5 good reasons to adopt the 2021 budget

Chandra Muzaffar, Free Malaysia Today

Like many other citizens, I hope the Malaysian parliament will adopt the 2021 Budget by a comfortable margin. Among the reasons are the following.

  1. The federal budget is directly linked to one of the most severe crises that the nation has faced in its history. By adopting the budget our MPs would be responding to the challenge of the hour.
  2. The budget contains general and specific proposals that deal with the health crisis and the economic crisis that the former has spawned. Support from the people’s representatives for these measures is vital to ensure their smooth implementation.
  3. Since the budget’s primary preoccupation is with vulnerable groups, they would be gravely disappointed if the budget fails to garner parliamentary endorsement. It would appear that the institution that represents them is not as concerned as it should be with their well-being.
  4. The budget goes beyond the immediate crises and seeks to address challenges that are critical for the nation’s future such as infrastructure development, digitalisation, industrialisation and food production. It is only through an appreciation of these challenges that Parliament and the people would be able to play a decisive role in moulding Malaysia’s future.
  5. In a period of great uncertainty, a budget provides the citizenry with a sense of direction. It, therefore, deserves the support of all and sundry.

Of course, the budget has its limitations which is why the government should remain open to ideas and proposals from not only members of Parliament, whatever their political affiliation, but also citizens from all walks of life.

In the past few weeks, many useful suggestions have emerged such as ways of reducing public expenditure by jettisoning certain construction projects, eliminating allocations that are not essential and even trimming down on roles and positions.

One expenditure item which has raised a lot of eyebrows is the RM85 million allotted to JASA, a Special Affairs Department under the communications and multimedia ministry.

It is perceived as a mechanism for government propaganda. Perhaps at a time like this, JASA’s allocation can be better utilised for more urgent purposes connected with public health.

Some MPs have also asked how the government is going to finance the biggest budget in our history with an outlay of RM322.5 billion. While there is some explanation in the budget itself, there is certainly a need for further clarification, taking into account various possible scenarios that will impact public revenue in the coming year.

People are most conscious of the fact that our economy is in the doldrums.

The EPF and loan moratorium

Two other concerns which have gained a great deal of public attention are linked to the Employees Provident Fund on the one hand and a moratorium on loans, on the other. Both, it must be stressed, do not come within the ambit of the budget.

It is therefore disingenuous of some MPs to argue that they will only support the budget if their position on the two issues is accommodated.

Nonetheless, because EPF and the extension on the moratorium have emerged as the cynosure of budget discourse, the government has chosen to respond. It is significant that while taking heed of the public’s pleas, government leaders have been resolute about maintaining professional norms.

Unfortunately, neither the government nor Parliament has given adequate attention to the pathetic situation of two categories of people that have surfaced in the course of the health crisis.

Taking care of the people

Inmates in many of our prisons have become victims of Covid-19 partly because of the parlous conditions in which they are detained. This requires urgent attention just as the housing and living conditions of many foreign workers have increased their susceptibility to the virus.

In both instances, we are reminded why humane treatment of all our fellow beings is a fundamental societal principle.

Finally, a section of civil society and various legislators have also proposed that all legislators at Parliament and state levels, including of course ministers and deputy ministers, should take a “pay cut”, of 20% of their salaries and allowances for a period of time, say a year or so.

Although the total quantum would be modest, it would have a huge psychological impact upon our people as proof of the willingness of our elected leaders to sacrifice a portion of their income for the larger good of society.

It will be recalled that in the eighties and nineties, in the midst of an economic crisis such a move was made by our ministers and deputy ministers.

If our political leaders act in this manner, it is quite conceivable that the top brass of our civil and public services, the judiciary and other public institutions will follow suit. Our Rulers and royal households would also want to set the right example. The upper echelons of our GLCs and GLICs will be persuaded to do their bit. Private sector elites with their huge earnings will also have to respond to the challenge.

Camouflage for usurping the prime ministership

Even if all these proposals are incorporated into the budget, there are some who argue that the budget has to be rejected because the government of the day has no legal standing. Let it be emphasised that the appointment of Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister on March 1 by the Yang Di Pertuan Agong was in accordance with provisions of the Malaysian constitution.

When the then prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned, the King exercised his constitutional right to choose a member of Parliament who, he had ascertained, commanded the support of the majority of MPs and was therefore qualified to be prime minister.

This argument about the legality of Muhyiddin’s position is a camouflage for those who are hell-bent on usurping the prime ministership. Personal ambition, propelled by domestic and foreign agendas, is what drives these individuals. Whatever their rhetoric, they have no commitment to the well-being of the people or the nation’s interest.

Such crass selfishness at a time like this will be the ruin of our nation.