By P Ramasamy
Prime Minister Najib Razak presented the nation’s 2017 budget in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday amidst boisterous opposition. Half-way through the budget presentation, members of the opposition staged a walkout.
Najib simply lacked the manners and the decorum to provide a professional presentation. Throughout his speech, he made jokes, made fun of the opposition and ridiculed their leaders for criticising the government on various policies. By reliance on these externalities, the budget was robbed of its seriousness as a national document.
It does not take education in rocket science to say that the budget was for all intents and purposes meant to provide goodies and sweeteners for the general population in preparation for the coming general election.
The budget was a populist one intended to placate certain particular segments of the society for the government to win the elections.
Various forms of financial assistance, to civil servants, fishermen, taxi-drivers, teachers, religious teachers, and others, were spelled out, giving the impression that the government was concerned about the lower socio-economic groups.
Given the populist design of the budget, there was an increase of 3.4 per cent in the financial allocation of the budget compared to 2016. In fact, the allocation for the controversial BRIM programme increased from RM5.4 billion to RM6.8 billion.
It is strange that the government faced financial problems in providing for BRIM a few years ago. Where will the government obtain the financial resources to further fund this controversial project remains to be seen.
The budget is about the provision of goodies to place those who might have been alienated by the government in the past, but whether such provision could entice them to vote for the government remains to be seen.
As usual some allocations were given to Chinese and Indians, but these alone are hardly sufficient to alleviate the serious problems faced particularly by the Indian community. The MIC might go to town with these breadcrumbs, but the vast majority of Indians continue to be left in the lurch by the government.
The most important question that should be posed to the government is simply this: where are the financial resources to implement the measures announced in the budget?
As it is, foreign debt is on the increase, the Treasury has been affected by the siphoning of funds from 1MDB and the country is loosing its attractiveness to foreign investors due to economic mismanagement and lack of political governance.
Najib might be good in his political stunts, but no amount of side-stepping of economic realities will relieve the country of its financial and economic burdens.
P Ramasamy is DAP deputy national chairman and state assemblyman for Perai, Penang.
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