Does Singapore ‘bribe’ the poor too, Najib asks Azmin

Former prime minister Najib Razak.

GEORGE TOWN: Former prime minister Najib Razak took a dig at Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali today over his claim that the 1Malaysia People’s Aid or BR1M was a form of bribery, saying such cash aid for low-income earners was a norm in other countries too.

Najib said going by Azmin’s claim on BR1M, Singapore too could be considered as bribing its poor with cash handouts in the form of GST vouchers.

“I want to ask Azmin, can we also say Singapore has failed (to help the poor), or that they are buying or spoiling their people because they too had a scheme like BR1M?” he said in a Facebook post.

He was responding to Azmin’s statement in a senate session yesterday that BR1M was a form of bribery and a testament to the former Barisan Nasional (BN) government’s failure to help the Bottom 40 or B40 group move to the next tier of income, M40.

The B40 category comprises households which earn RM3,900 a month or less, while the M40 group is defined as households which earn RM3,860 to RM8,319.

The top T20 group meanwhile comprises households which earn a minimum of RM13,148.

In his Facebook post, Najib said the BR1M was comparable to the GST vouchers in Singapore as the former BN government had used the GST revenue to give direct cash transfers to the poor.

Singapore introduced the GST voucher scheme in 2012 to help lower and middle-income earners offset some of their GST expenses.

The scheme comprises three components: immediate cash every August; MediSave for medical-related payments for seniors above 65, also in August; and another cash handout for low-to-medium income earners in public housing to offset their utility bills paid every January, April, July and October.

Najib said Singapore was expected to pay S$1 billion (RM3.01 billion) to its 1.6 million citizens earning below S$28,000 (RM84,251) a year, or below S$625 (RM1,875) per person.

He also slammed Azmin’s argument about the B40 group not moving to M40, saying the low-income group would continue to exist regardless of how many migrated to the next tier.

Even if B40 earners received a significant pay hike, he added, they would still be classified as B40 earners, only with a higher pay.

“For example, say a B40 earner gets RM4,000 a month. If the pay of the people in general increases two-fold, B40 would then be classified as those who receive RM8,000 a month.

“More often than not, those who come out of the B40 category will immediately be replaced by another (lower income) B40 earner,” he added.

“Maybe the minister does not understand. BR1M is not just about getting rid of poverty. Getting rid of poverty is handled by other schemes such as welfare programmes and 1Azam.”

Najib said the main goal of BR1M was to redistribute the pay from the top 60% of high-income earners to the bottom 40% of low-income earners.

He also said the GST used in BR1M was obtained from the rich and those who generally evaded taxes, especially in large cities.