By Wong Chen

This article was completed at 5 pm on 27th November 2021.

In this article, I will provide (a) an update on Budget 2022,(b) an short update on our office spending and (c) an update on Covid-19.

On the matter of Budget 2022, in my last article, I hinted that I will be asking for some budget increases to improve overall governance. Those who diligently follow my postings will know that the most important governance issue in Parliament is the effectiveness of the select committees. For those who are uninitiated with Parliamentary matters, it is important to understand that select committees are the most powerful bodies to ensure a more transparent and accountable government.

During the 22 months of Pakatan Harapan rule, more select committees than ever were created but unfortunately, these committees were in fact very poorly funded. So while we had some committees we didn’t have adequate financial resources for designated secretariats, officers or researchers and not even an office for members to meet. This situation inevitably got much worse after the Sheraton Move.

However with the MoU signed in September 2021, and the government under tremendous pressure to reform Parliament as per the terms of the MoU, I seized the opportunity to make several fiscal demands to the minister of finance, Tengku Zafrul. Over a period of 10 working days, I personally lobbied and met with many stakeholders including the Auditor General, the law minister, the speaker, the deputy finance minister, and the finance minister.

After the intense lobbying, Tengku Zafrul in a meeting on 17th November agreed to all three of my requests. In the end, my office has managed to secure RM15 million for Parliament Select Committees, RM15 million for Gender Responsive Budget and RM10 million for the Auditor General to hire more accountants in preparation for accrual accounting. Tengku Zafrul, to his credit was a very keen supporter for all three better governance requests.

Now, I would like to highlight two back to school and Covid-19 programs that my office had recently undertaken. In the last 4 weeks, my office has spent and allocated RM300,000 for all 51 schools situated in Parliament Subang. The first program is the purchase and supply of 460 Covid-19 test kits for each and every school in Parliament Subang. The second program is to donate RM100 of cash for 30 underprivileged students per school (selected by the PIBG), so to help these students prepare to go back to school.

As per the normal practice of my office, we will start to audit our office expenses and spending in early December. We will produce and publish our accounts for all to see in the 1st week of January 2022.

Lastly, I would like to put a cautious alert to all my constituents on the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron. Scientists and health experts will need about another 2 weeks or so to assess how concerned we should be about Omicron. However, initial data seems to suggest that this variant is even more infectious than the Delta variant. The big task now is to figure out if this variant is more deadly than Delta. Scientists are also uncertain whether the variant infectivity can be slowed down by high vaccination rates.

In the meantime, many countries, including Malaysia are taking a more cautious preventive approach and have started to impose some travel restrictions. I fully understand that most of you, are pandemic fatigued and the economy is still struggling. But we cannot afford to sit back and take a reactive approach to an even more infectious variant.

What we can all do now is to continue to maintain a high vaccination rate including the booster shots. Wear your masks vigilantly and sanitise often. The government, in turn, will need to ramp up more PCR tests and thus improve its genomic tracing capabilities.