IF the government were to devise a scheme where a grandparent could “borrow” future earnings from his grandchild, would the grandparent consent to such an unusual plan?
Khaw Veon Szu, fz.com
Yet, the various popular cash handouts that are now being offered, if continued indefinitely, are akin to intergenerational borrowings that threaten the well-being of future generations with massive financial obligations incurred from the benefits received by today’s generation.
A recent statement by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has set alarm bells ringing. According to the media, the deputy prime minister said Putrajaya may double the RM500 cash aid distributed under its Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) programme.
He added that the federal government may even make it a permanent policy should the national income and tax revenue exceed RM125 billion and Barisan Nasional wins the general election.
The first BR1M, paid out to nearly five million families at a cost to taxpayers of RM2.6 billion earlier last year, saw Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s approval rating hit 69%, largely due to a surge among lower-income households. BR1M 2.0’s coverage has been extended to unmarried youths.
More than 2.3 million applications had been received as at Dec 17, 2012, with more than 1.6 million from unmarried youths and more than 720,000 from households.
Under the programme, Malaysians with a household income of less than RM3,000 a month are eligible for a one-off cash aid of RM500 while unmarried individuals aged 21 and above and who earn not more than RM2,000 a month are eligible for one-off aid of RM250. BR1M 2.0 is expected to benefit 4.3 million households and 2.7 million unmarried individuals.
An additional RM300 million has been set aside for the Youth Communication Package that offers a oneoff rebate of RM200 to youths aged 21 to 30 with a monthly income of RM3,000 and below for the purchase of a 3G smartphone.
Make no mistake. The Pakatan Rakyat state governments are equally guilty as they pioneered such cash aid programmes after taking over several states in the last general election. These included the Senior Citizens Appreciation Programme, the Single Mother and Disabled Person Programme and the Golden Students Programme, under which eligible recipients receive RM100 each annually.
That is what we fear most about populism. What initially starts out as one-off or ad hoc cash aid measures to win elections might eventually end up as a fixture in our national annual budget.
No wonder many now worry that the battle to win the hearts and minds of the rakyat is fast descending into a mindless competition to put cash into the pockets of voters.
The natural tendency in a democracy is for politicians to promise more and more to fulfil a multitude of the rakyat’s incompatible desires. To meet these everincreasing promises, politicians are left with no alternative but to resort to print-ing money or borrowing in epic proportions.
Hence, it is not surprising to learn that Aristotle was of the view that political regimes may be divided according to the number who rule and what kind of rule — good or bad. And here comes the shocker.
If the many, the majority, rule for the sake of true common good, the regime is called a polity; if the many, the majority, rule for their own advantage rather than the common good, the regime is a democracy. This probably explains why our great institutions — the judiciary, Parliament, civil service, free press and the family — have such profound importance. They provide a system of checks and balances against the populism that is such a po-tent force in a democratic system.
They stand for values — decency, fairness, protection of minori-ties, freedom under law — that inevitably come under strain in a democracy. Actually, an obsession with politics is dangerous.
It is factually and patently wrong to assume that democracy is the same as liberty, tolerance and fairness because these values were embedded in public service long before universal suffrage and the emergence of what we think of today as democracy.