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WITH the opening of the economy, it doesn’t make any sense to allow Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) contributors to continue dipping into their old-age savings, which has been largely depleted after the i-Lestari, i-Sinar and i-Citra withdrawal programmes 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 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 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 had allowed contributors to finally access funds from the ‘sacred’ Account 1, something that was practically untouchable before one’s retirement.
This Account 1 has 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 program called i-Citra early this year had also allowed drawdowns from Account 1.
This 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 needs 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 program 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 stops.
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 (MTUC) yesterday backed the stance not to allow more withdrawals under i-Citra. Some labour unions such as National Union of Seafarers of Peninsular Malaysia (NUSPM) and Union Network International-Malaysia Labour Centre (UNI-MLC) also have voiced their deep concern over the issue and asked EPF not to indulge requests for further i-Citra programs. The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) had 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 does not have enough savings in the future?