RM500 EPF withdrawal a great help

The money that goes into Social Security is not the government’s money. it’s your money. You paid for it.

– Mitch McConnell, US senator

In this column last week, I joined the chorus of Malaysians who have appealed to the government to allow Employees Provident Fund (EPF) members to make partial withdrawal from Account 1.

Among those who made the request were Umno Youth and former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak. Other political leaders also echoed similar sentiments.

They have explained the rationale behind their proposal. So did I. We have strong, valid reasons for the request which we think is not only necessary but urgent.

The suffering rakyat need money in their hands and they need it now. The emphasis is on “now”, not “later”.

The pandemic has forced many to focus on how to survive at this very moment. Worrying about having enough in savings for retirement is furthest from our mind.

I’m glad that Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has finally relented despite shooting down the proposal initially.

Last Friday, the government announced under 2021 Budget that there would be withdrawals of RM500 for up to 12 months or RM6,000 in total allowed from members’ EPF Account 1.

Muhyiddin said the government was at first hesitant to allow such withdrawals but reconsidered after hearing the growing number of voices from people who were in desperate need of funds.

Well, Muhyiddin is listening to the rakyat, at least this time. We should be grateful, even if we do not support his backdoor administration.

Let’s not forget to give credit when it’s due, even to the worst of foes when they deserve it. RM500 is a meagre sum to some but to the needy and others in desperate situations, it is a great help.

Let’s say you are a Sarawakian from a rural family working away from home in Kuching or Kuala Lumpur.

Being able to send RM500 a month to your elderly parents in the kampung at this difficult time is a big relief. You are able to fulfill your obligation and responsibility to your parents back home.

A sum of RM500 might just be sufficient for them to pay their utility bills and purchase provisions and food for a month.

It is my understanding of such a situation that I am strongly in favour of allowing EPF contributors to make partial withdrawal of their savings.

The prime minister also has a caveat. Muhyiddin stressed that withdrawals from the EPF Account 1 were only for those who were in dire straits financially.

That goes without saying. I think no sensible person would withdraw from his EPF savings now if not for desperation.

I am also happy to hear that Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz has advised the EPF to allow more contributors to withdraw from Account 1.

The minister said he held discussions with the fund’s management recently and the board had said it would announce details on who would be eligible to make withdrawals.

“My advice to the EPF management is to increase the number (above the target) and give the flexibility for more contributors to withdraw,” Tengku Zafrul said in a recent interview with TV3.

To the finance minister, I say “Good job and thank you”.

I will refrain on commenting on other 2021 Budget issues which I have reservation.

We have heard enough from opposition politicians. And I am not a politician.

However, let me say this: I wish the federal government has given Sarawak a better deal, particularly on infrastructure allocation.

I know I am not alone on this matter. Several Sarawak politicians from both sides have also expressed their dissatisfaction and Putrajaya should accept their criticisms as well-meaning.

The inability of leaders to accept criticisms is a reflection of their insecurities.

Meantime, thank you, Mr Prime Minister, on the EPF decision. It was the right call.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.