Vulnerable groups adequately covered by budget, says economist

KUALA LUMPUR: Direct and indirect assistance to vulnerable groups under the 2021 Budget will provide adequate relief for them to survive the economic uncertainty posed by the Covid-19 pandemic next year.

Measures including cash aid under Bantuan Prihatin Rakyat (Prihatin), financial assistance for disabled groups and targeted loan repayments for B40 households will certainly cushion the impact of economic anxiety, according to Sunway University Business School professor of economics Dr Yeah Kim Leng.

“(Under the 2021 budget) there are also rehiring incentives and wage subsidies, upskilling and reskilling programmes, as well as several other social protection measures.

“All these measures will provide the recipients with adequate relief to survive in 2021 should the economic recovery falter,” he told Bernama recently.

During the tabling of the 2021 Budget on Nov 6, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz announced a RM6.5 billion allocation for Prihatin which will benefit 8.1 million people, and a RM2.2 billion allocation to help disabled groups.

Tengku Zafrul also announced that the government will enhance its targeted loan repayment assistance which will include additional repayment options for the B40, M40, and micro-SME groups.

According to Yeah, it is also important for the social welfare department and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to be on the lookout for those severely affected by the Covid-19 crisis who, for some reason, might fail to receive the aid.

He said that given the extensive data collection and cash disbursement programmes implemented over the years, the government should have a comprehensive database of those falling under the needy and disadvantaged groups.

“An open and easily accessible window to register new recipients could be made available to cover those left behind, or those whose financial position unexpectedly worsens next year,” he said.

Yeah added that further cash assistance for low-income households would be needed if the pandemic is prolonged and the economic recovery fails to materialise by the second half of 2021.

Apart from the vulnerable and B40 groups, the 2021 Budget also listed several incentives for health ministry frontliners as a mark of appreciation for their services including a one-off RM500 payment and the continuation of their monthly RM600 allowance until the pandemic is successfully overcome.

Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said the one-off payment that will benefit some 100,000 frontliners will be a morale booster for them.

He said that while the announcement will indeed lift the spirits of frontliners, the government should also look at contract medical officers who are still uncertain about their future.

“While the one-off payment is a morale booster, it is only momentary as they (contract officers) are unsure if they will still have their jobs at the end of the day. Many of these frontliners are facing uncertainty about their employment as a sizeable number of them are on contract,” he said.

Dr Subramaniam added that it is difficult to put a budget on managing a pandemic, and the RM1 billion allocation under the 2021 Budget to contain the third wave of Covid-19 may seem like a substantial amount, but there is no way of knowing if it is enough.

“There should also be greater transparency and accountability on the spending of this allocation with a proper tender system and purchasing process put in place to ensure proper control of the budget and to avoid any wastage,” he said.

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