Is the government spending your tax money efficiently, effectively and responsibly, wonders Yasmin Bathamanathan.
It was while I was stuck at a celebration to mark World Children’s Day that I wondered how much of our taxpayers’ hard-earned money is channelled to such ‘public events’.
The highlight of the day was a host of competitions including floral arrangement for elderly women and clay figurine-making for children. To me, it was nothing more than a frivolous, flashy affair lasting five hours with no specific outcome.
The bulk of the guests’ time was spent waiting for the VVIP (who, might I add, had yet to touch down at Penang airport). As we waited, stomachs rumbling for it was past lunch hour, we were entertained by your usual hotel lounge singers in garish outfits.
After being forced to listen to Hotel California and other such classics, it was children’s time! And what an ‘entertaining’ clown he was – outrightly offensive with a heaping of sexism. Here you had, in an official government event, a clown asking a five-year-old girl if she wanted a boyfriend for her birthday! It was such a shock that no one else among the hundreds of other guests were fazed by that particular exchange, apart from my colleagues and me. But that is a rant for another day.
Having recently joined a government agency, I would like to think that I somewhat understand the workings of government departments and agencies when it comes to spending money. What is the outcome, the outreach and the objectives? How can you cut the spending and make each ringgit count?
Are you paying too much for unnecessary merchandise or are you succumbing to the trappings of pomp and flash? Do you need to fork out big bucks for that grand ballroom in that grand hotel or can you find an alternative venue that is accessible to the public and that is free? Or can you find a benevolent sponsor for the event?
So imagine my horror when I read that the Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development, the very ministry whose department had organised the said big bash at a local hotel, had been allocated a staggering RM2.3bn for its 2015 operating budget. The budget allocated for the ministry has been steadily increasing – RM2.2bn in 2014, and RM1.9bn in 2013.
I do not take issue with the amount that has been allocated; what I am concerned about is what exactly is the ministry doing with the sum that it is being channelled into its coffers. If even more than one of these events anything like the nighmare that I was forced to endure, then I am seriously worried.
In his Budget 2015 speech, the Prime Minister said, “… to enhance the contribution of women in national development, the Government will continue to focus on efforts to intensify the involvement of women in the job market and entrepreneurial activities.”
To achieve the 30 per cent participation of women in decision-making positions, he said the Women Directors Programme would be strengthened with the aim of training 125 potential women directors to fill the position of members of the board of government-linked companies and private firms.
If you are under the impression that this is a progressive move towards closing the gender gap at the corporate decision-making level, check out a similar programme that the PM mentioned in his Budget 2013 speech.
As part of the agenda to support women’s role in economic development, the government had allocated RM50m for a number of programmes, including the Women Directors’ Programme that aimed to train 500 women as board members.
Contracted to conduct the trainings is the Malaysian Directors Academy (MINDA), a corporation that focuses on the strategic transformation of government-linked companies (GLC). Its Women Directors Onboarding Training Programme (WDOTP) is conducted a few times a year.
This does not bode well. Does the training of 125 potential women directors require millions of ringgit, especially when it is conducted by a GLC? Is the number of women trained so significant for this thrust to be highlighted as the first key transformation programme towards achieving the target of 30 per cent participation of women in decision-making positions?
In my lay-person’s head, this makes no sense; I cannot fathom how training such a small group of people would cost so much that it requires a special mention in a national budget. Or that it could be significant enough to be included in the national budget year after year, each time trying to chase the elusive 30 per cent figure.
As a tax-payer, I want to know how my contribution to the nation is being used? How effectively is my precious, ever-depreciating ringgit being used in national development? Who is the government, as a whole, accountable to?
In a population of 30m people with almost half of them being women, is it enough to only train a handful of women each year for top level management? How do the rakyat benefit from celebrations that cost hundreds of thousands of ringgit but which have no substantial outcomes other than just putting on a good show?
Surely our tax money could be put to better use, don’t you think?
She recently attended the Aliran Young Writers Workshop on Good Governance and Democracy and our second workshop on Federalism and Decentralisation, both supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.
Of her experience at the first workshop, she shares: “The Aliran Young Writers Workshop has helped me to critically look at some of these issues that I have been troubled about for some time by providing guidelines and a safe space to explore, analyse and critique them through the good governance lens.”