M'sian finance minister says his 'conscience is clear' regarding claims of inadequate govt aid amid lockdown

He believes the government have provided sufficient aid.

Jean Chien Tay | July 19, 2021, 04:27 PM

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Malaysian Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul said in an interview with South China Morning Post (SCMP) that his "conscience is clear" on the amount of aid the government has extended to the needy, despite the ongoing white flag campaign.

The white flag campaign has seen those in need of help amid the country's strict lockdown hang white flags outside their homes as a plea for assistance.

Not "perfect" job but has tried their best

In response to criticisms from Malaysians who felt the economic aid provided by the government during the ongoing health crisis was inadequate, Zafrul said he has "done [his] very best".

"I didn't come to this job to be popular," he said. "I came to this job to do the right things."

He added that while what they had done so far was "not perfect", he doesn't think that "anyone knows what to do, really", given that the crisis was "unprecedented".

He further elaborated: "There is no so-called precedence nor textbook I can refer to, so it’s important that we do our best."

Zafrul also denied that the government was "too cautious" with direct fiscal injections, citing the percentage increase in fiscal deficit due to the government's stimulus packages as proof.

The 48-year-old had announced a deficit target of 5.4 per cent last year, and the percentage rose to 6 per cent in February this year, and later to 6.5 to 7 per cent with the latest announcement.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had recently announced on June 28 a RM150 billion (S$48 billion) aid package that includes a fiscal injection of RM10 billion (S$3.2 billion), Reuters reported.

However, Zafrul acknowledged that unemployment rate is expected to rise since May after the total lockdown.

Optimistic with economy reopening

Despite consecutive daily records of over 10,000 cases of Covid-19, the minister was optimistic about gradual resumption of economic activities, saying that many states have moved to "phase two" where more sectors of the economy have reopened.

He added that according to projections based on the country's rate of vaccination -- which he said is nearing 17 per cent currently -- most sectors would reopen by the end of October.

"We are quite optimistic that by the end of the year, we will go back to the (new) normal," he said.

"We have a systematic approach and we want to safely reopen our economy and our social sector as well."

Rare moment of cooperation with the opposition

Zafrul also acknowledged the current political situation as "less than ideal", but stressed the importance of political stability in facing the pandemic.

"I hope going forward, the political parties can work together," he said, adding that what they "don't need" at the moment is a "political crisis" on top of an economic and health dual crisis.

Over the past week, he said he had held talks with prominent opposition figures, such as former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, and consulted them on their advice and opinions regarding the country's recovery plans.

Such a move is considered uncommon, as the opposition has at times been critical of the current administration, who have not often included them in previous plans.

When asked about the reason behind such move, he stated "constructive criticism" is important to the government, adding that the talks had been "very productive".

Top image adapted via Muaz Rasid/Creative Commons & Steven Sim/Twitter