KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 18 — The Third Session of the Third Term of the 14th Parliament sitting closed its curtain yesterday, with the final week witnessing the House giving its “aye” to the first budget by the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government, despite the grueling debates.
The 2021 budget, the largest in the country’s history and involved an allocation of RM322.5 billion, was tabled by Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz on Nov 6 and debated by 82 MPs at the policy stage for two weeks.
During the debate session, several demands were made by the government backbenchers and the opposition as a condition for them to support the budget, especially on the issue of the ‘one-off’ EPF Account 1 withdrawal and the extension of the loan moratorium to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response to suggestions by members of the house, Tengku Zafrul, when winding up the debate on behalf of the Finance Ministry, announced some good news, including the i-Sinar programme which allows the withdrawal of EPF savings from Account 1 to all the eight million contributors.
The Supply Bill 2021 was then passed at the policy stage with a majority voice vote after attempts by several MPs to initiate bloc voting failed when only 13 MPs stood up, less than the required 15 members.
At the committee stage, nine of the 27 ministries went through the bloc voting process before their allocations were approved.
It was also during the committee stage that the government proposed a reduction in the allocation for the expansion of the Department of Special Affairs (Jasa), which has been rebranded as Department of Community Communications or J-Kom, of RM45 million from RM81.5 million as was initially allocated in Budget 2021.
With the validity of the PN government continuing to be questioned, every vote was crucial and the situation led to three MPs, who were under Home Surveillance Order (HSO), attending the Parliament sitting in personal protective clothing (PPE).
The 2021 budget was finally passed through a majority voice vote with 111 MPs supporting, 108 rejecting and one absentee.
During the sitting, the Parliament also passed nine other bills namely the Finance Bill 2020; Customs (Amendment) Bill 2020; Excise (Amendment) Bill 2020; Free Zones (Amendment) Bill 2020; Temporary Measures for Government Financing (Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020; Sales Tax (Amendment) Bill 2020; Service Tax (Amendment) Bill 2020; Tourism Tax (Amendment) Bill 2020 and Cooperative Societies (Amendment) Bill 2020.
Meanwhile, the Parliament sitting was held under the new normal with only 80 MPs – 41 from the government and 39 from the opposition and Independents – allowed to be in the House at any one time, but all of them were allowed into the chambers during the voting session.
It also sat for only four hours, from 10 am to 2 pm daily from Monday to Thursday, apart from the MPs and staff having had to go for COVID-19 screening every two weeks as a precautionary measure due to the spread of the epidemic.
Nevertheless, there were several incidence of the usual commotion in Parliament, like when RSN Rayer (PH-Jelutong) was ordered out of the hall and Lim Lip Eng (PH-Kepong) was suspended for five days for ignoring the warnings by the Dewan Rakyat Speaker and Deputy Speaker.
This followed Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing’s (GPS-Bintulu) controversial statement on Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.
Tiong claimed that Dr Noor Hisham did not go to Sabah to check on the Covid-19 situation there, questioning if the Health director-general was ‘afraid to die’.