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Anwar urges govt to spend more funds from budget to combat Covid-19

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's opposition yesterday demanded Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's administration spend more funds under next year's budget to manage the pandemic.

The future of Mr Muhyiddin's administration rests on the passage of the budget, as his two-seat parliamentary majority is tested by a leadership challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

A defeat would amount to a no-confidence vote, analysts say, and would plunge Malaysia into more political instability as the country's economy grapples with its first economic contraction in more than a decade.

The government presented the country's biggest-ever budget on Friday, aimed at spurring economic recovery through higher development spending, besides subsidy and cash aid programmes for people and businesses hit by the crisis.

But Mr Anwar said the budget has set aside billions for lower-priority infrastructure projects while neglecting the needs of the people in coping with loss of jobs and livelihood due to the Covid-19 pandemic, or improving access to education.

"We have been told, urged, asked and advised to support a Covid-19 budget. And we will only support a Covid-19 budget," Mr Anwar told Parliament when debating the budget.

Among the proposals the government should reconsider, said Mr Anwar, is transferring RM19 billion (S$6 billion) earmarked as capital expenditure under Budget 2021 towards the Covid-19 fund.

"This is central because everyone knows, including the Royal Decree, that this is a Covid-19 Budget, which needs to solve the problems faced by the (nation)."

He also criticised the RM85 million allocation to the Special Affairs Department, describing it as an allocation to create propaganda. He said it should be transferred to the Covid-19 fund.

The opposition made several demands for the budget, including the expansion of social security, extension of wage subsidies and guaranteed job creation.

Last month, Mr Muhyiddin called for cross-party support for the budget, after the king told lawmakers to back the government's spending plans to manage the disease.

Malaysia reported 972 cases yesterday, raising the total to 41,181. There were eight deaths, taking the toll to 294. - REUTERS, THE STAR

WORLD