The RM600 billion “stolen money” fairy tale

(The Edge) – Just 10 days after assuming office, Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim shocked the nation by saying that there could have been some breaches involving a staggering sum of RM600 billion during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

That is a large sum of money, and the statement grabbed headlines. Let us look at the numbers.

The bulk of the RM600 billion is made up of the RM530 billion disbursed for the various stimulus packages introduced during the pandemic, including EPF withdrawals and loan moratoriums allowed by banks. These initiatives put money in the hands of the people and businesses. They were not government money or government projects and contracts given out.

Direct government stimulus money of around RM80 billion was used to purchase vaccines, set up vaccination centres and give handouts to targeted groups.

Those familiar with government finances would know that RM600 billion is larger than Bank Negara Malaysia’s entire foreign reserves, which stood at US$109.7 billion or RM509 billion as at end-November. It is also the size of two federal government annual budgets put together. Any misappropriation of that size would certainly have a major negative impact on the financial system.

Whether it is a miscommunication, misunderstanding or plain political posturing, the issue should be clarified swiftly.

At a time when Malaysia needs local businesses to strategically invest in the country, we cannot be shooting ourselves in the foot when what we need is a big shot in the arm in terms of investor confidence.

That is why it is often advisable not to shoot from the hip.