A budget of several specials

0

A FORMER classmate of mine asked what I thought of the national Budget 2012 presented in parliament by the Prime Minister last week.

I should be the one asking him that question as he is an accountant and a tax consultant.

Those billions of ringgit overwhelmed me, I admitted.

What little I knew about budgets I shared with him.

Simply put, a budget consists of figures telling you how much money a country should spend each year and how much income that country expects to earn during the same period. If there is an excess of expenditure over income, that budget would not be balanced – not highly recommended. The other way round – more income than expenditure – is better.

WHAT DO WE GET?: Longhouse folk in Betong listen to Budget 2012 on the radio. -- Bernama photo

In Budget 2012, the expenses for next year will be about RM233 billion and the revenue about RM187 billion. There is a fiscal deficit – how much, you work it out yourself. Not less than RM45 billion, my guess.

My accountant friend said he knew all that kid stuff; no need to lecture him on economics.

Bikini and statistics

To ease tension a bit, I related to him what a professor of economics once said about the difference between the bikini and statistics: what a bikini reveals is important, but what it conceals is vital.

Noticing a faint smile on my friend fs face, I made my position clear: the budget looked like a special one before elaborating.

What’s there in it for me? The subsidised petrol RON 95, directly, and rice, indirectly. That’s about all for me this time around. I’m hoping for some goodies from the state budget.

Devil in the details

In understanding a country fs budget, look for the devil, which is in the details.

Subsidies

From the media we’ve been told that all subsidies, incentives and assistance totalling RM33.2 billion are to be continued. Surprising. All this while, I thought that the government has been trying to scale down subsidies, especially those allegedly given to power providers before we go bust. Some important minister had expressed this fear not long ago. What now?

TST

It’s hard for little minds like mine to reconcile the push and the halt in this subsidy reduction exercise. However, I do understand that the national election may be around the corner.

These things are connected. TST (tahu sama tahu lah).

The specials

The special one-off payment of RM3,000 to 4,300 individuals who have completed their contracts with Jasa and Kemas is a shake, not golden one, but something. These two important propaganda outfits for the governing parties are grateful for the past services of the retirees, hoping to get their support again. Balas budi.

Assistance of RM3,000 for taxi drivers if they buy new vehicles after seven years of usage is good. Taxi drivers are good campaigners. Take one from KL Sentral and by the time you reach your hotel, you would know who would win or lose the elections in Selangor.

Employee of PF

If you earn RM5,000 and below a month, your employer’s contribution will be increased to 13 per cent. Good for you and good for EPF; they need your money to make money by lending to others for a profit.

Civil servants

As head of the department, now you may continue to work until you are 60. You will realise, of course, that your deputy may want to be the boss in a couple of years’ time but now he cannot sit on that hot chair because you are only 54 this year. His chances are thereby frustrated by your staying on.

Your pension is increased by 2 per cent. You deserve it. After all, the government uses your pension money for investment to make money for the country as a whole and to pay other pensioners. The taxpayers are paying a lot into your pension fund and every year the number of pensioners increases.

Senior citizens

Next year, all senior citizens aged 60 and above need not pay the registration fee in all government hospitals and clinics. But what you really need this week or next is a good urologist to check your waterworks and the specialist on that system is not easily available, not at the district clinic, I don’t think so. He is in Kuching or Sibu or Miri.

Women, limited to 35,000 of them, will get free HPV immunisation to detect cervical cancer. Good move. As the target is limited, how many from Sarawak will be picked up?

Have you been on the LRT?

If and when you go to KL and haven’t been inside the LRT or the Monorail, try it; you pay half the fare. But watch your step – there is a gap enough for one thin leg between the train and the platform.

Women’s development

Girls, a sum of RM10 million is being reserved for you to undergo training in development and management skills. The amount is shared by all women from the East and the West. Is it enough to really develop you? Of the dozen branches of Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM) – a micro credit outfit – how many are operating in the longhouses? A whopping RM2.1 billion for AIM!

Youth

You guys who have dropped out of school will have the chance to train to be skilled workers under the auspices of SAY Malaysia (Strategic Action For Youth). Grab the opportunity; SCORE needs you. Your budget next year is RM200 million. Where can you get application forms? I don’t know.

You will play Futsal more regularly now that more such facilities for the sport are being built in your parliamentary constituency. Money, no problem. Good for the health. What’s happening in the many community halls built in the past – are they not good enough for futsal players?

Students

If you are a student (Malaysian) in Form 6 or in a matriculation class or in one of the local universities, you are entitled to book vouchers worth RM200. Once?

And you will get RM100 pocket money if you are a student from Year 1 right up to Form 5. Lucky you. Ask your teacher if this is to be paid monthly, yearly?

From next year on, fees for co-curriculum, for the Malaysian Sports Council, for insurance premium, for internal papers – all will be abolished. What happens to group accident insurance for students then?

Chinese and Mission schools

There is money in Budget 2012 – RM100 million for these schools and Maktab Rendah Sains Mara and government-assisted religious schools. Not enough lah. Of course, it’s never enough. Be grateful though; half a loaf is better than no bread.

The poor and needy

There is a lot of money for you. You will be paid RM500 – once in a lifetime. Go to your YB for help as to how to collect it. The money is not there yet. Not until the budget is approved by the YBs in KL.

We have been told that in order to eradicate poverty, it is better to give the poor the fishing rod not the fish. This one-off payment to every household is the ready cooked fish for you. Take the fish and the hook as well, if available.

The rural folk in Sarawak are excited about money earmarked for water supply and electricity. More money – over and above those amounts (millions) promised during the last state elections? During the Batang Ai by-election?

In Sabah there is money for harvesting rain. Why not Sarawak? We have rain too. Our people who live in the coastal areas are always short of clean water.

Every household will get RM500 as a one-off gift. Better to give it before election than to dish it during it to avoid being accused of influencing voters to vote for BN.

Another one-off gratis payment of RM3,000 for ex-servicemen and their widows and widowers still alive. Good news for the few remaining border scouts, ancient by now. The bad news is that the ex-Iban trackers and former Sarawak Rangers were not mentioned as recipients. Inadvertently omitted? There are not many of them alive anyway; many were killed in defence of the nation.

Although the agriculture sector is being allocated a mere RM1.1 billion, there is money reserved for rubber replanting. Hopefully, a lot of funds will be channelled to Sarawak through Risda.

A budget is good if…

An annual budget is good only if there is enough money in the coffers and as long as it is made available fast whenever it is required before it reverts to the Treasury.

Spoilt civil servants

Within hours of its delivery, people from all walks of life, were interviewed by the media for their opinions on the budget. Without critically analysing it as a whole first of all, many of them cheered up where it affected their individual interests. For instance, the civil servants should be happy with the various perks but the ordinary people without fixed income (spare a thought for them) will grumble because the goods and services will increase as a result of increases in income to those who already have a fixed income. Sometimes prices of goods are increased by the sellers even before the budget is approved. The old stock would be sold as if they are new arrivals. The anti-profiteering law is largely ignored.

Elephant in the room?

Upon close scrutiny, smart people can see the devil clearly. For instance, one academician has been quoted as saying to the effect that the core problem of the nation has not been addressed by this particular budgetary exercise. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has been slow in coming while money from the country flows out liberally. In addition to money available locally, that from foreign countries will go a long way to help accelerate development if we want a high income economy in less than 10 years f time.

It’s vital therefore that local Malaysian businessmen bring their money home and plough it back into the local economy. They are eligible for tax deductions if they contribute to funds for school upgrading. For the towkays this is a painless budget.

Budget deficits accumulated over the years and the amount of debt of the country have not been underlined, so it has been said. Maybe this is what our bikini conceals.

Some economists say the budget’s projected reduction in fiscal deficit from 5.4 per cent of the GNP to 4.7 per cent may not be feasible given the global outlook. But they are not politicians; if politicians, they are in the wrong place.

Well, YAB Perdana Menteri as Finance Minister, you cannot please everybody. In the end you please nobody.

My esteemed readers in Sarawak, above are the selected few highlights which I consider worth mentioning to the ordinary folk. Watch out for the state Budget 2012. More goodies, perhaps. The federal and the state governments may be fishing from the same pond.

Remain optimistic, nonetheless.