The most worrying thing for Malaysians this year is definitely the state of the economy. Despite assurances from the government, the people are not sure that everything is alright; therefore they do not take in the argument by the premier in his speech on the restructuring of the budget on 20th January. Of course, the premier had to bank on psychology to tell the people that “we are not in a crisis” but for the man on the street, falling oil prices and weakening of the ringgit mean a lot and do not spell rosy days ahead.
Quite surprisingly the premise for deciding the new initiatives as spelt out on that day was based on the price of crude oil which the government or rather Najib set at USD 55. And this has drawn severe criticism from many quarters who say that a leader should be cautious rather than gamble on such an important thing like fixing the baseline price for oil which the country heavily depends on, and which incidentally too, Najib brushed aside as not being really so.
A cautious premier would have used USD 40 as the baseline given reports that oil could plunge that low or even further due to geopolitical reasons. If that were to be done, the mere RM 6 billion savings would not be relevant and would be of not much help to prop up the economy.
Now among the measures he announced were the suspension of the National Service Training Program, which is supposed to save the country RM400 million. Has the premier not realised that this ‘national service’ that it really is not, has drained the economy all these years of so much money that it could have been put to other more beneficial uses? Why just suspend it? It should be done away altogether unless a true national service scheme is put in place.
Then we have the other issues that were not mentioned at all. If re-structuring the budget meant that money should be saved we can at least think of two or three more steps that should be taken.
The first is the doing away of Permata – which is just a duplication of two other ministries, Welfare and Education. If its main activities were education for small kids, this would be easily accommodated by the Welfare Ministry under its Kemas program. If it were to include older children, the Education Ministry should be handling it. Now would that not save some RM 700 million?
The other is the frequent overseas trips by the top leaders of government. Considering times are bad, would not shelving all visits except for the most crucial ones and that too for designated ministers including the PM where Malaysian participation is necessary be considered? We all know how some of these trips involve so many people for each trip that considering the cost of travelling plus allowances and other charges they would run into millions.
Mismanagement is another area that needs immediate attention, but will resolving this materialize? Just look at the 1 MDB fiasco. Until now, clownish tricks are being played by the powers that be to absolve any misdemeanour in that investment arm. More and more dirt is being unearthed as evidenced by reports made even by an Umno official from Penang but there is no admission from the government that something is really very bad with 1 MDB.
As long as transparency is very low, nothing much can be done to rectify shortcomings because the government does not want to show what is really happening. This is definitely not good for the economy.