PETALING JAYA: Economists are lukewarm about Tengku Zafrul Aziz’s 100 days in charge of the finance ministry in the Ismail Sabri Yaakob government, accusing the minister of merely continuing with policies he had implemented earlier.
Shankaran Nambiar of the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research said some of the ministry’s budget priorities were misplaced and the 2022 budget was not particularly bold.
“The government wasn’t particularly innovative in raising tax revenue. The attempt to raise revenue through the prosperity tax was an attempt at walking on the edge. If it doesn’t discourage investment, then it’s a good risk,” he said.
Nambiar felt that there was nothing much to commend Tengku Zafrul for, especially with regards to the Fiscal Responsibility Act and pre-budget statement.
“He is not a trailblazer in introducing these (FRA and pre-budget statements) as they are a part of the process of fiscal responsibility and transparency that multilateral agencies are emphasising on these days,” he told FMT.
When announcing his cabinet in August, Ismail said his ministers had 100 days to prove themselves, and would have their performances reviewed at the end of this period on Dec 5.
Tengku Zafrul, however, has been finance minister since the Muhyiddin Yassin-led Perikatan Nasional government took over in March last year after the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government.
International Islamic University Malaysia economics professor, Ahamed Kameel Mydin Meera felt the finance ministry needed a lot of institutional and policy reforms but does not seem inclined towards them.
“For example, when the government itself is in business, such as through GLCs, it can create a conflict of interest and the rakyat can potentially become ‘victims’ of these institutions,” he told FMT.
Ahamed Kameel felt the ministry did not have a proper direction and that an economic reset was necessary to prevent Malaysia from falling far behind our neighbours.
“Just see how the cost of living is rising, especially the price of food items. This can devastate the rakyat, particularly the B40 group, especially when we are just beginning to recover from the effects of Covid-19,” he said.
Socio-Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie, however, spoke up for the ministry, saying it was a huge mandate to steer the economy and businesses out of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It was a tough balancing act to maintain equilibrium between saving lives and livelihoods during the two-year battle against the pandemic given budget constraints,” he said.
Lee said the ministry’s pre-budget statement would help strengthen investors’ confidence in the country’s fiscal management. He also lauded the ministry’s bipartisan approach in getting inputs from the opposition for the 2022 Budget.
This, he said, helped ensure the budget was planned in an inclusive manner.
“Besides that, the finance ministry sought public inputs on four consultation papers, namely government procurement, cash assistance programmes, review of tax incentives, and the drafting of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.”
“This provided an avenue for constructive suggestions to enhance these four critical elements of fiscal policy,” he said.