It completely sidelines Parliament in decision-making concerning the consolidated fund, says think-tank Ideas.
The Federal Constitution provides enough flexibility for the government to utilise public funds for emergency situations, said the Institute for Democracy and Economy Affairs (Ideas).
Thus, there was no need for the new ordinance allowing the federal and state governments to expand the budget without parliamentary oversight, which Ideas said was an “affront to public accountability”.
“With such flexibility already built into the constitution, there is no need for the government to issue this amendment to the ordinance and completely sideline Parliament in decision-making concerning the consolidated fund.
“Besides, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has allowed Parliament to sit during the emergency period. The government should utilise this opportunity to seek parliamentary approval for financial policies and prove that they will handle this health crisis with accountability,” Ideas CEO Tricia Yeoh (above) said in a statement today.
Ideas explained that the constitution mandates the government to seek parliamentary approval for expenditures or withdrawals from consolidated funds except for charged expenditures, statutory loans and some trust fund-related expenditures.
Article 104 of the Federal Constitution states that with the exception of these three types of expenditures, “[…] no money shall be withdrawn from the consolidated unless they are […] authorised by a Supply Act”.
Even in responding to urgent emergency situations, Ideas said, the constitution still requires the government to seek parliamentary approval though it does provide some flexibility.
If “[…] the amount appropriated by the Supply Act for any purpose is insufficient, or that a need has arisen for expenditure for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by the Supply Act […]”, Article 101 gives the government room to spend the money first and table the supplementary supply bill at the next Parliament sitting.
“If it is impossible for the Supply Act to be passed, Article 102 of the constitution mandates Parliament to authorise spending before passing the supply bill if urgently required to do so.
“The message in the constitution remains clear: the government must be accountable to Parliament if they wish to use the rakyat’s money,” said Ideas.
Yeoh said Malaysia’s growing debt means that prudency, oversight and accountability in public spending are more important now than ever, she said.
“Ultimately, this move raises a question of whether the government plans to extend the emergency beyond August.
“With Malaysia’s democratic status already undergoing a worrying degradation over the last few months, with the most recent assault being the passing of the ‘fake news’ emergency ordinance earlier in March, questions must be raised about whether the Perikatan Nasional government plans to pursue all efforts to stop any parliamentary sitting just to remain in power,” she questioned.
Separately, Umno information chief Shahril Hamdan said the government must explain its reasonings to enforce the ordinance and spend without parliament scrutiny.
While the government has bypassed procedures to justify its spendings, Shahril said they should at least have the moral standing to explain how the funds will be spent.
“If the plan is good, MPs will certainly pass it (in Parliament).
“But now instead they used the amended ordinance […] Don’t be afraid, ‘confirm’ they can spend,” he said in a statement on Facebook.
Meanwhile, Bagan MP Lim Guan Eng described the move as “another act of treachery” by PN against Parliament and the Federal Constitution.
“The nation’s tens of billions of ringgit can now be determined by one man instead of going through the check-and-balance system of parliamentary democracy.
“Parliament is the correct platform to check abuses of power, financial misappropriation, and misuse of public funds for political purposes, just like the RM85.5 million allocation for Department of Community Communications was slashed to RM40.5 million after protests from MPs,” said the former finance minister.
Lim claimed the move would also protect Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin against critical questions on the country’s finances, including an increase in government gross debt issuance for January-February 2019, 2020 and 2021.
He cited Bank Negara figures which showed a 60 percent increase – from RM19.5 billion for the first two months of 2020 under Harapan to RM31 billion in the same period this year.
“If such borrowings are genuinely meant for battling Covid-19 and to help the people overcome the economic recession, the opposition would not only support but may even seek additional and increased spending,” he said.
Yesterday, the government gazetted the Emergency (Essential Powers) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 that allows the prime minister, chief minister or menteri besar to pass a supplementary budget or use consolidated funds without going through the legislature as long as the emergency is in force.
The new law also suspended Paragraph 4(b) of the Government Funding Act 1983 and Paragraph 2(2)(b) of the Treasury Bills (Local) Act 1946, which are in relation to the Dewan Rakyat’s authority over money matters.
Parliament and all legislative assemblies have been suspended since Jan 11 through a proclamation of emergency.