What Did We Actually Learn During Budget Tabling?

Budget 2021

By Zam Yahaya

The Malaysian Budget 2021 was tabled on 07 November and was debated until 26 November 2020. During those 19 days, almost the whole nation was talking about the budget and there were two main issues presented by Najib Razak as a demand in order to obtain support from the BN Backbenchers.

I have been following and commenting on the budget since the 90’s and this is the first time I saw a very high participation from the public at large on almost every detail in the budget components, both the expenditure and the income.

Those days, during the budget, people were mainly concerned about taxes, particularly those that will affect their daily life such as essential goods, cigarettes, alcohol and various imported goods and incentives to certain segments of the economy, mainly the SMEs.

This time, the public at large understands the components of the budget. They are concerned about the expenditure details on where it goes to, which ministry, what kind of projects and who are the companies as well as individuals behind those projects.

On the income side, they are concerned on how much tax can the government collect and how much will it borrow, from who and what are other revenues that will finance the budget.

As such, in general, the public is more informed and capable of contesting each item from the budget components. Gone were the days where government can get away with a handful of “sweeteners” to certain segments. Gone were the days where only the capitalists, big business organisations and tycoons dominate the budget policy. In other words, the capitalist economy has moved into capitalism that cares.

Pressure From The B40s

The demand on the KWSP withdrawals and the extension of the moratorium period for loan repayments manifested that the government has to succumb to the pressure from the B40s and can no longer provide too much protection to the capitalists and big businesses as well as financial institutions.

Finance Minister, Tengku Zafrul tabling his maiden Budget. Budget 2021 Malaysia.

The two issues of KWSP and loan moratorium extensions also show that the public at large not only have access to “vital” information on related organisations on how they operate, but also on how to analyse their performance, what they can or cannot do to balance between meeting organisational objectives and the expectations of the people, particularly during such a challenging period or in times of crisis. In brief, the public can no longer be taken a ride by financial institutions and large organisations as well as government related agencies to conveniently maximise profits at the expense of the public, as well as getting away with mediocre performance.

These are good signs of achieving the very objective of economic management of eliminating poverty and reducing the gap between the rich and the poor. Though the country has been doing that since independence, the advancement of information technology and automation has enabled our government to provide a speedy response to targeted targeted sectors of the economy.

Such development requires all the Members of Parliament to be knowledgeable on at least the fundamentals of economic and finance in order to perform as what is expected of them.

On the political side, there is some concern that a government of the day has to be strong and stable. A weak or a slim majority government creates instability and dampens government’s decisions which in turn will dampen efforts to tackle economic issues efficiently.

Government In A Dilemma

A weak government may also have to succumb to popular demands by its citizens, of which may put a government in a dilemma between the government’s capability to sustain its financial strength and to meet the people’s demands.

However, the good side of it will force the government of the day to be more efficient in generating revenues, minimise waste and encourage higher productivity.

Although a strong government comprises of a stable and strong coalition led by a dominant party — as we have experienced since independence until GE14 — and this has proven to be the success formula of our nation, it does come with a price. In fact, we have paid a high price for our progress since absolute power corrupts.

As much as the nation suffered since an unstable government took over after GE14 and then again when there was a change of government that took place at the same time our country and the whole world were facing the COVID-19 pandemic, we as a nation have actually gone stronger in terms of resilience.

Kudos to all Malaysians who have risen up strong during the hardest time in our history since independence, and adapted to the new normal relatively faster than other nations, not only among our neighbours, but quite outstanding compared to more developed nations in other continents. – New Malaysia Herald

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