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4:08pm 29/10/2021
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A Budget for the people?

Sin Chew Daily

The 2022 Budget will be tabled in the parliament later this afternoon. According to prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, it will be one that will benefit all Malaysian and one that delivers a big pleasant surprise.

Indeed, the pandemic has plunged many people into financial difficulty, and the PM assures all that mo one will be left out in the country’s recovery agenda.

2022 marks the recovery from the pandemic and a phase of “living with the virus”. As such, we are going to explore here how public health and SMEs these two major sectors will benefit from the Budget.

Looking back over the past one year battling the coronavirus, due to the worsening pandemic, the numbers of daily new infections and severe illnesses have shot up dramatically, along with hospital ward occupancy and death rate, pushing the country’s medical system on the brink of collapse.

Fortunately, our high vaccination rate has successfully relieved the situation, offering a much needed breathing space for our medical frontliners.

WHO has just warned that we still have a very long way to go to be completely liberated from the threats of the virus. Owing to the unpredictability of antibodies produced by the vaccines and the ongoing mutation of the virus, other than carrying on with the existing vaccination programs, administering booster doses and developing new drugs to fight the virus, we still need to have more diversified strategies to tackle the virus.

New infection numbers will no longer be the mainstay of daily pandemic reports once we progress into the endemic phase, as the priority now will be to control the incidence of severe illnesses and lower the mortality rate to ensure sufficient supply of hospital beds and availability of healthcare personnel while having sufficient resources to invest in early preventive treatment, including the procurement of medical supplies.

COVID-19 is only one of the m any sicknesses humanity has experienced. Other than dealing with it, the medical system will also need to deal with the prevention and treatment of other chronic illnesses, viral and contagious diseases, as well as the caring for the aged and disabled.

Nearly two years into the battle against the virus, the pandemic has opened our eyes to the reality that Malaysia’s public health allocations have paled far below the global standards.

WHO has recommended 6% of the a country’s GDP to be allocated for public health and preventive expenses. In view of this, some medical organizations have hoped that the 2022 Budget will set aside at least 4-5% of the country’s GDP for public health, which in Malaysia translates into RM60 billion, or almost 18% of total budgetary allocations.

The health of Malaysians ought to be given more emphasis in the new Budget. The PeKa B40 national health scheme introduced in 2019 needs to be expanded to benefit more people to ensure that everyone is accessible to early treatment of non-contagious illnesses such as mental illnesses, cancers and other common ailments that are major causes of death in this country.

Owing to economic stagnancy during the lockdowns, the livelihoods of many Malaysians have been adversely impacted. The incomes of B40 families have shrunk drastically. The incomes of many in the M40 group are now down to the pre-pandemic B40 levels, subjecting many to unbearable mental and psychological pressure.

Prevention is better than cure. As such, the government must pay more attention to this kind of issue to allow early intervention by the healthcare system to prevent our public health to once again forced into the brink of collapse due to overburden.

Meanwhile, SMEs constitute a major pillar of the country’s business sector. In 2020. they made up almost 97.2% in number of all the companies in Malaysia, contributing collectively about 40% to the country’s GDP.

Statistics show that SME’s contribution to GDP slipped by 7.3% last year, a margin that is larger than the country’s overall GDP contraction. Having braved through the downtime due to successive lockdowns, SME operators are now seeking to recover, and they need the full support from the government to rebuild and fully recover.

The SME Association has conceded that SMEs are now looking for profitability this year but to seek cashflow and space for survival, especially those in the tourism, cinema, entertainment, sports and private education sectors which have been most severely hit by the pandemic. They hope the government will provide more tax incentives in next year’s Budget to boost reinvestment and new business start-up to fill up vacuum left by SMEs which have shuttered.

A recent survey shows that almost 70% of SMEs hope the government would provide more direct fiscal support in the 2022 Budget, including wage subsidies, loan moratorium and other forms of subsidies. They also urge the government not to impose more taxes so that local companies can recover and survive more easily.

Human resources will be another key factor for post-pandemic recovery. SME Association has estimated that the Malaysian market is still short of approximately 1 to 1.2 million workforce.

Migrant labor shortage has been a perennial problem of this country for years, making it difficult for many local businesses to tackle the sudden surge in business after the market reopens. The government must help the SMEs to promptly address the manpower shortage problem by lifting the freeze on migrant workers as a short-term solution to help the market recover.

During the pandemic, many companies have taken their operations online due to movement and logistics restrictions. Although they are now allowed to operate physically under the national recovery plan, Remote working and hybrid operations have become the new normal in post-pandemic business world, putting IT personnel in hot demand.

Finance minister Tengku Zafrul has said earlier that the 2022 Budget will take care of all industries, including those worse hit by the pandemic as well as the healthcare system.

It is our hope that the Budget to be tabled this afternoon will really have the “wow” factor for everyone.

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