Matta on Budget 2021: What a bummer!

G Vinod, Focus Malaysia

BUDGET 2021 offers very little solution to revive the ailing tourism industry which has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are disappointed. It failed to provide solid relief programmes to protect jobs and tourism. It will not do much to help the recovery of the industry,” said the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang.

Yesterday, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz tabled Budget 2021 at the Dewan Rakyat, worth RM322.54 bil.

The expansive budget was an addition to the six stimulus packages worth over RM300 bil announced this year, aimed at reviving the economy and push assistance towards those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the measures announced were wage subsidies to extended to another three months and a one percentage reduction on personal income tax for those earning between RM50,001 and RM70,000.

However, many have panned Budget 2021, with the National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam) saying its initiatives would only encourage more layoffs in the airline industry.

Tan said the initiatives in the budget does not take into account the fragile situation affecting 3.6 million workers in the tourism industry, particularly small and medium scale tourism companies.

“Travel demand will continue to diminish with the ongoing restrictions until a vaccine is made available soon,” he said in a statement.

Tan added the measures announced would not help protect jobs in the tourism industry, adding the wage subsidy programme’s scope should have been expanded.

“The wage subsidy programme should have been enhanced to avoid continuing lay-offs. The loan moratorium should also be extended up to June 2021 for tourism businesses to recover,” he said.

Echoing Tan’s sentiments, the Malaysian Tourism Agency Association (Mata) said Budget 2021 will only drive the tourism sector into a rut.

“Is there still hope for us? All I can say is we’re upset,” its president Datuk Mohd Khalid Harun told FocusM.

He also said that it was ridiculous for the Government to only help tourism in Sabah as the sector is an interconnected industry.

“Are they trying to say that only in Sabah tourism players are affected? What about those in Sarawak or in the Peninsular?

“And it makes no sense the Government is only planning to give the additional Prihatin aid worth RM1,000 for Sabah alone,” he said.

Khalid added while he appreciated the Government’s RM1 bil aid for the industry, under the Penjana initiative back in June, he claimed the delivery system was a mess.

“We feel cheated. The financial institutions revealed that only 3% of the funds have been disbursed despite the allocation being made available five months ago.

“That is why we suggested earlier for the Culture, Arts and Tourism Ministry to handle the funds as the latter understand our needs better,” he said.

Khalid projected that due to little support, the millions working in the tourism industry may lose their jobs, especially those working for hotels.

“However, the levy exemption for the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) initiative may give a breather for the hotel industry to keep going in this tough economic times,” he added.

Khalid said the Government should have consulted tourism industry players before tabling Budget 2021, like what was done by the previous two prime ministers.

On how the Government can help the tourism industry, Khalid said an exemption from paying quit rent and assessment fee for next year would be helpful.

“The Government can also consider opening up for inbound and outbound between green zone countries, with standard operating procedures attached, to boost tourism,” he said.

Malaysia Budget Hotel Association (BHA) also expressed frustration over Budget 2021, saying it would be hard to maintain the hotel industry without expansion to the assistance given.

“Please provide more tax relief and boost domestic tourism so that we can survive during this tough times,” said its deputy president Dr Sri Ganesh Michiel.