What’s in a Budget?

Always last to get to a party, Woon King Chai finally puts to paper his thoughts on the Budget 2012.

I have a fleeting suspicion that I’m getting on the #Budget2012 bandwagon a little too late but that’s okay, better to get it going late than coming too early.

After more than 50 years of independence, the opposition finally came out with a shadow budget of its own to be pitted against the Barisan Nasional administration. In my opinion, this is a healthy development to our country’s politics where debates will (or rather, should) be more substantive, as opposed to mindless mud-slinging from one end of the Parliament to the other, and vice versa.

 

It’s all in the game” – Time and again, politicians from both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat try to absolve themselves from the nonsense they have been pulling, along with their disguises of political selfishness and self-interests as an “anointed crusade” for the rakyat. With the opposition finally catching up with their shadow budget, it is important for all of us to learn how to read both budgets and judge for ourselves who has a more ‘rational’ or ‘logical’ budget.

So, how do you read a budget anyway?

Every October, when the Prime Minister announces the federal budget – a proposal for the federal government’s expenditure for the coming year – news portals and mainstream media will pick out selected sound bites from his announcement.

For example,

In the spirit of ‘People First’, all subsidies, incentives and assistance totaling RM33.2bil will be continued.

We will abolish payments for primary and secondary education, making these free for the first time in our history.

Likewise for Pakatan Rakyat’s shadow budget this year, there are a few classic quotes repeated over and over again in online media, such as “RM 1.6 bilion akan disalurkan untuk memperluas latihan teknikal dan vokasional untuk mempertingkat kepakaran tenaga kerja” or “Bayaran RM1,000 di tahun 2012 untuk warga suri rumah yang layak”.

However, in understanding the objective and true spirit of the budget, it is detrimental for us to look at these select quotes and make assumptions based merely on these. After a thorough discussion with my colleagues, it seems like the easiest (and most logical) way to understand a budget is by looking at its theme and working backwards, checking to see if its allocations and proposed expenditure fulfill the objectives laid out.

The main theme of the government’s Budget 2012 is “National Transformation Policy: Welfare for the Rakyat, Well-being of the Nation” whereas the opposition’s byline for its shadow budget is “Belanjawan Kesejahteraan Pakatan Rakyat 2012 menekankan pemerkasaan, peluang dan harga diri untuk seluruh rakyat Malaysia berteraskan kerangka kewangan dan lingkungan yang mampan”.

So, are all of the proposed allocations and expenditures justified, and are they able to fulfill the objective and theme of the respective budgets? Well, that’s entirely up to you to decide. This article is not the place to go into the pros and cons of each budget as there are tons of other articles and analyses on the subject by economists and political analysts – people with expertise in the respective fields.

I have to admit that what my colleagues and I proposed is an over-simplistic view of understanding the budget, but aside from that, one can actually delve deeper by studying a budget or policy analysis toolkit, such as these provided by the World Bank for NGOs and political analysts to look into their individual country’s spending and allocations.

How the government (or any budget) decides to spend public funds is crucial because these are decisions that affect everyone in a community – from the poor and disadvantaged, to the comfortable middle class, to the high-rolling upper crust of society. These budget decisions by the government can affect access of the poor and marginalized to public provisions such as health and education, economic opportunities, public transportation, roads and the environment.

In Malaysia, parliamentary democracy allows elections to be held as a platform where people can elect officials and representatives to influence government decisions. However, general elections are periodical (once every four or five years depending on the alignment of the stars, moons and planets of the Solar system – not) and the decision that one makes during an election can cast a deep impression on government policies for a good few years before the next general election is called.

In a healthy democracy, the people must be able to not just make decisions and choices, but to be able to make informed ones. This means that people must be equipped with the right knowledge and ability to discern between logical and rational policies, rather paying blind support based on emotions and over-generalized stereotyping.

As the country moves towards the 13th General Elections, it’s time for us to buck up and equip ourselves with knowledge and understanding for the coming onslaught of politicians, whose sole and only purpose of existence is to gain power and retain it.

 


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King Chai is a Chevening Scholar currently pursuing an MSc. in Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Contrary to popular belief, he is still mindlessly a loyal minion of His Supreme Eminenceness Lord Bobo Barnabus, The Wonder Typewriting Monkey, who exists solely in cyberspace and is the simian behind LoyarBurok.com. King Chai is also one of the UKM4 and tweets at @woonkingchai.

Posted on 25 October 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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