Celeration of 60th Merdeka day 2017 in Dataran Merdeka. .- Art Chen / The Star.

Same old, same old – economists not impressed with Tengku Zafrul

PETALING JAYA: Economists are lukewarm about Tengku Zafrul Aziz’s 100 days in charge of the finance ministry in the Ismail Sabri 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 not particularly bold.

Nambiar felt that there was nothing much to commend Tengku Zafrul for, especially with regards to the Fiscal Responsibility Act and pre-budget statement.

Shankaran Nambiar

“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, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob 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 that.

Ahamed Kameel Mydin Meera.

“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.

The ministry did not have a proper direction and felt 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.

Lee Heng Guie.

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 with the opposition in getting input for the Budget.

This, he said, helped ensure the Budget was planned in an inclusive manner.

“Besides that, the finance ministry sought public input 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.