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Saturday, October 31, 2015

More goodies in Pakatan Harapan’s budget than BN’s?

Budget 2016 is deemed ‘populist’ because of its tilt towards rural folk, and Sabah and Sarawak. Yet the opposition’s alternative budget contains just as many handouts for the two target groups. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, November 1, 2015.  Budget 2016 is deemed ‘populist’ because of its tilt towards rural folk, and Sabah and Sarawak. Yet the opposition’s alternative budget contains just as many handouts for the two target groups. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, November 1, 2015. 
When Putrajaya hands out cash to poor people and announces policies for rural folk and Sabah and Sarawak, it is accused by analysts of vote-buying and being populist.
Yet Pakatan Harapan, in its alternative budget, allocates even more money and projects for Sabah and Sarawak and subsidies for rice farmers.
According to its 2016 budget, if Pakatan Harapan were in power, it would continue to give cash aid to the poor but with conditions. But they are not accused of being populist.
So is there a bias against the ruling Barisan Nasional’s Budget 2016? Should Pakatan also be considered populist in its plans for the poor, Sabah and Sarawak, and rural folk?
Who’s the bigger populist?
Analysts and experts in reports by business website Bloomberg on the RM267.2 billion Budget 2016 described it as being filled with handouts to please rural and poor folk, which the BN relies on for support.
Plans considered populist include raising the minimum wage, goods and services tax (GST) exemptions for more food items and more cash under the 1Malaysia People’s Aid Scheme (BR1M).
It has also been called an election budget because of the pay raises for the civil service and programmes designed for Sabah and Sarawak, such as a scheme to build longhouses.
But the Pakatan budget has even more ambitious proposals for Sabah and Sarawak. It promises to give 20% oil and gas royalty to the two states and half of those proceeds will be put into a resource fund modelled after the world-renown Norwegian Pension Fund.
The opposition coalition would give RM1 billion to develop secondary cities in Sabah and Sarawak and another RM1 billion for conditional university scholarships.
It would also build a railway line connecting Kota Kinabalu to Kuching by diverting funds from the Singapore-KL Highspeed Rail (HSR) which it would cancel.
In the peninsula, Pakatan would reform the current rice subsidy scheme by redirecting funds from millers to padi farmers.
The biggest, and potentially, most popular proposal would be to set the GST at 0%, which is likely to benefit low-income households the most.
Narrowing gaps   
Kelana Jaya MP Wong Chen, who is part of Pakatan’s budget drafting committee, refutes suggestions that its proposals are populist. 
He said they were part of the coalition’s budget philosophy to narrow socio-economic inequality.
“Our concentration on Sabah and Sarawak, especially, is because they are two of the biggest sources of oil and gas yet they do not get back a fair proportion of this revenue,” said Wong.
“Sabah and Sarawak and rural areas are the least equal to other parts of Malaysia.”
Setting the GST at zero, he said, was necessary to help low-income households and businesses survive a recession which Pakatan predicted would happen next year.
Kelana Jaya MP Wong Chen says Pakatan Harapan’s budget is designed to narrow socio-economic inequality. – The Malaysian Insider pic, November 1, 2015.Kelana Jaya MP Wong Chen says Pakatan Harapan’s budget is designed to narrow socio-economic inequality. – The Malaysian Insider pic, November 1, 2015.“This is by no means a populist measure but a necessary one,” he said.
A policy would be considered populist if there was no underlying rationale for it other than a blatant attempt to buy votes, said another Pakatan budget committee member Dr Ong Kian Ming.
The rationale for the KK-Kuching railway was that it would do more for Sabah and Sarawak’s economy than the Singapore-KL HSR, said Ong, who is Serdang MP.
The scholarships would only be given out to the brightest from the two states provided that they return to work in Sabah and Sarawak after they graduated, said Ong.
“(It) is to address the shortage of human capital in Sarawak and Sabah and the fact that many talented (ones) come to work in KL and Singapore rather than go back.”
Big talk, small allocations 
The perception that there was double standard when it came to BN and Pakatan policies was because there was less goodwill and trust towards the ruling coalition, he said.
The scepticism about whether the BN would walk their talk instead of promising things that sounded good was also evident if one were to scrutinise the nitty-gritty details of the budget.
Wong said although it sounded much, all the aid in the federal budget totalled about RM500 million, which was small percentage in terms of the overall RM267.2 billion.
When it came to the Pan-Borneo Highway, said Ong, the project has been estimated at RM16 billion, but its allocation was RM800 million from the Prime Minister’s Department.
“BN has promised much over the past 50 years of independence and has delivered only a small percentage of what they promised.”
- TMI

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