Look at the es­ti­mates

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

speech is all that peo­ple use as a ba­sis to as­sess the value of the bud­get’s var­i­ous al­lo­ca­tions. In order to truly have an ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the bud­get, one would need to care­fully scour through the ex­tremely thick, heavy doc­u­ment named “Es­ti­mates of Fed­eral Govern­ment Ex­pen­di­ture”, or “Ang­garan Per­be­lan­jaan Perseku­tuan”.

But how many peo­ple would have the time or en­ergy to do this un­less it is part of their jobs to an­a­lyse the bud­get?

One ex­am­ple of how this can cause con­fu­sion is as fol­lows. Al­though the prime min­is­ter’s speech men­tioned the govern­ment would al­lo­cate RM30 mil­lion for women to re­ceive mam­mo­gram screen­ings and Hu­man pa­pil­loma virus (HPV, or the virus that causes cer­vi­cal can­cer) vac­ci­na­tions for free, these do not ap­pear in the bud­get lines of the Min­istry of Women, Fam­ily and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment un­like pre­vi­ous years. Nei­ther can the bud­get line be found within the Min­istry of Health chap­ter.

You can down­load the in­di­vid­ual min­istry bud­gets from the Trea­sury web­site (www.trea­sury.gov.my) and see for your­self. The line items are sim­ply not there.

This is not to say, how­ever, that the bud­get speech was de­cep­tive in an­nounc­ing one thing and ex­e­cut­ing an­other. At this point, the con­ser­va­tive view to take would be that it is in fact em­bed­ded in some other line item elsewhere. But this is the thing: the bud­get is sup­posed to be easy, not con­fus­ing, to read.

There are many in­stances in the bud­get doc­u­ments where de­scrip­tions are gen­eral and vague at best. For ex­am­ple, line items like the co­or­di­na­tion of “Spe­cial Projects” al­lo­cated RM320 mil­lion for 2017 un­der the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice – the spe­cific projects are not listed.

An­other ex­am­ple is the an­nounce­ment of RM80 mil­lion be­ing al­lo­cated to pre­vent and con­trol dengue and zika, in­clud­ing the ex­pan­sion of com­mu­nity health em­pow­er­ment pro­grammes, in the bud­get speech. A quick check of the Min­istry of Health’s “Dis­ease Con­trol” line item shows us a to­tal al­lo­ca­tion of RM721 mil­lion, pre­sum­ably for all dis­eases. The ex­act amounts al­lo­cated to­wards dengue and zika are not clearly bro­ken down, a prob­lem for those con­cerned with the rise of these dis­eases.

An­other cu­ri­ous line item is found in the Min­istry of Finance bud­get, which al­lo­cates RM204 mil­lion to “Var­i­ous Eq­uity In­jec­tions”. Which en­ti­ties these eq­uity in­jec­tions are to be made is also un­clear, al­though it does say an ad­di­tional RM30 mil­lion will be raised via bor­row­ings for the same pur­pose.

The govern­ment’s stan­dards for pre­sent­ing the bud­get to its Malaysian ci­ti­zens are below par. And there is in­ter­na­tional ev­i­dence to show for it too. In the Open Bud­get In­dex 2015 (OBI), Malaysia scored 47 out of 100, and is placed in the “Lim­ited” cat­e­gory, which is clas­si­fied as pro­vid­ing in­suf­fi­cient in­for­ma­tion. We per­form par­tic­u­larly poorly in the ar­eas of pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion and bud­get over­sight by leg­is­la­ture, or Par­lia­ment.

Based on the OBI, some of the weak­nesses in the cur­rent bud­getary process are that our bud­get does not con­tain in­for­ma­tion like the fi­nan­cial as­sets or to­tal li­a­bil­i­ties of the bud­get year (in this case, 2017) – and what the im­pact of these li­a­bil­i­ties would be on the govern­ment’s fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion. The govern­ment also does not pro­vide a medi­umterm fis­cal strat­egy and fore­cast as­sess­ment of sus­tain­abil­ity of cur­rent poli­cies.

One could con­tinue ex­am­in­ing the bud­get thor­oughly and find many places where the in­for­ma­tion is sim­ply not de­tailed enough for us to have a clearer pic­ture. But this es­sen­tially goes back to the ques­tion of whether the govern­ment is keen on adopt­ing

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