Malaysia The Sun Says

A Budget for needy Malaysians

IT’S that time of the year the rakyat wait with bated breath to find out if they have to tighten their belts or will have more money in their pockets to help cope with the rising cost of living.

Under the previous administration, the annual Budget was geared towards expansion and a policy which favoured big firms and investors, both local and foreign.

However, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has a "back to basics" approach of putting more money in the pockets of hardworking Malaysians.

Tax relief and in one year total tax exemptions, waiver of stamp  duties for the purchase of first homes, reducing road tax and stressing on savings reflected a more people-oriented approach in drafting the national Budget.

One hopes that at a time of rising food prices, Budget 2009 which will be announced by Abdullah in his capacity as finance minister this afternoon, continues to put the people’s needs first.

The government also cannot dismiss the results of the general election as having nothing to do with the way the country’s resources and the people’s money are being managed.

The perception among taxpayers is that their needs have taken a backseat to those of others with connections.

Leakages in government spending as depicted in the annual Auditor-General’s Report are a mockery of the government’s belt-tightening measures.

Spending on projects with suspect benefits instead of putting more food on the table or adding essential equipment in government hospitals will further amplify allegations that the people’s welfare is not of primary importance.

While efforts to cut red tape and fight graft are laudable, a more austerity-driven policy will also help put money back into savings.

With rising cost of living, a cogent public transport policy which includes incentives for operators and a more transparent process of issuing taxi permits would go a long way to reduce vehicles on the road and save the country’s depleting fuel resources - and billions in subsidies which could instead be used for development and people-oriented programmes. A commitment in alternative fuel resources such as bio-fuel as announced in the last Budget has yet to show any real returns - remaining at the R&D stage.

In this respect, the welfare of the hardcore poor takes a beating and more efforts are needed to alleviate their lot via vocational training and immediate relief such as food vouchers and a more realistic amount in welfare aid must be among the multi-pronged approach to battle poverty in the 21st century.

One does not expect much - what with a more realistic GDP forecast of 5% and the country expected to be in deficit for the remainder of the Ninth Malaysia Plan.

There are certain things beyond our control, due to global factors. Thus the government should revisit its "back to basics" policy to weather the storm and to ensure that the most vulnerable of our citizens are given all the protection they need to make it through the winter.

The Sun, 29 Aug 2008


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