The Dewan Rakyat which convenes on Monday is likely to discuss Malaysia’s economic recovery and the charting of its future as it emerges from the COVID-19 setback.
This second meeting of the third session of the 14th Parliament will also see the 222 lawmakers discuss a host of issues associated with getting the country firmly back on its feet again after the pandemic hibernation.
Twenty-five days, 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, government matters and bills.
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri-ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, had opened the third session at the first meeting on May 18.
Only a one-day sitting was held due to the restrictions of the Movement Control Order to check COVID-19.
The government has so far announced almost RM300 billion worth of stimulus measures – RM260 billion under the PRIHATIN RAKYAT Economic Stimulus Package (PRIHATIN) and a 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 which will help the government to mitigate the social and economic impacts of COVID-19.
Assoc Prof Dr Md Daud Ismail, Deputy Dean for Partnership and Income Generation at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said important issues to be discussed should include the need to beef up existing economic policies that can help the country emerge stronger post-COVID-19.
But the question remains how fast this can be done, he said.
The government also needs 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 pandemic, he said.
“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 that the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet in sight.
It is important to note that some of the tough measures the government had to take in the COVID-19 battle, such as the initial Movement Control Order (MCO), almost muted the economy.
The economy was operating at only 40 to 45 per cent capacity during the MCO period.
Hence, it is of utmost importance how the government will continue to assist businesses and individuals literally shattered during the pandemic, for which, “policy direction and strategy are key” said Md Daud.
Md Daud said the 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.
Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI) chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said the MPs should focus on the lessons to be learned from COVID-19, especially the extent of economic damage, the risk of unemployment and anti-poverty measures.
He said a review of policies, such as which old policies need to be transformed and what new policies could be introduced, and focusing on aiding the poor and underprivileged should be the highlight of discussions in Parliament.
The catastrophic effect of COVID-19 actually provides both challenges and opportunities to reset the economy, he said.
“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 people who are living from hand-to-mouth. We need to know how effective our package of measures have 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 retired secretary-general of the Transport Ministry.
Bank Negara Malaysia has projected economic growth to be within -2 per cent to 0.5 per cent, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), -3.8 per cent, and the World Bank, -3.1 per cent.
As for 2021, international agencies have forecast Malaysia’s GDP growth to be in the range of 6.3 per cent to 7.5 per cent.
The country’s debt level could hit the statutory limit of 55 per cent of GDP at the end of the year from 52 per cent currently following the implementation of measures to enable the people and the country to tide over difficulties.
Malaysia’s budget deficit is projected to rise to 5.8-6.0 per cent. Prior to this, the Budget 2020 Budget had projected a deficit of 3.4 per cent.
Navaratnam said 25 days 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 discussions could likely on updates by the International Trade and Industry Ministry (MITI) on the RM110-billion Kuala Lumpur–Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) bilateral project.
Senior Minister (Economic Cluster) and Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali said no compensation would be paid to Singapore as the deferment of the 350km-long project to year-end were mutually agreed by the two countries.
The two countries had previously agreed to suspend the project from Sept 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 construction again, until Dec 31, 2020.
Meanwhile, 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 in view of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy. — BERNAMA