Time to be grate­ful

The Borneo Post - - THOUGHTS & OPINIONS - By Sidi Mu­nan

WE Malaysians have a lot to thank for the sur­vival of our coun­try – a Fed­er­a­tion of States – sep­a­rated by a wide sea, for the past 55 years.

In a so­ci­ety whose mem­bers are mostly be­liev­ers in God, it is to The Almighty that we give thanks for ev­ery­thing; to Him also we at­tribute blame when some­thing has gone wrong with us.

An in­sur­ance com­pany re­fused to pay claim for pay­ment for a house dam­aged by a storm be­cause this was caused by ‘an act of God’.

Not re­ally fair to Him, but then, He tol­er­ates free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

He does not rush to the po­lice to lodge a re­port against any­body for de­fam­ing Him.

That is the trou­ble with God – too kind, too for­giv­ing. His at­ti­tude spoils peo­ple.

Enough of the lay­man’s idea of the­ol­ogy.

Giv­ing credit where credit is due

What about giv­ing thanks in­stead of blam­ing all the time – for the sur­vival of Malaysia, for in­stance?

Hon­estly, we must thank the found­ing fa­thers of the Fed­er­a­tion of Malaysia for adopt­ing the par­lia­men­tary sys­tem of gov­ern­ment for the coun­try.

This is the sys­tem that al­lows for reg­u­lar hold­ing of elec­tions to en­able the cit­i­zens to choose the leg­is­la­tors and the ad­min­is­tra­tors to man­age the af­fairs of the coun­try for a pe­riod of time for their ben­e­fit.

Dur­ing that time, their rule is be­ing judged. If they fail to per­form to ex­pec­ta­tions, then the vot­ers have the right not to vote them into of­fice again, try­ing other politi­cians in­stead to run the coun­try for them.

The process of gov­er­nance moves like a wheel – un­til a dic­ta­tor stops or in­ter­feres with its mech­a­nism.

For the sur­vival of Malaysia, we have a lot to thank Datuk Seri Na­jib Tun Razak and his ad­vi­sors for not re­sort­ing to an emer­gency rule when his gov­ern­ment was about to col­lapse in May this year. He could have re­sorted to some un­demo­cratic mea­sures in or­der to re­tain power at all costs, but he did the wise thing – ad­mit­ting de­feat and pass­ing the ba­ton to some other group of politi­cians with­out real prob­lem, so that the or­di­nary Malaysians could get on with their daily chores free from se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal or so­cial up­heaval.

In­ci­den­tally, his late fa­ther Tun Razak, as Deputy Min­is­ter/ Chair­man of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, was more or less in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion dur­ing the Emer­gency. He could have made him­self a dic­ta­tor af­ter the ra­cial may­hem in Kuala Lumpur in May 1969, but he didn’t take that path; in­stead he made ef­forts to end the Emer­gency, and re­store democ­racy to Malaysia he did.

Thank God for that too.

Nurs­ing econ­omy back to nor­mal

We must also thank the vot­ers of Malaysia when they chose their leg­is­la­tors in May this year. Among the elected law­mak­ers, some have formed the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for the next five years. Be at lib­erty, to vote them out of of­fice if they are found want­ing by the time next gen­eral elec­tion comes around. Mean­while, give them the chance and time to prove them­selves that they are ca­pa­ble of man­ag­ing the econ­omy of the coun­try.

The proof of the pud­ding is in the eat­ing.

On Fri­day, Nov 1, the Pakatan Hara­pan gov­ern­ment’s maiden bud­get to­gether with some pro­posal for fis­cal leg­is­la­tion was pre­sented for even­tual ap­proval by Par­lia­ment.

The Fed­eral Bud­get was fol­lowed by the Sarawak Bud­get on Mon­day.

A lot of talks about money this month!

If you will for­give me, I will skip com­ment on both bud­gets for the time be­ing. I’m study­ing them with help from a qual­i­fied charted ac­coun­tant. Any­way, al­ready there have been enough com­ments, both neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive, about both bud­gets.

In Sarawak, th­ese com­ments are mainly par­ti­san. Let’s view them against the back­drop of the cur­rent love/hate re­la­tion­ship be­tween the fed­eral and the state gov­ern­ments – thanks to free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

Wait for in-depth and apo­lit­i­cal analy­ses of both bud­gets; the an­a­lysts will have to wade through the river of statis­tics.

Talk­ing about statis­tics, it re­minds me of a uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor who was lec­tur­ing in Eco­nomics (1961). His favourite joke was that ‘a gov­ern­ment bud­get is full of statis­tics and statis­tics are like a bikini – what it re­veals is im­por­tant, but what it con­ceals is vi­tal’.

Tak­ing a leaf from aoteroa How­ever, I can’t re­sist the temp­ta­tion to com­ment on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal to in­tro­duce next year a piece of leg­is­la­tion called the ‘Fis­cal Re­spon­si­bil­ity Act’.

I say that this is a smart move on the part of our Min­istry of Fi­nance. The name of the pro­posed Malaysian leg­is­la­tion may be the same – the Fis­cal Re­spon­si­bil­ity Act – as that of New Zealand’s fi­nance law; but hey, what’s in a name?

New Zealan­ders, in the 1990s, made fun of their Fi­nance Min­is­ter named Ruth Richard­son. But it was ‘Ruth­less’ Richard­son who in­tro­duced the Fis­cal Re­spon­si­bil­ity Act in 1994, which earned for New Zealand a name as a coun­try called a ‘bas­ket case’ from 1980s to 1990s to a coun­try of qual­ity pub­lic pol­icy and of a ro­bust and dis­ci­plined gov­ern­ment to­day.

That Kiwi’s Fis­cal Re­spon­si­bil­ity Act (amended and in­cor­po­rated into the Pub­lic Fi­nance Bill of Dec 4, 2012) ‘makes the Gov­ern­ment and the Trea­sury re­spon­si­ble for re­port­ing to Par­lia­ment spec­i­fied in­for­ma­tion about fis­cal strat­egy, the cur­rent eco­nomic and fis­cal sit­u­a­tion and the out­look over the medium and the long terms’.

Close and reg­u­lar mon­i­tor­ing of pub­lic ex­pen­di­ture by Par­lia­ment is vi­tally im­por­tant for the health of the econ­omy of the coun­try.

Doesn’t this re­mind you of a good med­i­cal doc­tor who will im­me­di­ately test your blood pres­sure be­fore he or she does other things with you?

The Fis­cal Re­spon­si­bil­ity Act com­pels gov­ern­ment to con­stantly mon­i­tor the health of the econ­omy and to in­stantly in­form Par­lia­ment of the true con­di­tion of the coun­try with­out wait­ing for the an­nual re­port from the Au­di­tor Gen­eral.

The fi­nance of­fi­cials in­clud­ing their po­lit­i­cal mas­ters will have to do their home­work, al­ways alert and ever ready to be grilled any time by the Op­po­si­tion in Par­lia­ment, or the scrutiny of the press.

Is there any won­der that there is lit­tle cor­rup­tion in high places in such a coun­try?

While no two coun­tries have ex­actly iden­ti­cal prob­lems at all times and in all as­pects, still the so­lu­tions to some fun­da­men­tal eco­nomic prob­lems of any demo­cratic coun­try re­quire ap­pli­ca­tion of con­ven­tional eco­nomic prin­ci­ples – among th­ese are smart al­lo­ca­tion and man­age­ment of scarce re­sources, not spend­ing be­yond one’s means, and avoid keep­ing up with the Jone­ses, etc.

Klep­to­crats are quickly nabbed be­fore they can dip deeper into the kitty.

Spend­ing within one’s means

The wis­dom of spend­ing within one’s means is an­cient. But it has been ig­nored by hu­mans be­cause of their in­her­ent frail­ties – greed, among those.

While an in­di­vid­ual’s habit can­not be leg­is­lated, habit of per­sons tasked with the re­spon­si­bil­ity for spend­ing pub­lic-owned money may be reg­u­lated. A law like the Fis­cal Re­spon­si­bil­ity Act will be good for the whole of Malaysia.

‘TI’ be­fore ‘IT’ Ev­ery civil ser­vant in Sarawak must have heard about ‘TI’ long be­fore they heard about IT (in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy).

‘TI’ means ‘Trea­sury In­struc­tions’. This doc­u­ment spells out a proper pro­ce­dure of procur­ing goods and ser­vices, which are to be paid out of the tax­pay­ers’ money. For in­stance, quo­ta­tions must be called from at least four dif­fer­ent sup­pli­ers for the pur­chase of sta­tionery for a gov­ern­ment’s de­part­ment or agency.

Any project cost­ing above cer­tain amount – say above RM10,000 (1970 prices) – must be put out for pub­lic ten­der and ad­ver­tised on the print me­dia. The low­est ten­der or any ten­der need not be ac­cepted.

‘Ne­go­ti­ated’ ten­der The old civil ser­vants in Sarawak will tes­tify that there was no such thing as a ne­go­ti­ated ten­der dur­ing their time.

Fear of God In the good old days, heads of de­part­ments or fi­nan­cial con­trollers in the min­istries feared, not God, but the au­di­tors, or an ap­pear­ance be­fore the Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee (PAC) of the Coun­cil Ne­gri. It is the au­di­tors and the PAC that would put the fear of God in any per­ma­nent sec­re­tary, head of de­part­ment, or res­i­dent, down the line to the ac­counts clerk in a district of­fice.

Ever won­der why there was prac­ti­cally no se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial scan­dal in­volv­ing civil ser­vants in Sarawak those days?

Try out the ‘Ruth­less’ Fis­cal Re­spon­si­bil­ity Act in Malaysia and see what hap­pens.

Com­ments can reach the writer via colum­nists@ the­bor­neo­post.com.

File photo shows Min­is­ter of Fi­nance Lim Guan Eng tabling the 2019 Bud­get in the De­wan Rakyat. — Ber­nama photo

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.