On 9 April 2020, IDEAS Webinar Series continued with its 3rd webinar titled, “COVID-19 Stimulus Package: Delivering with Democracy”. The discussion revolved around the power of a functioning parliamentary democracy to make a stimulus package effectively deliver its promises and to inquire what are the steps should be taken by Malaysia. This webinar was moderated by Aira Azhari, IDEAS’ Research Manager.
The first speaker is Lim Wei Jiet, Deputy Chairperson of the Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee and Malaysia’s National Representative to the International Bar Association’s (IBA) Young Lawyers Committee. Lim Wei Jiet started by raising 2 issues. The first is the constitutional framework when passing economic stimulus packages. He mentioned Article 104(1) of the Constitution regarding the Consolidated Fund. According to this article, no money should be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund unless either it is expenditure charged on the Consolidated Fund, expenditure authorized to be issued by Supply Act, or expenditure authorized to be issued under Article 102.
Lim Wei Jiet is of the opinion that the government should go through the tabling of the Supplementary Supply Act before announcing the stimulus package. Herein lies the problem of not knowing the source of the money. The second issue is the value of parliamentary debate in improving stimulus packages. He gave the example of the Senate in the US where Democrats managed to improve and expand the Coronavirus Bill mooted by the Republicans. In the case of Singapore, the opposition MPs managed to hold the Finance Minister into account and ask him to explain the Resilience Budget.
The second speaker is Tricia Yeoh, a Fellow at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS). Tricia highlighted 5 points regarding transparency and accountability which are fiscal transparency, procurement transparency and governance, federal-state consultations, budget transparency and reporting, and lastly transparent decision-making. Among key questions arose from the first point what are the source of the funds, how much of the fiscal injection and how it would affect Malaysia’s debt and budget deficit. Regarding the second point, she stressed that crisis procurement needs to balance between efficiency and transparency.
The third point is very important in providing adequate help and support for SMEs, communities and vulnerable groups. On the fourth point, Tricia urged the provision of the intermittent and final reports of the implementation of the stimulus package to the public, not only the Economic Action Council. Lastly, she called for transparent decision-making frameworks being made available to the public so the people know who are involved in the decision-making process and what are the plans for next 6 to 12 months.
The third speaker is YB Wong Chen, a two-term Malaysian MP. He is the Chairman of the Special Select Committee for International Relations and Trade. YB Wong Chen started of by stating that direct fiscal injection is amount to RM 35 billion, which is to be spent for about 3 months. He believes that the government would be using the next Parliamentary sitting, which would be held in May, to table the Supplementary Supply Bill. According to him, for sure there will be fiscal challenges for 2020. Oil revenue alone contributes RM50 billion a year, with additional RM17 billion in petroleum income tax. Looking at how the oil price is performing now, Malaysia would probably lose half of that amount. Corporate income tax contributes RM70 billion per year, would also potentially see a decrease of up to RM50 billion to the nation’s coffer.
On the accountability front, 3 main perspectives were mentioned. Firstly, the perspective of law. In Parliament, lawmakers could debate and decide whether to make amendments to Malaysia’s debt ceiling or not. Secondly, the perspective of policy. Select committee would be able to check government decision-making process and question the ministries on their budget and spending during COVID-19 crisis. Thirdly, from a budget perspective. Public Account Committee (PAC) is a reactive committee where it can summon the government for any wrong spending of the budget. Since the Parliament could not function normally in this crisis, YB Wong Chen said that accountability could be pursued through the media and lawsuit.
As a conclusion, Lim Wei Jiet re-iterated that we should polish policies so that they are effective and have a longer impact. Tricia Yeoh said that we need to rethink our priorities and we want a shared common good to be most effectively and efficiently felt. YB Wong Chen stressed that the current system is adequate enough but we just need to be tinkering a bit with independent Parliamentary funding, officers reporting to the Speaker, not the Prime Minister and also establish more Parliamentary select committees.
The speakers’ presentation slides can be accessed below:
- Tricia Yeoh: Economic Stimulus Package: Delivering with Democracy through Public Accountability
- Lim Wei Jiet: Economic Stimulus Packages: Constitutional & Democractic Perspectives
For those who missed the webinar session and would like to watch it, the video recording of the webinar is available below.