Malaysia: Blinkered Budget 2021, badgered & butchered for bias & imbalance


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Twenty days after presenting the nation’s budget for 2021 Malaysian Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz must have realised that on November 6 he had rather ceremoniously opened a can of worms. The budget proposals he presented have received extensive scrutiny and have generated the greatest opposition and have often courted speculation on the sustainability and very survival of his government.
The proposals had some positive elements in the sense they were largely populist. It had even been called an election budget. It was targeted at a substantial segment of the population on the basis, as pointed out eloquently by Dato Seri Shafie Apdal and Dato Seri Khalid Samad and other MPs, of race, religion and region. It would seem the expectation of the fledgling government was that the budget would have electoral appeal which was essential for them to remain in power.
This preoccupation with remaining in office and possibly being re-elected in spite of attaining such office through backdoor means seems to have been the overriding factor in the various allocations and allowances announced. To satisfy such a narrow and sectional agenda the budget negated the larger overarching importance of the nation as a whole.
Malaysia is currently placed in a rather precarious tightrope with the competing demands of the precautions against Covid-19 on one hand and the need to cater to the strong desire for a normal life, enhanced employment prospects and better earning capacity on the other.
Covid-19 has devastated the country. Other countries have been affected as well but the difference is that in Malaysia the current government is lacking in many important attributes. It is not remarkably representative of the whole of the country. Its legitimacy is consistently being questioned and it has resorted to every loophole in law and exercised every possible action to perpetuate its survival. The country is experiencing an unprecedented state of depression, deflation and difficulty.
It desperately needs enlightened leadership to inspire unity, recovery from the current imbroglio and negative economic growth.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s government, with due respect, has failed to inspire the nation into believing that these objectives are achievable. It lacks bright stars.
This was borne out by the budget proposals. PAS, a regional orthodox religious party which provides the vital few parliamentary seats for this government’s survival seems to have had an inordinate influence in the formulation of the budget.
The citadel of government in Putrajaya has succumbed to the storming by a few minor chieftains from the east coast states of Kelantan and Trengganu. They make up less than one tenth of the 222 MPs that make up the lower house but they seem to have imposed themselves rather imperiously on the whole nation.
This disturbing feature itself engenders feelings of injustice and alienation of at least half of the population. Zafrul should have recognised this serious flaw in his own government and addressed that issue more than anything else. He failed to do that.
The budget further revealed the isolation, blinkered vision, detachment and the false sense of security and significance of the nine-month old government of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin.
Being in the hot seat of power the budget could have been a serious and solemn effort to reach out to every Malaysian and not just to a particular segment which is considered to be the majority. PAS, a relatively small political party has insidiously, it would seem, manipulated this majority into an unhealthy majoritarian situation, replicating what the Narendra Modi government has done in predominantly Hindu India.
Without relenting on the vital interests of the majority Malay-Muslim community the budget which is so focused on the the 3Rs – race, religion and rural voters- could have been balanced to obtain a better all round reception. This could have been done by highlighting the following 11Rs:
Given the indifference to the above issues the budget has received a response it richly deserved. It is good that the lawmakers have arrived at some kind of a consensus that will allow the budget to be passed well before the end of the year by the bicameral parliament.
It is in nobody’s interest to fail to reconcile the differences between the current government and the Opposition.
Dato M Santhananaban is a retired ambassador
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