2019-12-31 12:10:03  2192975
Malay reactions we cannot afford to overlook
Many Malay netizens resort to social media platforms to vent their frustration in expressing their feelings of being “pissed off” by our politicians.

By Jeff Ooi

There are two recent things that have sent the Malays voicing up their frustration on the cyberspace. The fire of fury came from the Malay intellectuals, civil servants as well as the ordinary citizens. They summed up their disenchantment with the country's political parties in two words, “rakyat dikencing” (people pissed off).

Incident 1: the prime minister's department warned MalaysiaKini against deliberately using government documents for its news reports, forcing the online news portal to remove its news report on development expenditure spending. The incident sparked tremendous outcry among Malay intellectuals.

MalaysiaKini issued a special statement on December 19 to clarify on the editorial board's decision to delete a news report. The statement subsequently saw 108 shares by its readers.

MalaysiaKini reporter Aidila Razak later deleted her own tweet following the deletion of the original article on MalaysiaKini's website, and the move invited some 660 “likes”, 533 retweets and 32 replies.

The issue is: government expenditure has been classified by the PH administration as official secret and unauthorised disclosure to the public is prohibited.

MalaysiaKini was quoting the figures as of November this year provided by the prime minister's department's Implementation Coordination Unit (ICU), on the progressive use of development expenditure allocations set aside under Budget 2019 by various ministries, highlighting the fact that out of RM54.0917 billion for development expenditure, only RM38.49 billion or 71.16% of total had been spent with only one month left before the close of the 2019 fiscal year, with as much as RM15.6017 billion or 28.84% of total still unused.

Under the government's account auditing regulations, normally unused allocations set aside for the fiscal year will have to be returned to the finance ministry. Underutilisation of government allocations also reflects poor operational efficiency on the part of a ministry.

Ministries that were particularly reactive after the news was published were Azmin Ali's economic affairs ministry and Syed Saddiq's youth and sports ministry.

According to MalaysiaKini's report, economic affairs ministry received RM2.8929 billion for development expenditure in 2019. but only RM1.4083 billion or 48.68% had been used as of November, with unused allocation as high as RM1.4846 or 51.32%.

As for youth and sports ministry, it received RM427.8 million for development expenditure but used only RM238.6 million or 55.77%, with an unused portion of RM189.2 million or 44.23%

MalaysiaKini clarified in a statement on December 19 that its editorial department was notified by the prime minster's department that the figures quoted were inaccurate and did not reflect the actual situation.

According to the economic affairs ministry, the payment process was just completed and the performance of development expenditure had increased significantly as of the news report's publication.

“It is stressed that this report is also an official government document that cannot be distributed to anyone whether an individual or an organisation without permission.”

The youth and sports minister's reaction, meanwhile, was more straightforward. He rebutted the report only through his own Twitter account, arguing that his ministry had used up 99.4% of the development expenditure as of December 15, adding that the Sukma Games in Johor would get additional RM101.37 million as development expenditure.

Notably, in the special statement on the removal of the said news article, MalaysiaKini explained that the prime minster's department had clarified on the claim that economic affairs ministry had the highest unspent development allocation and the ministry's insistence that it had spent RM2.88 billion as of November, not RM1.4 billion as reported. MalaysiaKini said the prime minister's department had informed it that the news report contained classified information and requested it to be removed. “After considering the request and explanation, MalaysiaKini has removed the articles. This is regretted.”

The Malay intellectuals are beginning to worry whether the PH government's expenditure efficiency and account are beginning to get secretive and whether the voters' right to information has been further constricted.

Incident 2: As our minister slammed the sabotage by “deep state”, the cabinet decided to slash financial duty incentive payment (BITK) for critical public sector civil servants, putting the blame instead on JPA's hasty decision.

Youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq's tweet pointing the finger at JPA drew the ridicules of former PM Najib and Wee Ka Siong. Health minister Dzulkefly Ahmad later tweeted “Aduuh!” for affected ministry staff while demanding an explanation from JPA.

Indeed, affected civil servants protested the policy and wanted the government to reconsider the decision. In addition, politicians on both sides of the divide were also echoing. Malay netizens hit out at the two ministers for either absenting themselves at the cabinet meeting or acting to hide their own incompetency.

Dzulkefly Ahmad (@DrDzul) tweeted on December 24 that the JPA had issued Services Circular No 10 for 2020 to announce the removal of critical services allowances for all health ministry staff and 33 civil service schemes.

The health minster also attached a diagram showing the affected service sectors such as pharmacists, doctors, dentists, nurses, nurse lecturers and medical assistants under the health ministry, as well as architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, fishery engineers, agriculture engineers, engineering education officials, researchers, legal officials, marine officials, government pilots, air traffic controllers, aircraft inspectors and other professional training lecturers.

The JPA had cited government's increased expenditure burden to justify the removal of critical services allowances, highlighting the fact that critical services allowances topped RM888.32 million in 2018, and could climb to RM1.24 billion by 2022.

Obviously JPA was under tremendous pressure from the government and after repeated blasts from cabinet minsters, JPA issued another statement on December 26 evening, stating that the removal of allowances would only involve newly recruited civil servants, while those already entitled to the allowances would continue to enjoy them until they quit their positions.

The so-called critical services allowances were initially offered to attract and encourage civil servants to participate in sectors that saw a manpower crunch then. However, a 2019 report showed that the 33 service sectors now no longer meet the criteria for the provision of services allowances and this has prompted the government to remove them.

JPA reiterated that the decision was not made hastily but after thorough study by the special cabinet task force on public services reforms and was later approved in a cabinet meeting.

Bear in mind that JPA is under the jurisdiction of the prime minster's department while the special task force reports directly to the prime minister.

On Christmas Day, netizens slammed the health minster in droves on his Twitter page, attaching screenshots of the cabinet meeting briefing to prove that the decision was finalised at the special cabinet task force on public services reforms meeting chaired by the prime minister himself, and later adopted at the cabinet meeting.

No wonder many Malay netizens resort to social media platforms to vent their frustration in expressing their feelings of being “pissed off” by our politicians.

Do you think this a good or bad omen as we are about to step into a new year surrounded by the now unrealistic “Vision 2020” atmosphere?

(Jeff Ooi is former Member of Parliament.)

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