Sandra Rajoo brings you another edition of REFSA Rojak – a weekly take on the goings-on in Malaysia by Research for Social Advancement (REFSA).
REFSA Rojak – “trawl the newsflow, cut to the core and focus on the really pertinent. Full of flavour, lots of crunch, this is the concise snapshot to help Malaysians keep abreast of the issues of the day.”
Budget 2013: what’s good, what’s bad
There’s a lot to mull over this week. The unveiling of Budget 2013 on 28 Sept has given all Malaysians something to chew on. Like last year, a lot of ‘goodies’ such as cash, vouchers, rebates, bonuses, incentives etc., were given out, perhaps in the hope that the recipients would reciprocate accordingly. As usual, people on one side of the divide are full of praise while those on the other have qualms about the handouts.
More discerning and astute observers, however, are looking at the bigger picture. How will the Budget impact our economy, well-being and future of our nation? Many concerns have been raised. The government’s “performance and achievements” are being questioned. Klang MP Charles Santiago has highlighted our “ballooning federal debt” and increasing deficit, and stressed the importance of plugging leakages and wastage. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is another matter which has not been given its due importance in terms of implementation. REFSA and IDEAS (Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs) have jointly presented some harsh facts about blanket subsidies – they have quadrupled “from RM10 billion in 2007 to over RM42 billion today” – and called for a restructuring of subsidies.
It would have reflected well on the federal government if the said issues had been addressed in the Budget. It all boils down to whether Budget 2013 will propel us forward as a nation united, minus the corruption and ineptitude.
Disappointed Sabah and Sarawak
Considering that the BN government depends on Sabah and Sarawak to stay in power, there was very little in store for both states in the Budget. Their expectations were obviously not met. They are among the poorer states in Malaysia despite their natural resources and contribution to the country’s revenue, and it appears the situation is not likely to change.
Infrastructure development – of which the states are in dire need – was not part of the federal master plan. The people are claiming they have been left “high and dry”. A long-standing bone of contention not addressed in the Budget is the controversial cabotage policy which is blamed for the great disparity of prices between East and West Malaysia. The existence of this policy means that imported goods to Sabah and Sarawak will be transported in a ‘roundabout’ manner, i.e. via faraway Port Klang. This leads to excessive shipping costs which translate into higher costs of goods. The matter is something that can be reversed if the government is willing to put an end to the states’ predicament. But judging from the contents of the Budget, it clearly does not intend to.
Missing A-G’s report – again
The Budget is out but the Auditor-General’s report is not. A precedent was set last year when the report was tabled about two weeks after the Budget announcement, when ideally it should be tabled earlier or simultaneously. This will allow for a more open and encompassing Budget debate in Parliament as all cards are laid on the table. It is also a mark of transparency and good governance. Not doing so points to a deliberate attempt at placing blinkers on the eyes of the public and putting those critiquing the Budget at a disadvantage.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, clearly believes the government has the right to delay the report. The Auditor-General says there will be “no cover-up of any misdeeds” in the report, but that’s not the point, is it?
Angry villagers in Pengerang
Pengerang can no longer be likened to Sleepy Hollow; these days it is a hive of activity. The people of this quiet town in Johor are up in arms over the Petronas’ Refinery and Petrochemicals Development Project (Rapid) which is pushing them out of their homes. The project is expected to occupy 8,094 acres of land on which the villagers have built their houses. Plans to relocate them have fallen through and their livelihood has been adversely affected. The uproar also stems from concerns over “potential health hazards” and feelings of being short-changed by the state authorities. On Oct 4, 3,000 of the affected people gathered for the Himpunan Hijau Lestari Pengerang rally to voice their displeasure and to protest against the RM60 billion petro-chemical plant.
Malaysians are generally laid-back but when their livelihood is threatened they will certainly show their ‘claws’, and not hesitate to defend their homes and their dignity.
Malaysiakini’s newspaper making a presence
If everything goes as planned for news portal Malaysiakini, its print version may soon hit the newsstands. It has emerged the victor in a tussle with the Home Ministry over a printing permit which it applied for and was met with rejection. The matter was taken to court and Justice Abang Iskandar ruled that the ministry has no grounds for not granting the permit, stating that its action was “improper and irrational”.
As expected, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin will appeal the court ruling. The fear of Malaysiakini becoming mainstream media is very real.
Why ‘Rojak’? Disparate flavours and textures come together in a harmonious mix to make this delicious but underrated concoction. Our Rojak weekly is much like this mix, making sense of the noise of daily newsflow and politicking.
It is also our ultimate dream that our multi-ethnic melange of communities can be made richer within the unique ‘sauce’ that is Malaysia. Let’s take pride in the ‘rojakness’ of our nation!
[Pic credit: Masks - jayofboy/sxc.hu, briefcase - ppreacher/sxc.hu, rays - amria/clker.com]
Click here for previous issues of REFSA Rojak.