The RM388bn Budget, unveiled by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim recently, was much awaited by the people, particularly those who look to the government for assistance to improve their living conditions.
With the overarching concept of “Malaysia Madani” [a civil Malaysia], the Budget is characterised as one that prioritises the welfare of the ordinary people, particularly the poorest 40% and the hardcore poor. In short, the budget outreach is to be inclusive of everyone, irrespective of their ethnicities, religions and party affiliations.
These are people who have been badly affected – initially by the economic downturn triggered by the Covid pandemic – and are now living under the weight of a high cost of living, partly brought about by the Russian-Ukraine conflict, and the national debt.
That is why the Budget is expected to stimulate economic growth and tackle the cost of living issue that has confronted the people.
The government has rightly taken several measures aimed at helping to ease the economic hardships faced by the middle 40% and the poorest 40% groups, such as cutting the personal income tax by two percentage points for those earning between RM35,000 and RM100,000.
- Sign up for Aliran's free daily email updates or weekly newsletters or both
- Make a one-off donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB a/c 8004240948
- Make a pledge or schedule an auto donation to Aliran every month or every quarter
- Become an Aliran member
This is calculated to provide an additional disposable income of RM1,300 for about 2.4 million taxpayers, which in turn would presumably spur growth. However, the extra incomes may not go that far if rising prices of food and other essentials are not sufficiently controlled.
At the same time, the income tax of those earning from RM100,000 to RM1m will be raised by 0.5 to two percentage points, affecting fewer than 150,000 taxpayers. It is meant to replenish depleted public coffers, although critics argue that this is too small a tax hike for those with deep pockets.
The extra ringgit from the income tax cut may not mean much to those who are saddled with the repayments of their car and housing loans, what with the overnight policy rate being raised a few times last year.
That is why there have been calls from certain quarters for the introduction of the living wage as opposed to the present minimum wage regime. The former is said to reflect and address the current cost of living and to enable the affected people to keep their heads above water.
Healthcare constitutes an important part of the people’s wellbeing, which explains why the Ministry of Health receives the second-largest fund allocation of RM36.3bn. It is therefore noteworthy that the ministry has prioritised the upgrading of health infrastructure and facilities.
It make sense that the ministry has been given funds, for instance, to repair dilapidated clinics in remote areas. This move not only would help reduce congestion in public hospitals but also remove the inconvenience and costs faced by rural dwellers who have to travel to towns for treatment of minor health issues.
In fact, more money should be pumped into public healthcare in future given the growing ageing population and the increasing threats of life-endangering viruses and diseases.
The emergence of more private hospitals in our midst may not necessarily be an improved quality of life for the common people, especially if this trend triggers a further migration of doctors and specialists from public to private hospitals. As it is, we still have issues of contract doctors and overburdened doctors.
The country’s future depends on our young generation and, thus, it is a step in the right direction for the Ministry of Education Ministry to receive the highest allocation of RM55.2bn in this Budget.
While it is important that existing school infrastructure and facilities be repaired and upgraded, it is equally important that the quality of education in schools be critically examined and steps taken to improve it.
Similarly, the Ministry of Higher Education receives RM15.3bn to enable, among other things, the upgrading of university facilities and to stimulate research and development.
Whilst infrastructure and facility improvements are important, factors such as academic freedom and freedom of expression must also be factored in. Hence, the call for the repeal of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 must not be brushed aside if the government is serious about making our universities truly centres of excellence, where university autonomy is put in place for the collective benefit of both students and academics, as well as the larger society.
Finally, it is regrettable that the government did not see to it that all MPs get equal constituency allocations, irrespective of their political affiliations. It is sheer injustice to the MPs and their constituencies.
The constraints that the present government faces when making the budget allocations are also instructive.
One, it is a budget that is crafted on the back of national debt of RM1.2tn or more than 60% of our gross domestic product. At the same time, the country is also paying RM46bn for in annual debt interest alone.
Two, the auditor general’s report for 2020-2021 states that there were leakages reaching RM3bn arising from a loss of public funds, wastage and improper procedure of payments – at the expense of the ordinary people.
If mistakes are not to be repeated, it is imperative that proper and strict procedures of money disbursements be adhered to in order to prevent leakages and corruption.
Once sufficient and effective monitoring mechanisms are put in place in the government, it should not then be a novel or strange thing to say that the Budget is meant to really benefit the ordinary people. – The Malaysian Insight