Budgeting the future

Power corrupts. And centralised power corrupts absolutely 

pic TMR FILE

IN THE past seven to eight years, Malaysia has been dragged through the mud, ridiculed and ostracised by the world community. 

Exposé after exposé related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and later, the Royal Malaysian Navy’s littoral combat ships, among others, put paid to decades of efforts to build the nation’s brand name on the international stage. Overwhelmed by the plague of political funding, Malaysia was suddenly seen as a confluence of corruption and bribery. 

No more referred to as the Leader of the South, the Tiger of the East or the Champion of the Muslim world, Malaysians instead had to get used to unflattering monikers, such as “kleptocracy capital”. Our standing on Transparency International took a massive hit, sliding from the 43rd position occupied in 2007 to 62nd at end-2021. 

Cognisant of the demeaning views on our beloved country, private Malaysian citizens reacted accordingly, ending Barisan Nasional’s (BN) six decades of political monopoly at the 14th General Election, with Pakatan Harapan forming the seventh administration in 2018. 

How BN has managed to squirm back to power in the following months is a moot point, but experience taught us a lesson that Malaysia, as a nation, should not be allowed an avenue of another centralised power and centralised source of funding ever again. 

In short, the power structure of the government and its authoritative levers — ie the anti-graft commissioner, the central banker, the public persecutor, the top judge, the top police officer, the house of representative speaker — shouldn’t be entrusted to a single person, regardless of his position in the administration. 

Power corrupts. And centralised power corrupts absolutely. 

Similarly, the annual federal government’s budget allocation should not be allowed to continue its disproportionate allocation to be administered by the Prime Minister’s Department (PMD), as this would certainly lead to temptations of abuse and inefficiencies. 

Case in point would be the ridiculous allocation that was given to PMD during the dark days of the kleptocracy administration.

Prior to the sixth PM, the allocation given to the PMD as a percentage of the annual budget’s development expenditure had been kept low at a single digit. Under Budget 2008, the fifth PM’s PMD was given a share of 8% or RM3.85b out of RM48.1b total development expenditure.

In the first year of the sixth PM’s budget allocation, the share of the PMD to Budget 2009’s development expenditure jumped exponentially to 19% or RM10.2 billion out of RM53.7 billion.

The trend continued throughout his premiership — double-digit allocation off the development expenditure every single year, 15% of RM53.2 billion in 2010, 21% of RM51.2 billion (2011), 15% of RM51.2 billion (2012), 18% of RM49.7 billion (2013), 23% of RM46.5 billion (2014), 26% of RM50.5 billion (2015), peaking at RM14.5 billion or 28% of RM52 billion in 2016, 23% of RM48 billion (2017) and bowing out with RM12 billion or 25% of RM48. billion in his final presentation for Budget 2018. 

Those were the days when the fabled First Lady Of Malaysia or FLOM’s office was allegedly created, when the online propaganda outlets were claimed to be running at full speed. And the PMD was supposed to be merely overseeing the portfolios of law and Parliament, religious affairs, West Malaysia affairs and the general economy. 

The saddest part of it all — even though it may never be proven — looking at the preposterous amount of developmental fund that has been sucked by the PMD during the said period, it won’t be out of whack to attribute the malaisé that is inundating the public education sector currently to the misallocation of public developmental expenditure during the kleptocrat’s decade of power from 2009 to 2018. 

During the decade, while the PMD was getting an increase in its developmental expenditure at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.56% steadily, whereas the more pertinent portfolios, namely the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education, were given less and less, with a negative CAGR of -7.73% and -1.22% respectively. 

Education is about building the future, and its impact is long-term and inter-generational. In this case, the negative impact is similarly long-term. 

Education is critical to the development of nations, and yet the centralisation of allocation has taken away the funds needed by the sector, sowing bad seed, and the current generation of students is enduring it. 

It should never be allowed to happen again.

Asuki Abas is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve. 


This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition.