The Association for Community and Dialogue welcomes Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz’s statement that the government intends to spend more next year, with Budget 2021 expected to have a bigger allocation than the last Budget to create more jobs and “restart” Malaysia’s economy.
In a recent interview with Malay-language paper Sinar Harian, Tengku Zafrul confirmed the expected government expenditure for the year 2021 would be more than the amount allocated in Budget 2020.
When asked if the government would cut back on spending for development projects under Budget 2021, Tengku Zafrul said the government, instead, intends to spend more on such development projects next year, while saving money on operation costs.
The significant aspect of the finance minister’s statement is that operational costs will be brought down, which will result in more funds for development, which is a positive indication.
The question is, how will this be done in the context of the bloated civil service? What about high salaries related to providing MPs with directorship positions in government-linked companies for the purpose of political survival, while these companies are required to help in reviving the economy?
As for job creation, what sort of jobs will be created in the context of an economic model that is still geared towards low-cost labour and an industrialisation policy that has failed to evolve into higher-value creation, resulting in the country suffering currently, not merely from unemployment but also underemployment, where the bright young and old are working in low-skill jobs?
In terms of social security, we are still dependent on a system where the higher amount of EPF savings depends on the rate of the earnings of workers and contribution of employers. How will the poor have enough savings when salaries are low and, what more, when they are required to withdraw from their EPF in the current context of the coronavirus crisis? Why has the government not invested in a social security system over the years that would have created enough funds for the middle class and poor in uncertain times, such as now?
What is obvious is that we have not taken a sustainable development approach towards the economy over the years, resulting in poor human capital development and depletion of resources without clear futuristic vision and strategy for structural changes in the economy.
There is a need to accept the vision of sustainable development in its entirety, where human development, environmental preservation and responsible consumerism take precedence over projects that deplete the capacity of human development and the environment.
Embracing sustainable development as a whole is needed for intergenerational equity. All ministries should be integrated into meeting the millennium’s sustainable development goals, and the nation should be educated to embrace this new change.
There should be a long-term objective and parliamentary review of the 17 sustainable goals. When one analyses the 17 goals, it is more about preservation of the environment, social justice, national savings, equality and responsible consumerism. It has nothing to do with an elitist bumiputera agenda or mega projects that serve vested interests.
We need to do away with the piece-meal approach to sustainable development, which is the current policy, and embrace it comprehensively through integrated ministerial functions, responsibility and accountability.
The vision of sustainable development should also lead to sustainable politics, where there should bipartisan initiatives and engagement in leading the nation towards a greener and sustainable economy. This will help end the destructive partisan politics that Malaysians are witnessing currently.
Therefore, it is hoped that the Perikatan Nasional government, with its bigger budget allocation for 2021, will initiate a new vision and foundation for sustainable development in the Budget, in consultation with opposition parties, to create a new trajectory for Malaysia’s socioeconomic system.