A budget cut of almost 50 per cent could see the commission in deficit by November next year, warns Hasmy Agam.
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) met with Paul Low Seng Kuan, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, to consider the impact and implications of the 2016 budget for the commission, as well as on section 19(1) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 (Act 597) that requires the government to provide Suhakam with adequate funds annually to enable it to discharge its functions under the Act.
Suhakam, through Act 597, is accorded functions for the protection and promotion of human rights in Malaysia and has carried out this statutory mandate diligently and to good effect for the past 15 years by setting its priorities according to a legislatively defined mandate, and with sufficient budgetary allocations from the government through parliament. This has resulted in the commission maintaining its ‘A’ status by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC), among others.
However, while recognising that the current economic downturn creates a context of reduced finances available to the public sector, Suhakam is concerned that its statutory functions may be rendered almost meaningless, or the exercise of its powers substantially limited, if it does not have the financial means to operate effectively.
For 2015, Suhakam was allocated an operating budget of RM10,986,200. However, this amount was reduced by a further 10% by the Ministry of Finance and by approximately 9% by the Prime Minister’s Office. In comparison, Suhakam has been allocated a sum of RM5,509,400 for 2016, a reduction of almost 50%.
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Suhakam wishes to explain that demands on the commission’s resources have continued to grow and have become more challenging in recent years. While the commission will make every effort to ensure that its programmes and activities will proceed as planned, utilising all of its available resources, it is concerned that in terms of finances, the current budget allocation will see the commission in deficit by November next year in just meeting the commission’s fixed overall costs, without taking into account the commission’s fixed expenses or the expenses for its programmes, which may result in an earlier deficit situation, if no additional funds are secured.
Suhakam also wishes to explain that parliament and the commission have a key role to play for the protection of human rights in Malaysia, albeit within their respective mandates, functions and competences. As such, the commission hopes that parliament can contribute to protecting the independence of the commission by guaranteeing an adequate level of funding to the commission as the lack of such funding erodes the effectiveness of the commission and undermines the principles upon which national human rights institutions are formed.
Suhakam appreciates the valuable commitment made by the honourable minister and the assurance that the commission’s budget will be reconsidered so as to place human rights on the government’s list of top priorities. This is important amidst concerns being expressed, both at home and abroad, that human rights is not being given the priority it deserves and at a time when the commission is currently undergoing its re-accreditation process as a national human rights institution at the ICC.
Tan Sri Hasmy Agam is chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).