KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 24 — As Putrajaya prepares to table Budget 2018 this Friday with a theme of “Shaping the Future”, many Malaysians who are feeling the pinch are hoping for measures and aid that will help ease their burdens.
Employees in both the private and public sectors felt the pressures of rising costs keenly, with the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) focusing particularly on seeking the government’s aid for the B40 and M40, respectively low- and middle-income groups, which it said were facing an “unhealthy income disparity” when compared to the country’s top-earners.
The MTUC, in its October 2 wishlist to the government, urged for the current minimum wage of RM1,000 (peninsular Malaysia) and RM920 (Sabah, Sarawak) for the private sector to be almost doubled to RM1,800.
It also proposed a RM5 billion revolving fund, to be provided the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) through the Malaysian Building Society Berhad (MBSB), for personal loans of up to RM10,000 for B40 and M40 employees at zero interest and 2 per cent interest, as well as a RM20 billion revolving fund by the government for zero-interest housing loans for the same groups.
In its July 20 wishlist to the government, the Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) noted that the civil servants it represents are the backbone of the administration and catalysts of the private sector’s success, but said it found some to be still living below the poverty line.
While expressing gratitude for the government’s special financial assistance over the past four years, Cuepacs said civil servants had not received a bonus during the same period and would want one and a half months’ of bonus.
Warning of a “homeless generation” of Malaysians who cannot afford to own homes, the National House Buyers Association (HBA) mooted four mechanisms to avert such a crisis, including curbing property speculation through higher stamp duty rates and higher real property gains tax on buyers and sellers who own more than two properties.
HBA said the government should increase the supply of affordable homes by incentivising private developers with fast-track project approvals, cheaper land conversion or alienation costs, partial tax exemption on profits from such projects.
It also mooted a nationwide rent-to-own scheme for the B40 and M40 group to help them overcome the usual 10 per cent deposit hurdle; it also urged the government to intervene by imposing price controls on affordable housing as it knew the actual land costs developers had to bear.
The Real Estate and Housing Developers Association (Rehda) proposed measures to make it easier for first-time buyers of affordable homes, including full stamp duty exemption on higher-value affordable properties instead of the RM300,000 limit announced in the last Budget, as well as exemption from higher conveyancing legal fee rates —— newly introduced this March —— for such properties.
Rehda’s detailed 10-point list also suggested waiving the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on affordable housing construction materials, and allowing first-time homebuyers earning below RM10,000 to have the housing loan interest during the construction period to be included in their affordable housing unit’s price.
Besides asking for lower business costs, Rehda also said the minimum RM1 million price limit announced in Budget 2014 for foreign buyers of residential properties should be replaced with a three-tier pricing system according to how urbanised a state is.
MTUC argued that the government should provide free education for students from B40 and M40 families to raise their living standards, instead of the current provision of full federal study loan under the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) to students from low-income families which receive the annual BR1M cash aid.
“In short, we are asking for free education from pre-school till they graduate from university. Children of B40 and M40 be given free education be it public or private universities and current students who are in receipt of PTPTN shall stop repaying immediately,” MTUC secretary-general J. Solomon told Malay Mail Online.
MTUC also said the government should introduce laws for employers to provide mandatory financial education training for employees annually for free, and to have students taught how to manage their finances as part of the school syllabus.
A member of youth movement UndiMsia mooted free tertiary education and an automatic conversion of PTPTN to a zero interest or lower interest scheme; as well as for tax rebates on PTPTN repayments.
Aside from seeking RM20 million for National Youth Day celebrations nationwide, the Malaysian Youth Council’s (MYC) proposals mostly revolved around training youths, including a RM10 million one-off grant for seminars on being debt-free and finance management and entrepreneurship.
MYC also sought a RM15 million allocation for youth organisations to help plan follow-up programmes after the National Transformation 2050 (TN50) proposals are submitted to the prime minister.
Growing healthcare costs prompted the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) to suggest price controls of private hospitals, and for better public healthcare with more infrastructure and more specialist doctors to cut down on patients’ waiting time.
The MTUC said the Employment Act 1955 should be amended to introduce one month’s paid leave to new fathers, also asking that female employees be given 90 days of paid maternity leave for up to five children instead of the minimum 60 days under the same law.
Malaysian Public Transport Users Association (4PAM) president Ajit Johl repeated his suggestion from last year for the formation of a Public Transport Tariff Review and Tribunal Committee, which he said should include all public transport stakeholders such as the users, operators, regulators and report to the relevant ministries.
“Tariff reviews must be done against pre-agreed KPIs (key performance indicators) and be transparent,” he said, adding that it could even manage proposed tariff reviews for air transport.
“This same committee can also act like an ombudsman to help users air grievances against operators, specifically the express bus industry,” he said.
This year also saw the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) insisting that the government show commitment to human rights in Budget 2018, such as by ensuring sufficient funds to assist refugees and asylum seekers.
Suhakam said the government should also ensure the disabled community’s needs are sufficiently considered and to ensure significant funds to help the indigenous community realise their land rights.
Fomca mooted a comprehensive social safety net with possible features such as a food stamp programme, cash aid for child care, food aid in school for students and subsidised public transport.
An UndiMsia member also proposed a higher budget for the welfare department with a focus on children welfare and social service workers.
Also read: Senate passes Supply Bill 2018