Khairy: Umno Must Address Health, Education, Social Protection Before GE15

KJ asks how Umno proposes to narrow the large gaps in Malaysia’s health and education systems, and how people’s retirement savings can be replenished after their EPF withdrawals.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 18 – Khairy Jamaluddin today told Umno to offer solutions for the huge gaps in Malaysia’s health and education systems that were widened by the Covid-19 pandemic, before calling for a snap general election.

The health minister, who is Rembau MP and Rembau Umno deputy division chief, noted that health and education were not mentioned in Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s speech today at the Umno general assembly.

Zahid, instead, mostly talked about Umno’s strength, following Barisan Nasional’s (BN) major victories in the Melaka and Johor state elections, as he questioned the need to wait for the 15th general election, which is due by July 2023, if voters were already leaning towards Umno.

“The pandemic has exposed the gaps in our health care system,” Khairy told Astro Awani in an interview at the sidelines of the Umno general assembly today.

He pointed out that this was why he is proposing to table a White Paper in Parliament on health care reform to increase public spending on health, not just because of the pandemic but also because of Malaysia’s ageing population and rising non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Khairy said last Tuesday that he expected to table the White Paper on health care reform and financing in Parliament in November, acknowledging the country’s “chronic underinvestment” in the public health care system.

“These are issues that people want to hear at the Umno general assembly, not just about change or returning the [people’s] mandate,” Khairy told Astro Awani.

“What is our offer to the people? It’s premature for people to say, ‘it’s time to return the mandate’. The point is, there’s still a lot of work.”

Khairy also cited the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and school closures on Malaysian students for most of the past two years that has led to a “lost generation”.

“We must have a programme to enable those who lost education opportunities in the past two years to catch up in terms of competency and basics in education. Umno must have a policy on how to narrow the education gap that was widened because of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The health minister also pointed out that Zahid’s speech at the Umno general assembly did not touch on social protection, after Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob approved the fourth special withdrawal from the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF).

EPF said in a statement that contributors aged below 55 would be allowed to withdraw between RM50 and RM10,000 from April 1 to April 30. They must fully utilise their retirement savings balance in Account 2 first before accessing Account 1.

By the end of 2021, over 7.4 million EPF contributors, nearly half of all contributors, withdrew a total of RM101 billion under the first three special withdrawal facilities – i-Lestari, i-Sinar, and i-Citra – during the pandemic.

“How will the government ensure that the money withdrawn from EPF – which was fought for by Umno Youth – will be replenished?” Khairy questioned.

“We gave a short-term solution, a simple solution, a populist solution. It’s necessary; I admit it’s necessary. But what do we do now to ensure that we can replenish our old age protection? This must be discussed.”

He later told reporters that although Malaysia is transitioning to an endemic phase on April 1, the 15th general election should not be held until the country’s public health situation stabilises, saying: “It’s better to postpone things that could complicate this recovery.”

EPF said last October 31 that the withdrawals from the first three special facilities of i-Lestari, i-Sinar, and i-Citra have left 6.1 million members with less than RM10,000 in their EPF accounts, of which 3.6 million have less than RM1,000.

Bumiputera members comprised 78 per cent of the withdrawal applicants. More than half of Bumiputera EPF members, or 4.4 million people, have less than RM10,000 of retirement savings left in their EPF accounts, while a quarter (two million people) have less than RM1,000.

Malaysia generally doesn’t have a strong social welfare protection system, with inadequate aged facilities in the public sector.

Khairy also maintained that he was a “party man”, pointing out that he never left Umno after BN’s historic defeat in the 2018 general election.

“Wherever the party tells me to go, I’ll go,” he said, when asked where he would run in the 15th general election.

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