By Mariam Mokhtar
Malaysia's Budget 2021 will be voted on this Thursday, but there are two questions on everyone's lips: How will the government pay the staggering bill which the government incurred during the coronavirus pandemic? Will the allegedly discriminatory budget be approved by parliament?
The rumblings from various quarters since finance minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz made his Budget speech on November 6 should worry both him and his boss, Muhyiddin Yassin.
With the proposed spending of RM322.5 billion, this is Malaysia's most ambitious budget with its twin-pronged attack to fight the coronavirus pandemic as well as protect Malaysia's economy.
Zafrul hoped the Inland Revenue Board (IRB) would achieve its tax collection target of RM127 billion this year, and that it can collect RM144 billion for 2021.
The economy is slowing and tax collection will be reduced. Zafrul is being very optimistic. How does he think that tax collection will increase this year compared to last year?
Will businesses help fund Budget 2021? Those which remain operating during this pandemic are barely surviving and are running below capacity. Employers cannot sustain their business or pay the rent. Many have been forced to make their staff redundant.
Can the people help fund Budget 2021? No! They have been forced to tighten their belts and many have lost their jobs as businesses go bankrupt. People are not spending because they are afraid. Many have dived into their savings which are fast depleting.
Mortgages have to be paid, car loans have to be serviced. Many people now have no money to pay their house rents. Nevertheless, the rakyat see a bloated cabinet and an equally bloated civil service.
If Budget 2021 is approved, civil servants on Grade 56 and below will receive a one-off cash payment of RM600 called Bantuan Khas Kewangan, as will civil servant pensioners (RM300) and veterans without pensions. But what about people in the private sector?
The civil servants have not been forgotten because they serve an important purpose. They are Umno-Baru/PAS and PN's vote bank. The ruling party can always rely on civil servants to support them, provided the ruling party pumps cash their way.
One line stood out in the full text of Zafrul's Budget speech. He said that in 2021 the Malaysian economy is expected to recover and expand at a rate of between 6.5 and 7.5 percent.
The government's 2021 GDP projection of between 8.6% and 9.6% appears unrealistic, especially as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have estimated the GDP growth to be 7.8% and 5.8% respectively. Even Bank Negara Malaysia's projection was only 5.8%.
Many people have a gloomy outlook on the economy, but Zafrul failed to specify how our economy would recover, nor did he list the areas of growth or the long-term measures to sustain this growth.
For instance, he did not mention how Malaysia could reinvent itself to attract more foreign direct investments in high-tech industries.
As a former banker, Zafrul should realize that small- and medium-sized industries are the backbone of our economy. Where are the incentives to help these businesses?
If aid is not given now, any tax incentives or relief offered would be rendered meaningless. As more companies fail, unemployment will rise to shocking levels and more people will suffer, more single mothers and their children will be unable to survive.
Other negative side effects will be an increase of people with mental health issues, crime levels will rise, children will drop out of schools and there will be a rise in domestic violence.
Most people, including opposition MPs, have found that the Budget discriminates against the minorities.
A former president of Aliran, P Ramakrishnan, described the Budget as one which caters only for one section of the community with the benefits going only to the rich and powerful.
He compared the allocation for "bumiputra development" for the Malays, which is RM11.1 billion, with that for the Indian community which is only RM100 million. The two million Indians in Malaysia would receive RM50 per person per year, or RM4 per month, or a miserable 14 sen per day!
The Chinese fare worse. The estimated 7.4 million Chinese will receive RM177m. This translates to RM24 per person per year; RM2 per month or 7 sen per day!
Not all bumiputras are created equal. There are 18 Orang Asli ethnic groups in the peninsula, most living in poverty.
Some people may claim that the allocation of RM158 million is generous, but Colin Nicholas from the Center for Orang Asli Concerns' disagrees. He said, "It is a negligible amount.
"We are talking about RM158 million for 200,000 Orang Asli from 853 registered villages. If you divide the RM158 million by their population, how much do they get?"
Anyone who does the maths will see that each OA will get only RM790.
Why should Malaysians pay RM85.5 million for JASA, a propaganda unit which is going to try and make Muhyiddin look good?
1. The Edge Markets: SME, retail and mall associations urge govt for more aid in Budget 2021
2. The Edge Markets: Full Budget 2021 speech
3. MalaysiaKini News Lab: Key highlights of Budget 2021
4. The Edge Markets: Anwar warns Budget 2021 may not be passed if opposition's demands not met
5. TheVibes.com: Year after year, Budget overlooks Orang Asli
6. MalaysiaKini: Govt revives JASA propaganda unit with RM85.5m budget
7. MariamMokhtar.com: Defeat the Budget – This is not a budget for all Malaysians!
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)