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Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul speaking in Parliament on 11 Oct 2021parliament 11 Oct 21

KUALA LUMPUR: After clearing a key vote in parliament, Malaysia is set to raise the limit on government debt for the second time in a little over a year as it seeks to fund additional pandemic support measures and bolster its economic recovery.

A majority of lawmakers in the lower house voted for increasing the statutory debt ceiling to 65% of gross domestic product (GDP) until end-2022, from 60%.

The bill will next head to the senate, controlled by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s coalition, before it’s signed into law by the king.

The increase will enable the government to fund RM45bil in extra spending on economic aid and stimulus packages, Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz said during the second reading of the bill yesterday.

Malaysia intends to boost its Covid Fund to RM110bil, from RM65bil, according to the bill.

“Most importantly, it will ensure continued support to all parties, particularly the B40 group and the affected families so that they can receive assistance to lighten their load,” Tengku Zafrul said, referring to the poorest 40% of the population.

The bill also aims to strengthen the public health systems and support small and medium-sized businesses, he added.

Malaysia is among several South-East Asian nations seeking additional ways to fund support programmes as they recover from one of the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks.

Thailand last month raised its debt limit to accommodate higher borrowing and spending, while the Philippines is nearing a key threshold. Indonesia also recently passed a new tax law to expand its revenue base and trim its budget deficit.

Malaysia’s previously announced pandemic aid packages require an additional allocation of RM27bil, Tengku Zafrul told lawmakers.

“Based on the current status of the Covid Fund, the Finance Ministry projects that this year’s allocation is insufficient,” he said.

The government has spent RM60bil in total as of the end of September, leaving the fund with a balance of just RM5bil, he said.

The bill didn’t face any hurdles during voting. Opposition Member of Parliament Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said all lawmakers would support the move, and their only reservations were on how the government planned to spend the funds.

“This may not be the time for us to immediately carry out fiscal consolidation, or, in other words, be too prudent about the national debt,” the former health minister said.

Tight movement restrictions most of the year tipped GDP into a quarterly contraction during April-June. The previous administration, which collapsed in August over its handling of the pandemic, had revised its growth forecast and budget deficit twice this year.

The economy is expected to rebound in 2022, helped by the recovery in the global economy and trade through the second half of 2021, and into next year, the Finance Ministry said last month.


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