Anwar: No reason for emergency budget law

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Emergency ordinance amendment is unethical and irresponsible.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said there is no reason for the new emergency ordinance that allows federal and state governments to pass supplementary budgets without legislative scrutiny.

He said the Budget 2021 passed four months ago already allocated sufficient funds for the country’s Covid-19 response.

“There is absolutely no reason for the government to seek such extraordinary fiduciary powers at this time. The Budget 2021 has been passed less than four months ago which allocated adequate spending for the Covid-19 response.

Reuters

“Any valid additional spending would be approved in Parliament by a majority and would likely gain bipartisan support if it was deemed appropriate,” he said in a statement today.

He said he strongly opposes the new law as “unethical and irresponsible” and belies the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government’s motives regarding the current state of emergency.

“While PN states the emergency is necessary to battle Covid-19, in fact, the laws which are being enacted under the emergency have little to do with Covid-19 and mostly are about punishing civil society, suppressing free speech and pilfering the public coffers,” Anwar said.

He also expressed concern that the new ordinance could have an impact on Malaysia’s reputation and confidence in its economy, and urged for parliamentary sittings to be resumed immediately.

Malaysia has been put under a state of Emergency from January 11 until the expected end date of August 1 unless lifted earlier. During this period, Parliament and state legislative assemblies — which typically play the role of checks and balance on the executive branch of the government — have been suspended until further notice.

While the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has previously clarified on February 24 that Parliament can be convened during the Emergency on a date that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong thinks is appropriate on the advice of the prime minister, the Perikatan Nasional administration has not provided such advice that would enable Parliament sittings to resume.

The gazetted new law that Anwar referred to is the Emergency (Essential Powers) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021, which was gazetted today and takes effect from today.

This new Emergency ordinance amends an earlier January 14 Emergency ordinance on powers given to the federal government.

Among other things, the new Emergency ordinance will also temporarily suspend procedures under the Government Funding Act 1983 and the Treasury Bills (Local) Act 1946 on funds raised by the federal government via the finance minister under Shariah-compliant instruments or borrowings through the issuance of Treasury bills.

In other words, the usual procedure — where the Dewan Rakyat’s prior approval is needed before funds borrowed by the federal government can be channelled into the federal government’s Development Fund — would be suspended during the Emergency.

The new Emergency ordinance will also temporarily allow the Finance Ministry to approve withdrawals from the government’s Federal Consolidated Fund, as well as to approve additional spending of the federal government’s funds beyond the initial Budget without going through the usual route of seeking Parliament’s approval, during the Emergency.

Typically, Parliament’s approval is needed for the federal government’s Budget spending through a Supply Bill that has to be passed in Parliament, while estimates of supplementary expenditure have to be presented before the Dewan Rakyat for approval.

Supplementary expenditure refers to situations when the amount allocated in the approved federal government’s Budget via the Supply Act is insufficient or when the money spent is more than allocated in the Budget or when there is a new need for spending which had not been allocated previously in the Budget.

Also joining the call for the resumption of parliament is Pekan MP Najib Abdul Razak, who said it is important for lawmakers to scrutinise government spending.

“Government debt is not borne by the government of the day, but by future governments and will finally land on the rakyat through various new taxes,” he said in a Facebook post today.

He questioned whether this and other financial measures could nudge Malaysia above its debt ceiling of 60 percent of annual GDP, which has already been raised from 55 percent last year.

He noted that the government increased the limit of the value of projects awarded through direct tender from RM20,000 to RM50,000 in February and has already borrowed RM54.5 billion since the beginning of the year.

“It is rumoured that many more projects that are even bigger have been awarded in the past few months – whether through direct negotiation or limited tender – on grounds that the awarding of the project needs to be expedited to fight Covid-19.

Bernama

“That’s why I have previously asked whether the government’s debt ratio has already exceeded 62.2 percent, which is above the 60 percent limit that was increased from 55 percent last August,” he said.

Earlier today, the government gazetted the Emergency (Essential Powers) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 that allows the prime minister, chief minister or menteri besar to pass a supplementary budget or use consolidated funds without going through the legislature as long as the emergency is in force.

The new law also suspended Paragraph 4(b) of the Government Funding Act 1983 and Paragraph 2(2)(b) of the Treasury Bills (Local) Act 1946, which are in relation to the Dewan Rakyat’s authority over money matters.

Parliament and all legislative assemblies have been suspended since Jan 11 through a proclamation of emergency.

Meanwhile, the Malaysia United Democratic Alliance (Muda) today called for an end to the current state of Emergency, after the government’s latest amendment to the Emergency Ordinance giving it free access to the nation’s coffers.

In a statement today, Muda’s pro tem vice-president and lawyer Lim Wei Jiet cried foul over the move and labelled it as an assault on the role of the Parliament and democracy.

“This is yet another decision of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government that is undemocratic and an insult to the role of the Parliament as one of the main branches of the nation’s governance.

Choo Choy May

“The Parliament plays an important role to check and balance any decisions of the Executive, with regards to the country’s finances,” Lim said.

“This development shows how paralysed and serious the state of democracy is today, which would directly contribute to policies with do not favour the people. Muda suggests that the Emergency be ended to again revive democracy, the check and balance system and good governance in Malaysia,” Lim said.

He pointed to the period when the government was forced to reduce the mammoth RM85.5 million allocation to the government’s propaganda arm; which has since been renamed from Jasa to J-Kom, under Budget 2021, as a stellar check-and-balance example.

“However, now, the Executive has full power to decide how the country’s finances should be allocated. The Executive does not have to answer to MPs from the Opposition or their backbenchers,” Lim lamented.

This new law, which was promulgated by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on March 25, takes effect from today.