WITH Covid-19 forcing governments to do what it takes to save their economies and people’s livelihoods, finding new sources of revenue is critical.
For Malaysia, there is one source that could be readily mobilised – unclaimed money that are under the care of the Registrar of Unclaimed Money in the Accountant-General’s Department. The accountant-general is also the Registrar of Unclaimed Money.
The Electronic Government Unclaimed Money Information System (eGUMIS) was activated in 2018 to enable the public to check if they had any unclaimed money.
Unclaimed money includes:
> Salaries, bonuses, commissions and other payments to employees;
> Dividends and profits declared for distribution;
> Insurance claims;
> Matured fixed deposits; and
> Credit balance from dormant savings.
In 2019 alone, the amount of unclaimed money was estimated at nearly RM9bil. To compare, this sum is almost the same amount as the direct injection of RM10bil under the Short-Term Economic Recovery Plan (Penjana) and a fifth of the overall cumulative injection of RM45bil.
Even the National Contingencies Fund which, under Article 11(3) of the Financial Procedure Act 1957, empowers the Finance Minister to make spending advances doesn’t match up. The 2020 budget allocated only RM2bil to the National Contingencies Fund.
In order to unlock this potential source of revenue, the Unclaimed Money Act (1965) needs to be amended to legally enable the accountant-general cum Registrar of Unclaimed Money to transfer the outstanding amount into the government’s coffers.
The absence of an expiry date also needs to be rectified to facilitate the transfer.
For many, this act of expropriation could well be considered as unconstitutional and a form of “theft”.
But the money to be transferred remains unclaimed and idle. Under the Unclaimed Money Act, it is under the care of the government in the person of the Registrar of Unclaimed Money, and is held in trust with the government.
As such, the government is legally entitled on the basis of common law principles to use or dispose of the unclaimed money in any way that it sees fit so long as it’s not contrary to the Constitution, public policy or morality.
Desperate or extraordinary times call for desperate or extraordinary measures. Therefore, proposing for unclaimed money to be diverted by the government for social purposes as a “stop-gap” or emergency measure on a temporary basis is not far-fetched.
As long as everything is done in a transparent, accountable and democratic manner, and the unclaimed money is used to stimulate the economy, members of the public should not baulk at it.
In this regard, the unclaimed money should be used to extend the Wage Subsidy Programme (WSP) for SMEs or help households, especially the B40, by providing them with vouchers to be used at selected outlets for essential items, including personal protective equipment such as face masks and sanitisers, which are not cheap.
Putting the unclaimed money to good use on a temporary basis would make a difference to government coffers. Every sen counts.
JASON LOH SEONG WEI
(Think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research)
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