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.
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.