Tengku Zafrul downplays absence in Parliament

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Finance minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz said he was absent from the Dewan Rakyat this morning because he had a personal emergency.

“Regarding my absence at Parliament for the MQT (Minister’s Question Time) session, I want to clarify that I had a personal emergency to attend to this morning, and I had already conveyed this information last night,” he said in a statement.

Bernama

“There was no intention not to fulfil my responsibility to answer questions as the finance minister.”

Tengku Zafrul was responding to speculation that he had resigned after Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced a fourth round of withdrawals from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) yesterday, a measure which he previously said he was willing to resign over.

Citing Tengku Zafrul’s stance on further EPF withdrawals, Mahfuz Omar (PH-Pokok Sena) questioned the minister’s absence during the MQT and asked whether he had indeed resigned.

Tengku Zafrul was to have answered questions about 1MDB debts and tabled four government bills for first reading.

Instead, the questions were answered by religious affairs minister Idris Ahmad and the bills were tabled by Tengku Zafrul’s deputy, Shahar Abdullah.

Highlighting how Shahar had tabled finance ministry bills in the past, Tengku Zafrul stressed that only ministers could provide answers during MQT sessions, and that this was not the first time a minister had been asked to read another minister’s answers.

“There have been many precedents on this. I thank the religious affairs minister for reading out my answers,” he said.

He added that the supplementary questions would be answered via written replies, and apologised to the MPs who did not receive replies from him personally.

Tengku Zafrul had always maintained his unwillingness to allow withdrawals from the fund, and in an interview in January, he said he would rather resign than compromise on issues he felt were wrong – such as further EPF withdrawals.

On Monday, he warned that the government might have to sell more of its investment assets overseas if contributors were allowed another round of withdrawals from the retirement fund.

He also said that due to the previous three withdrawal schemes, EPF could only give its members a dividend of 6.1% on their conventional savings for 2021, instead of a potential 6.7%.

EPF members withdrew a total of RM101 billion from the fund through the three previous EPF withdrawal schemes – i-Lestari, i-Sinar and i-Citra – in 2020 and 2021.

As a result of these withdrawals, EPF said a total of 6.1 million members, or 48% of its members under the age of 55, now had less than RM10,000 in their retirement savings. – FMT