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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Debate stimulus package now, don't wait for 'later date'

Malaysiakini

We refer to the call made by concerned Malaysians for an emergency convening of Parliament to review the RM250 billion economic stimulus package.
The government has dismissed this call with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Takiyuddin Hassan, stating that “it is not the right time to play politics”. The irony of Takiyuddin’s statement is astonishing. 
Our call for Parliament to meet is precisely because of the magnitude of the crisis. Malaysians are confronted with a war which is rapidly ruining the economy.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his cabinet should recognise they have a duty to debate their response to this Covid-19 pandemic. Many members of the public have expressed concern that the current stimulus package has been mainly put together for electoral support. 
An emergency parliamentary sitting and revisions to the government’s response will help to dispel these fears and ensure a defensible and comprehensive package that the entire country can rally around.
The need for this debate is also imperative because fundamental questions have emerged about this stimulus package. One core query is the sources of funds for this fiscal injection, an issue the government should reveal even without a sitting. 
The finance minister has stated some of the funds will come from borrowings. Who are the sources of these borrowings? What are the implications of these borrowings on the national debt?
While there is an urgent need to channel funds to the B40, serious criticisms have emerged that the government’s cash transfers are also to segments of society that are not in dire need of funds. 
SMEs have voiced grave concerns about the inadequacy of the stimulus package to help them deal with the crisis. By the government’s admission, SMEs constitute 98.5% of the corporate sector, contribute about 40% to GDP and employ about 65% of the total workforce. 
We would like to stress that the impact of lost jobs, falling demand and weak supply chains will hurt rural and urban communities in equal measure.
When confronted with such public criticism, it is shocking that Takiyuddin should contend that “if it’s about transparency, we can always table the stimulus package at a later date”. 
As the nation braces itself for a very difficult period, we cannot wait for a “later date” to determine the viability of the government’s response. The risk of waiting is too high for by then the damage could well be acute deflation of the economy.
The purpose of this parliamentary sitting, held under careful management, through proper social distancing during the debate, is imperative and urgent. 
The prime minister must not be negligent in defending his stimulus package, nor shrink from facing fellow parliamentarians who, in the interest of the nation, should focus solely on finding the most appropriate fiscal response. 
There has to be full disclosure of the facts behind the financing and use of the stimulus package as this is a time when scarce resources need to be appropriately deployed.

The above is signed by:
Professor Terence Gomez
Dr Lim Teck Ghee
Professor Zaharom Nain
Tawfik Ismail
Professor Emeritus Johan Saravanamttu 
- Mkini

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