MALAYSIA — During Thursday’s (9 March) Parliament sitting, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Budget 2023 was approved in the policy stage via a voice vote.

Parliament Speaker Datuk Seri Johari Abdul called for the vote on the Supply Bill 2023 after Anwar’s winding-up speech, in which he also served as the finance minister.

Johari declared the Bill approved by voice vote. Malaysia’s Budget 2023 will now proceed to the committee stage for the approval of individual ministry allocations.

The members of the Malaysia Parliament clearly made themselves heard over their opposition counterparts, who were few in number as most were presented in front of Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) headquarter to show solidarity to support Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who had been embroiled in the alleged misuse of a Covid economic recovery fund.

After a gap of 26 years, Anwar re-tabled Budget 2023 in Parliament on 24 February, the largest on record, surpassing even the one tabled by his predecessor Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz, in October of last year.

Budget 2023 allocates a total of RM388.1 billion (approximately US$87.49 billion), with RM289.1 billion for operating expenses, and RM99 billion for development spending. This includes RM2 billion for contingencies.

Refuting allegation claiming that the budget was “cruel” towards opposition states

During his winding-up speech for the ministry in the Parliament, Anwar criticized opposition MPs who accused the national budget of being “cruel” towards Perikatan Nasional-led states.

He argued that the PN administration had never bothered to increase allocations for Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, and Perlis, and that the amount set aside for these states in Budget 2023 was “far better” than under Budget 2021.

Anwar provided figures to support his claim, stating that Kelantan received RM351.5 million, Terengganu and Perlis received RM411.1 million and RM154 million respectively, and Kedah received RM1.5 billion, while Perlis received RM570 million.

“Read the budget, don’t spread lies, ” Anwar told opposition MPs, “you don’t have to thank me, but do not mock me.”

Anwar also defended the higher allocations for Sabah and Sarawak, saying that these East Malaysian states were lagging in terms of development.

“If we spent RM10 million here (states in Peninsular Malaysia), we would have to spend RM100 million in Sabah and Sarawak.”

Despite calls from grassroots people to allow them to withdraw their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) savings, Anwar reiterated that the government had no plans to permit more special withdrawals.

He noted that other countries that allowed their pension funds to be tapped had also stopped doing so.

“I am open to all criticism made against me for not allowing another round of withdrawals. However, we need to adhere to the principle that this is retirement savings.”

However, Anwar proposed a solution that would allow EPF contributors to obtain bank loans through a special collateral agreement.

He stated that this method would be more suitable for contributors in “desperate” need without having to withdraw their savings.

“Hence, I will ensure that EPF gives space towards the contributors who have sufficient money in their account to make loan agreements with banks,” he said.

Malaysia’s debts and liabilities at RM1.5 trillion

Malaysia’s debts and liabilities stood at RM1.5 trillion, which is around 81 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Around RM46 billion was used solely to pay off debts, which is above the 15 per cent limit and amounts to 16 per cent of the government’s revenue.

Anwar Ibrahim also earlier confirmed that his administration would not implement the Goods and Services Tax (GST) due to high food inflation and low wages.

Instead, the government will introduce a luxury goods tax with a specific value limit, depending on the type of luxury goods.

Malaysia Budget 2023 re-tabled to Parliament after GE15

Prior to GE15, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, under the leadership of Ismail Sabri Yaakob, presented the Malaysia Budget 2023 on 7 October of last year, which included an allocation of RM372.3 billion.

Ismail Sabri’s administration intended to allocate RM404.3 billion for the 2023 budget, representing an increase of RM40.2 billion from the previous year.

Of this amount, RM272.3 billion was allocated for operational expenditure, while RM95 billion was designated for development.

Three days later, Ismail Sabri announced the dissolution of Parliament. With the country having held GE15 on 20 November, the newly elected government needed to reintroduce Budget 2023 in Parliament.

Ismail Sabri is said to be facing pressure from within his own party, UMNO, to call for the election by the end of last year.

On 20 December of last year, Anwar introduced a “mini-budget” through the Consolidated Fund (Expenditure Entering Account) Bill 2022 to provide the government with RM107.72 billion, ensuring no services were disrupted until Budget 2023 was passed.

The mini-budget covered several areas, including the payment of civil servants’ salaries, utilities, scholarships, welfare assistance, education and health services, as well as allocations for ongoing projects.

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