Balanced Budget – Obsession or Compulsion?

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

I wonder how many of us are aware that Ipoh City Council’s budget for year 2013 and 2014 was tabled by the mayor on July 31. Yes, Ipoh’s biennial budget has been tabled and Ipohites are clueless. Even we from the press remained uninformed till the very last moment.

The fax from the Council only mentioned a full-board meeting on the appointed date and nothing more. Was it deliberate? Was it an oversight? I have no way of telling, as odd things do happen from time to time.

Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh - MBIFunny, an event of such significance took place without so much as a whimper from the Council. How could it happen?  Well, whatever it was, it happened.

The press was issued a transcript of the mayor’s budget speech and that to me was a revelation of gigantic proportions. It was in Bahasa Malaysia. My poor reporter had problem deciphering it let alone understand the meaning of the flowery language which was peppered with innuendos and salutations. It is the norm with departmental speeches where the need to acknowledge the datuks and tan sris in the crowd is so ingrained in the mindset. It is polite, they say.

Two phrases in the mayor’s speech caught my eye. One was “Mentransformasikan Kerajaan ke-arah Mentransfromasikan Malaysia” meaning “to transform the government towards transforming Malaysia”. It is one mouthful. Ever since the Prime Minister came up with his “Transformasi” mumbo-jumbo, the whole nation has become so engrossed with the word “transformation”, especially those in the public sector. On the whole, however, nothing has transformed as yet.

The other is “Penyedian Anggaran Bajet dwi tahunan 2013 dan 2014 ini telah dibuat berpandukan kepada garis panduan Kerajaan Negeri dimana bajet seimbang menjadi teras kepada bajet pihak berkuasa tempatan” or “the drafting of the city’s biennial budget 2013 and 2014 is based on the guidelines given by the state government where a balanced budget becomes the thrust of local councils’ budgets.” The fixation with a balanced budget, therefore, is not for reasons of prudence but to abide by state government’s guidelines. How naive!

The mayor, as expected, announced a budget of RM151,985,000 for Year 2013 and RM155,200,000 for Year 2014. The budget is balanced because incomes for Year 2013 and Year 2014 are comparable to amount to be expended. It could not be simpler than that.

Incidentally, seventy per cent of the Council’s revenues come from the annual assessment rates. Operational Expenses for 2013 are tagged at RM148,785,000 while that of 2014 are estimated at RM151,700,000. The major bulk of the operational expenses, however, are for emoluments. For 2013, the sum is RM84 million while for 2014, the cost is RM87 million. More than half of the budget goes to paying the Council’s burgeoning number of staff members – over 2,700 at the last count. So you now know where your hard-earned money goes to.

The budget will be passed without much fuss, as it has happened in the past. Do the councillors debate and question the management’s wisdom in spending the Council’s money or more appropriately, rate-payers’ money? I don’t think so.

How are we to know how much is being allocated for road repairs and maintenance?  What about rubbish disposal, grass cutting and the clearing of monsoon drains? What about safety in the streets and crime-prone areas? Will enough CCTVs be installed and where will they be installed? Is there a need to organise dinners at upscale hotels and restaurants, and the inexplicable lawatan sambil belajar. Why this and why that? We have plenty to ask but how are we to ask when our views are never sought?

It will be a balanced budget as long as the Council does not spend more than what it gets. That is the whole crux of the matter. You spend what you get and nothing more. How the Council spends it is never questioned. If that is the premise, Ipoh City Council budget will remain balanced forever.

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5 thoughts on “Balanced Budget – Obsession or Compulsion?

  1. “If ethics are poor at the top, that behaviour is copied down throughout” – BINGO and Touche, Baljit.

    I need not say more except to echo Baljit’s phrase.

    Oooohhh I can hear the sharpening of knives, gnashing of teeth, and frothing of the mouths……

  2. Read the word ‘Redundant’ and understand its meaning. What councillors ? Its an attitude problem. Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character. People who write in the newspapers are better known than them. Do not bite the hand that feeds you. What happened to the cycle about ?. This tradition should be continued in their respective areas. If there is any of us Ipohites who can be optimistic about the ICC . I will salute you ! If ethics are poor at the top, that behaviour is copied down throughout. God Bless Us Ipohites !!

  3. The Ipoh City Council (MBI) MUST adopt a balanced budget. If MBI overspends, where would the extra money come from? There have been occasions when MBI borrowed money from the state or given grants by the state (this has to be done since loans can’t be repaid). These practices allow MBI to shirk their fiscal responsibilities, knowing that there is always a backdoor solution.

    On the other hand, a balanced budget doesn’t mean reduced community services to Ipoh residents. It has been said that the assessment fee in Ipoh under MBI is the highest in Malaysia. Thus, MBI MUST provide Ipoh residents community services that has been paid for.

    Cost-cutting measures must first be carried out on administration matters, eg reduce the number of employees, reduce electricity and water charges, reduce fuel consumption, etc. Cut out the pomp and pageantry and focus on real problems. For instance, putting up (expensive) fancy railings when roads and drains are not being repaired.

    The Datuk Bandar and Councilors must remember that Ipoh residents are paying their salaries and allowances, and as such, are their de-facto bosses. They are under the people, not over the people. MBI officers seem to lord over the people instead of serving them. They forget that they are government “servants” to the people.

    Ipoh residents expect Councilors to visit the zones under their responsibility. Why? The main reason is so Councilors can see for themselves the actual problems in the zones under them. Another reason is for residents to make direct complaints to Councilors during their visits.

    If MBI officers and workers had been doing their jobs properly, there would be little need for Councilors to visit their zones to look at problems, and no need for residents to complain to Councilors. The general thought is that MBI doesn’t take complaints seriously and requires a Councilor’s intervention to get the problem solved.

  4. Being a reader of Ipoh Echo for almost 5 years, I feel it is my duty to say that the Ipoh Echo is very informative, unbiased and objective. Ipoh Echo, which is frank and often exposes the shenanigans in the City Council, like the article above, should be read by Ipohites.

    Based on this article above, it states that more than half of the budget are allocated for paying the councilors and their staffs. But the sad part is, the article also expresses that these councilors hardly debate or question the wisdom of the ICC management.

    I remember reading Warner Schaie of Pennysylvania State University’s 28 years old study that revealed in this academic paper that mental skills, like muscles, can get flabby through lack of use. “Once you stop using your mental skills they get rusty”. This must be a timely warning to our councilors who are seldom heard. It may be easy and more comfortable to remain mentally lethargic and compromising “yes-men” but these representatives of the Ipoh people have a moral and social responsibility towards the people. They are there to think and provide their views.

    I know that most of these councilors are appointed on the basis of their political patronage to the ruling party. Therefore I would like to suggest that, near future appoint a few knowledgeable people and let the Ipohites elect some of their representative as councilors. This may not be politically palatable but it would do a good deal to the rate payers money and restore the sagging image of the our ICC.

    Many of our councilors have become part of our growing “idle elite”. Mr. Editor, democracy would be become meaningless if more and more people begin to enjoy political patronage ( be it the ruling party or the opposition) not because of their dedicated service to society but because of their unquestioning loyalty to the ICC leadership.

  5. I would not hesitate to agree with the writer that many of us are unaware of the ICC’s budget 2013/14. As for the councilors they are Jacks of all trades and masters of none and the ICC budget meeting would have a easy time. Maybe its also because of the lack of in-depth coverage by the Northern media section, much of what actually goes on in that forbidding session remains unknown to Ipohites.

    Coverage by mass media on ICC budget proceedings is nil compared to ribbon-cutting news, advertisements and TV programmes. Ultimately, only the people of Ipoh should play their role by questioning their respective councilors. Maybe then, a total reform will salvage the institution of City Council from its cripple state.

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