was held due to the imposition of the Movement Control Order (MCO) to check on the COVID-19 spread in the country.
The government has so far announced almost RM300 billion worth of stimulus measures – RM260 billion under the Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package (PRIHATIN) and an RM35 billion short-term National Economy Recovery Plan, better known as PENJANA.
The Finance Ministry is expected to table PRIHATIN and PENJANA as well as the Temporary Measures Bill during the coming sitting to help the government in mitigating the social and economic impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deputy Dean for Partnership and Income Generation at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Assoc Prof Md Daud Ismail said, important issues to be discussed should include the need to beef up existing economic policies to help the country emerge stronger in the aftermath of COVID-19.
However, the question remains on how fast this can be done, he said.
The government according to him also need to be better prepared economically for a possible second wave of COVID-19 or new economic shocks on a scale similar to if not larger than the recent pandemic.
“Compared with other countries, Malaysia has been remarkably successful (in stemming the spread of the COVID-19 virus) and almost all economic activities have been opened up. The only important issue now is that the economic recovery plan in terms of policies and strategies,” he told Bernama.
The government’s policies and strategies to take the country’s economy forward in the long term are extremely crucial given the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet in sight.
It is important to note that some of the tough and unprecedented measures the government implemented to overcome COVID-19, such as the initial MCO, had almost paralyzed the economy.
The economy was operating at only 40 to 45 percent capacity during the MCO period.
Hence, it is of utmost importance for the government to continue in assisting businesses and individuals deeply impacted during the pandemic, for which, “policy direction and strategy are key” said Md Daud.
The academician said Members of Dewan Rakyat (MPs) would likely debate on the sources and distribution of both the PRIHATIN and PENJANA funds to the rakyat, be they individuals or companies, as well as the impact of the stimulus packages on the country’s debt level.
Meanwhile, Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI) chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said the MPs should focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from COVID-19, especially the extent of economic damage, the risk of unemployment and anti-poverty measures.
A review of policies he said, such as which archaic policies that need to be transformed and what new policies could be introduced as well as focus on aiding the poor and underprivileged should be the highlight of discussions in Parliament.
The catastrophic effect of COVID-19 according to him, actually provides challenges and opportunities to reset the economy.
“The Economic Planning Unit, Bank Negara Malaysia and banking institutions have said that (the economy) will be in negative growth (this year). The question is how much worse it is going to be.
“We have so many rakyat who are living from hand-to-mouth. We need to know how effective our package of measures has been, how many people have gained from it, how much does it affect them, is it enough, how long more we have to give and et cetera,” said the former secretary-general of the Transport Ministry.
Bank Negara Malaysia has projected the country’s economic growth to be within -2 percent to 0.5 percent, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), -3.8 percent, and the World Bank, -3.1 percent.
As for 2021, international agencies have forecasted Malaysia’s GDP growth to be in the range of 6.3 percent to 7.5 percent.
On the country’s debt level, it could hit the statutory limit of 55 percent of the GDP at the end of the year from 52 percent at present, following the implementation of various measures to assist the people and the country to tide over difficulties brought about by COVID-19.
Malaysia’s budget deficit is projected to rise to 5.8-6.0 percent. Prior to this, the Budget 2020 Budget had projected a deficit of 3.4 percent.
Navaratnam said the 25 days sitting would not be enough for the MPs to debate on the numerous vital issues, “hence the speaker has a big responsibility to allocate proper time and give priority to more urgent matters”.
Other topics of discussion could likely be on updates by the International Trade and Industry Ministry (MITI) on the RM110-billion Kuala Lumpur–Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project.
Senior Minister (Economic Cluster) and Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali said Malaysia will not pay any compensation to Singapore as the deferment of the 350km-long project to year-end were mutually agreed by the two neighboring countries.
The two countries had previously agreed to suspend the project from September 2018 up to May 31, 2020. On Jan 31, 2019, Malaysia remitted S$15 million to Singapore to cover the cost of the deferment.
On May 31 this year, the two governments announced the postponement of the project again, until Dec 31, 2020.
Meanwhile, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economic Affairs) Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed is expected to brief the Dewan Rakyat on the tabling of the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) that has been deferred to January next year.
The tabling of the 12MP, which was initially scheduled for Aug 6, was deferred to enable the government to undertake a review due to impacts caused by COVID-19 on the global economy.