An Election Budget?

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

If the 2010 Auditor-General’s Report is to be heeded, Zambry and his Perak Amanjaya planners need to avoid the pitfalls of tampering and impropriety, deliberate or otherwise, caused by a dubious delivery system.

Perak Budget 2012 was tabled during the 12th sitting of the state assembly on Monday, November 21. The meeting at the august house got off to a heady start when Opposition Aduns complained of being locked out. The truth of the matter was that some had come in through a door which was inadvertently locked from the inside. While the political representatives were settling down to business, a noisy gathering of residents from Chemor were picketing outside of the State Secretariat Building with placards and banners demanding land for the construction of a Hindu temple.

The locked door and the noisy picketers were interesting preludes to a serious discussion that was about to unfold. The political scenario in Perak has long been a subject of debate by various parties, ordinary Perakeans notwithstanding. Seldom has an assembly sitting been conducted with decorum befitting its stature. It seems a norm for some form of disruption to happen at the behest of the rakyat. However, on this particular day it was the exception. Chief Minister, Dato’ Seri DiRaja Dr Zambry Abd Kadir completed his budget speech, which lasted an hour and a half, with the least number of interruptions although some murmurings were heard from the opposite bench.

Many have dubbed it as an “Election Budget” for a number of reasons. Just like Federal Budget 2012, the amount of goodies was a little too much to stomach. In spite of this not-too-flattering innuendo, the objective of Perak Budget 2012, which is to “prosper the populace and develop the state” (Mensejahterakan Rakyat dan Memakmurkan Negeri), is never in doubt.

Budget 2012 is estimated to cost the government RM915.26 million while revenue and receivables to be generated amounted to RM865.12 million. Excess of expenditure over income is RM50.14 million. Therefore, this is yet another deficit budget, the eighth in succession since 2005.

The policy adopted to macro-manage the state’s economy is to encourage consumer spending by putting more money into the rakyat’s pockets. A scaled down Herbert Stein’s supply-side economics is evident by the subtle removal of restrictions to allow for expansion, especially among traders who ply their wares at the ubiquitous pasar malam (night markets) in the state. Consumption is being spurred by the many goodies proffered to Perakeans, such as:

A RM60-million three-year rolling plan fund for first-time house buyers, RM10 million for year 2012. The state will provide the 10 per cent deposit required by banks to purchase new houses.

Reduction in permit fees for all night market traders.

A RM2 million allocation for teachers’ clubs.

Allowance increases for village heads, religious teachers and mosque officials.

Non-governmental organisations that care for women’s welfare and well-being will be given a RM2 million stipend. An allocation of RM1 million for the construction of half-way houses for abused women and children. RM5 million is allocated for NGOs that dabble in charity work.

Former servicemen and policemen were not ignored. Seven thousand land lots will be given to those eligible to build houses. They need only pay a RM500 premium each to acquire the lots.

In view of Visit Perak Year 2012, an allocation of RM18 million has been set aside for the maintenance, improvement and upgrading of existing touristic sites. A number of events are being planned to attract tourists to Perak. Zambry estimates tourist arrivals to breach the 5-million mark, generating income spin-off worth RM5 billion, provided each tourist spends a minimum RM1,000 while in transit. The MB’s optimism is based upon the state’s capacity to captivate visitors while they traverse the Plus Expressway from Tanjong Malim to Parit Buntar.

Mechanisms to be employed in the disbursement of funds intended for the needy are unclear as the budget, at the time of this publication, has yet to be passed. However, the Chief Minister is optimistic that a workable methodology will be in place in due time.

The RM321 million earmarked for development must be channelled to deserving parties and individuals, not some illicit entities. If the 2010 Auditor-General’s Report is to be heeded, Zambry and his Perak Amanjaya planners need to avoid the pitfalls of tampering and impropriety, deliberate or otherwise, caused by a dubious delivery system.