(Ipoh, Sunday): I welcome the statement by the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, yesterday that he would announce in Parliament tomorrow additional austerity measures to be taken towards economic recovery and restoring investors’ confidence.
He told reporters after chairing the 45th meeting of the International Islamic University (IIU) Council in Kuala Lumpur yesterday that he would also explain to Parliament the core austerity measures he announced in the emergency financial package on Friday.
New austerity measures are clearly needed as the 1998 budget which Anwar presented to Parliament on Oct. 17 had failed to restore confidence, with the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange and the Malaysian ringgit continuing in their downward slide.
I am glad that Anwar has accepted my proposal at the end of October that he should present a second 1998 Budget to supplement the original 1998 Budget, although a lot of losses to the country and the people could have been avoided if he had acted five weeks earlier.
However, such a second 1998 Budget in the form of the austerity measures he announced on Friday and others to be revealed in Parliament tomorrow should receive the official sanction of Parliament after a full debate.
Tomorrow is in fact the last day for the debate and passage of the 1998 Budget, as the last remaining item before the Dewan Rakyat approves the 1998 budget is the winding-up speech of the Deputy Works Ministers in the allocations for the Works Ministry.
Parliament, however, must be given full and ample time for debate on the second 1998 Budget, to consider whether the austerity measures are adequate to restore confidence.
I would therefore urge Anwar to also announce tomorrow that a full week would be set aside for Parliament to debate the second 1998 Budget.
Under the Parliamentary standing orders, 28 days are set aside for the policy and committee stage of the 1998 budget, and asking for four days for the debate on the second 1998 budget is the very least which the government should allocate if it is serious about parliamentary democracy.
It is important that there should be a full and thorough debate on the second 1998 budget, for the time has come for the government to enlist the wholehearted support of the people to face and overcome the national economic crisis, which is going to create a lot of pain, hardships and even sufferings to the people in the next two to three years.
During the parliamentary debate on the 1998 budget, the government and Barisan Nasional backenchers have put up a false front, refusing to acknowledge that the country is facing a grave economic crisis, which had been aggravated by many self-inflicted woulds of the government, whether of commission or omission.
Parliament must make amends, and in the debate on the second 1998 Budget, let all MPs, whether government or opposition, face up to the stark reality that Malaysians and the real economy are going to suffer great pain, hardships and even suffering in the coming months.
The question is how long the economic crisis is going to last – two, three or more years, and what has to be done by the government and the people to ensure that the economic crisis is the shortest possible, that latest by the year 2,000, Malaysia would be in full economic revival.
The government must realise that finally it is the people’s unity and commitment which can turn the economic crisis around – and this is why the government must be prepared to listen to the views, concerns, hopes and fears of the people as expressed through their MPs in Parliament.
If there is going to be a full week’s debate on the second 1998 Budget, the current Parliamentary meeting would have to be extended, as it is scheduled to adjourn this week.
I would suggest that Parliament be extended by another two weeks, with the coming week fully devoted to a full debate on the second 1998 budget, while the next two weeks can deal with the 13 government bills on the Order Paper.