Thus, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has announced the government’s budget for next year - or rather, he read a speech, trolled the opposition and set the tone that a general election might be closer than we think.
His speech was not the government budget. Instead, his speech was merely an opening of razzle-dazzle to entice people to vote for Barisan Nasional. Similarly, Pakatan Harapan’s budget released two days prior, read more like a manifesto.
Both are election budgets. And both, quite frankly, disappoint.
First off, as a heavy smoker, I’m wondering where exactly the government is expecting to raise yet another RM300 million from import duties on tobacco. The obvious answer is, of course, they intend to raise the prices of cigarettes, yet again.
At the same time, the main concern for the government is how it intends to dish out some RM280 billion with lesser revenue from the goods and services tax (GST), which will exclude a huge chunk of spending from the construction of houses of worship by charities, to even the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) businesses.
For some reason or another, the government projects an increase in GST revenue even with more exclusions. How? Will they reintroduce the aborted 66 listed items earlier this year for review and implementation?
The same applies to the individual income tax revenue. The prime minister said there will be a two percent reduction for those earning under RM9,000. And yet, the projection shows a growth in income tax revenue, albeit two percent lower compared to 2017.
How? Is there a projected growth in wages that will push average Malaysians into the lowest income tax.
I applaud the need to get people back to reading by offering GST exclusions on magazines and comics and the handing out of book vouchers. It is a good move to encourage people to read more, albeit not everyone will take it as a plus.
And then, the abolished tolls…
And then, there are the abolished tolls. I have issues with this, personally being brought up in Shah Alam. The Batu Tiga and Sungai Rasau tolls have been a bane for those living in Shah Alam and Klang.
Thus, abolishing these two have been on the residents’ wish list for a long time. However, it was announced in 2015 that the Batu Tiga toll would be extended beyond 2018 due to the rates being half of what it was supposed to be.
While I’m sure many in Shah Alam and Klang are celebrating - there’s a catch. All other tolls handled by the concessionaire will be extended. Thus, to the people of Shah Alam and Klang, we need to ask ourselves - are we comfortable passing the buck to the peoples of Damansara, Setia Alam and others in Selangor for a duration of 20 years?
This is the question we all must consider. For me personally, I’d say no. I thank the federal government for the offer, but as a native Selangorian thinking of others in our state, it is wrong to force others to pay for yet another 20 years on our behalf on my conscience.
Personally, it seems rather schizophrenic to undo the tolls when you wish to promote public transport, especially when the LRT3 line will be servicing these areas by 2021.
We cannot in good conscience as the people of Selangor, or even Malaysia, force others to suffer longer, even if it is to our own selfish benefit. As the Malay phrase goes, “berat sama dipikul, ringan sama dijinjing” - we should bear heavy loads together, even if it is toll rates.
Additionally, I’m glad that the government increased the budget for medical supplies from RM4 billion up to RM4.1 billion. The stories of single-use medical apparatuses being recycled conjures an image of us suddenly living in a dystopian future worthy of "The Walking Dead" series.
But then again, is this not the same amount spent in 2017, inclusive of the budgeted amount plus the March 2017 supplementary bill?
Einstein said it would be insane to expect a different result by doing the same thing. Thus, what is the Health Ministry changing to avoid the shortages from happening in 2018, as it did this year?
There are a lot of great things in the budget, including increasing the money for the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) back to 2016 levels, higher increase in spending on scholarships and lengthening the discounts for PTPTN, and even the increased spending in agriculture to promote food security.
However, perhaps the government can explain why the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) got an additional RM70 million, compared to last year? There is no mention of any increase in staff, thus leading to the question.
At the same time, contrary to “Kak Wan”, the millionaire chicken farmer, I am personally sceptical of the success of microcredit as an effective tool for entrepreneurs to succeed.
Perhaps the government can come clean and admit that Kak Wan’s success is not even the top one percent - or even 0.5 percent - of the stories regarding microcredit.
Budget 2018, just like Pakatan’s, requires close scrutiny and brings up more questions than answers.
Thus, I ask everyone to scrutinise both sides, pester them to answer your questions, add more ideas to be included in the amendments for a better and more sustainable federal budget.