When government apologists describe Budget 2017 as one that is “inclusive”, they are obviously not thinking of disabled Malaysians.
Disabled people have consistently called for the Goods and Services Tax to be at zero rate for assistive and medical supplies, but the only concession they have received is that they no longer have to go through disability NGOs or medical professionals to get a waiver on assistive equipment.
Salary payouts to civil servants will hit a total high of RM77,421,870,400 or about 29.7 per cent of the budget. The BR1M handouts will increase to RM1,200 per household earning less than RM3,000 a month.
What about the disabled? They deserved only two lines in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s long speech last Friday.
Najib announced that a sum of RM535 million would be allocated to the disabled and that this would go towards employee allowance, disabled children training allowance and assistance for the disabled who are unable to work. He claimed that this would benefit nearly 150,000 disabled people.
But how will the funds be channeled to the disabled? There was no elaboration on this point at all.
At present, monthly welfare allowances for the disabled stands at RM300. How long can RM300 last for someone who has to spend, for instance, on daily medical supplies such as catheters, urine bags, diapers and colostomy bags?
G Francis Siva, President of the Independent Living and Training Centre, recently told FMT that although GST exemption on assistive devices were granted in the budget, this was not enough to ease difficulties faced by the disabled because medical supplies “cost a fortune”.
He said the only positive news coming from the budget proposals was that the disabled would no longer have to go through recognised groups to obtain GST relief on aid equipment.
But what’s the real point of granting unconditional GST relief for equipment such as wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs, which can last for five to 10 years? These are not essential daily supplies.
Damai Disabled People Association President V Murugeswaran, speaking to FMT, pointed out that the disabled needed government aid precisely because they didn’t have as many opportunities as able bodied people.
“The thing is, the able-bodied have more opportunities to earn more money,” he said. “But we, the disabled, have limited choices to earn money.
“What kind of government takes six per cent from the disabled to run the country?”
Indeed, is it that difficult to waive GST on all goods purchased by the disabled?