Economist questions RM200 million infrastructure funds in Sabah’s stimulus plan

People stock up on essential food items at a supermarket in Tawau, Sabah, ahead of the movement control order to curb the spread of Covid-19. Economist Firdausi Suffian says the state government’s stimulus plan should have more direct benefits for the people. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: A political economist in Sabah has questioned the state government’s move to allocate a large sum of money for infrastructure development under its Covid-19 assistance package.

Firdausi Suffian said while he was happy with most of the stimulus package, which according to him covers a wide range of groups and businesses, the allocation of RM200 million for basic infrastructure development should be explained.

He said most people were expecting immediate direct assistance to alleviate their burden, which was the point of having a stimulus package.

“To be fair, the government is assisting through cash transfers, discounts for utilities and rent, and waiver of three months’ payment for water bills, among others.

“But there are concerns over the RM200 million infrastructure allocation in the stimulus package,” he told FMT.

Chief Minister Shafie Apdal last week announced the RM670 million “Sabah We Care” Covid-19 package, RM200 million of which is for the implementation of 1,000 basic infrastructure projects in villages in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Tawau and other districts.

Among other forms of aid, each poor and hardcore poor household will get a one-off payment of RM500, the B40 income group will receive a one-off payment of RM300 while the state will provide a 30% discount on quit rent collections for this year.

Firdausi said he understood that the infrastructure projects were meant to stimulate the economy as they would stir business activity and provide jobs through the award of contracts.

“But the key question here is the priority of the stimulus package to cushion the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.

“More should be allocated to assist the welfare of the people as the government can use allocations from the 2020 Budget or from the federal development fund for infrastructure projects.

“The state government should provide more cash handouts to affected people, subsidise more on food imports to reduce the prices and give extra funds for personal protection equipment for medical staff,” he said.

Firdausi said the Sabah stimulus package also needed to provide more funds for small and medium enterprises to utilise directly instead of just loans.

“More importantly, the government should provide early bonus payments for state civil servants who number more, compared with other states in Malaysia, to ensure more spending,” he said.