PSB chief calls for transparency over Sarawak’s current financial situation

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Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh. – Photo by Peter Boon

KUCHING (Jan 30): Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) has requested for the Premier of Sarawak to enlighten Sarawakians on the state’s present financial situation.

Party president Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh acknowledged that the people of Sarawak owed an immense debt of gratitude to the Premier for his ‘revenue re-engineering’, amongst other things, by imposing five per cent State Sales Tax on petroleum products, ‘which had immediately roped in additional revenue of about RM3 billion a year for the state’.

Wong also said when Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg presented the State Budget 2023 on Nov 21 last year, the latter had said: ‘The state is projected to collect a revenue of RM11.035 billion’.

“But I must point out that among the items of the total revenue, there is a sharp drop for a non-tax revenue, namely interest income, which amounted to only RM650 million.

“All along, our interest income has always exceeded RM1 billion.

“While we are happy to hear the vast increase in our state revenue, we are also anxious to know why there is a sharp drop in interest income.

“And we would also like to know the financial situation of the state: how much is our state reserve now?” he said in a statement today, issued in response to the remark made by the Premier during a Chinese New Year gathering at Sibu Civic Centre on Jan 28.

Wong also asked how much of the state reserve had been transferred to Development Bank of Sarawak (DBos); how much of the state reserve had been utilised to fund projects either directly or through alternative funding, and also ‘what Sarawak’s total commitments are’.

“We would like the Premier to let us know why there is a sharp drop in interest income as part of our revenue since 2020.

“As we all know, interest income is the interest payable to our deposits from the state reserve placed with various commercial banks. All along, our interest income has always surpassed the RM1 billion mark: RM1.183 billion in 2016, RM1.177 billion in 2017, RM1.008 billion in 2018, RM1.006 billion in 2019, RM1.006 billion in 2020.

“After Year 2020, the interest income dipped below RM1 billion. For 2021, it was only RM822 million and for 2023, it is estimated at RM650 million only.

“Why has there been a sharp drop in interest income since 2021?” he said.

Wong reiterated his question on how much money from the state reserve had been transferred to the DBos.

“How much contribution has DBos made either through payment of interest or through its loan operations?

“We have been told that ‘the state is leveraging on a new financial model’, namely via the DBos, as well as through opportunities in the capital market, to source for competitive alternative funding.

“Utilisation of alternative fund raised via DBos and capital markets would allow the state to manage its cash flow more efficiently (Abang Johari – Budget 2019 speech, pages 65 and 66).

“Again in the 2020 Budget speech, Abang Johari said: ‘We ought to resort to a more strategic effort in managing our funding initiatives. This calls upon the state to leverage on alternative funding model of tapping into funding provided by the Development Bank of Sarawak (DBos)’.

“Since the bulk, if not all, of the money in DBos came from the state reserve, we are anxious to know how much of the funding of the projects has been arranged through DBos.

“How is the financial health of DBos? What are our total commitments?”

Wong added that similar questions were asked by him during the last State Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting, to which the Deputy Minister for Finance just gave a very generalised answer: “Sarawak is on strong financial footing with sound reserve pool.”

He said PSB welcomed the statement made by the Premier, who was quoted as saying: “We had our figure up to December 2022 and our revenue was doubled of what we got four years ago.”

The Premier further said: “I will announce officially, sometime next week – this is beyond our expectations. And because of this, I want to distribute an allocation to Sibu so that we can transform Sibu.”

Wong also pointed out the statement by Sarawak Public Communication Unit (Ukas) issued in connection with the Sarawak Civil Service’s ‘Sekalung Budi’ ceremony at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) last Saturday (Jan 28), which said that ‘Abang Johari would be announcing the revenue growth’ after the Sarawak Cabinet meeting this week.

“The Sibu people, including those in PSB, would like to thank the Premier for his timely allocation for Sibu.

“While announcing the good news of revenue increase after the cabinet meeting, the Premier should also elaborate on the state’s financial situation by answering some of the questions posed as follows.

“It is our hope that the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government would be able to take our constructive suggestions with an open mind and to ultimately do what is best for Sarawak,” said Wong.