Asyraf and Zahid sacrificing long-term interests for short-term political gains

Politicians are fond of stoking topics that can help them gain brownie points. But people like Asyraf and Zahid should not sacrifice the country’s long-term interests for short-term political gains. Doing so would be highly irresponsible.

(Malaysia Now) – With the opening of the economy, it doesn’t make any sense to allow EPF contributors to continue dipping into their old-age savings which have been largely depleted after the withdrawal programmes of i-Lestari, i-Sinar and i-Citra that were initiated during the lockdown periods over the last two years.

Here’s a quick refresher: i-Lestari was introduced by the EPF in 2020 to alleviate the financial woes faced by their contributors during the economic lockdown due to Covid-19 measures. This allowed EPF contributors to utilise funds in their respective Account 2 of their retirement savings.

Traditionally, Account 2 withdrawals had already been allowed for certain uses such as education or housing. In that respect, i-Lestari was not as startling a policy as what followed suit, which was the i-Sinar in November 2021. i-Sinar allowed contributors to finally access funds from the “sacred” Account 1, something that was practically untouchable before one’s retirement.

This Account 1 had always been the most protected and core to the very idea of Parliament establishing the EPF in the first place back in 1951. Subsequently, another programme called i-Citra early this year also allowed drawdowns from Account 1.

Account 1 is definitive of what we mean by retirement funds to see Malaysians through their golden years, and simply put, there just isn’t enough of it left today.

Going by EFP’s estimates, one would need to have at least RM240,000 in their savings if one were to spend an average of RM1,000 per month for 20 years after retirement. And RM1,000 a month is paltry even by today’s standards, not to mention the inflation over the coming years.

The shocking data revealed by EPF show that 67% of its contributors do not even have that amount in their savings. How are they to survive their retirement if we continue to allow contributors to withdraw more funds from their Account 1 today?

I am sure many Malaysians are bewildered by the constant badgering by the likes of Umno Youth head Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki and his party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. These leaders have incessantly lobbied for the EPF to extend the i-Citra programme and allow even more outflows of up to RM10,000. Perhaps it made sense to do so before when the country was under economic lockdown, but with the economy already open, it is time all this stopped.

I am grateful that the government has stood firm on this issue and not yielded to pressure from populist political leaders. Even the oft-critical Malaysian Trades Union Congress yesterday backed the stance not to allow more withdrawals under i-Citra. Some labour unions such as National Union of Seafarers of Peninsular Malaysia and Union Network International-Malaysia Labour Centre also have voiced deep concern over the issue and asked EPF not to indulge requests for further i-Citra programmes. The Malaysian Employers Federation also echoed similar sentiments today.

Do we want contributors past their retirement age to keep breaking their bones in the job market just so they can put food on the table? Have people like Asyraf thought of how this may strain our public healthcare system and welfare funds, if our elderly do not have enough savings in the future?

Politicians are fond of stoking topics that can help them gain brownie points. But people like Asyraf and Zahid should not sacrifice the country’s long-term interests for short-term political gains. Doing so would be highly irresponsible.

Our economic rebound is gaining momentum. According to the statistics department, unemployment was recorded at 4.3% in October this year. This is the lowest since April 2020. More jobs are available now as employers expand their businesses. In other words, the argument about having to dip into one’s EPF savings due to a lack of jobs and income is a weak one.

Another argument made for the withdrawal of EPF savings is that it will allow contributors to use their savings as capital to start a business or repay debts.

Yet, there are numerous microcredit schemes available out there for a myriad of business activities, offering low interest charges and even up to six months’ repayment moratorium. They were introduced by the government to stimulate the economy, and many from the B40 and even M40 can take advantage of this for business purposes.

Furthermore, if EPF contributors have problems servicing their individual loans, they can seek the help of AKPK to restructure their debts. I believe many Malaysians have found relief from overwhelming debt commitments through AKPK programmes. EPF savings are meant for retirement, not as seed money to start a business or pay off debts.

People like Asyraf should stop politicising this issue and stop promoting a short-sighted mentality among their supporters. Not when there are credible alternatives to solve personal or business financial woes as mentioned above. I am glad that the government and EPF have stood firm on this. Please do not falter.