By DR KELVIN YII
COMMENT: The long awaited ‘election’ budget was rolled out on Friday with the view of the up-coming general election (GE14).
“Goodies and election candy” were widely expected and to a certain extent, the Prime Minister did not disappoint with announcements such as the increase of bonus for civil servants up to RM1500, as well as pensioners up to RM750, as well as income tax relief up to 2 per cent for the middle class M40.
This was an expected move to shore up the traditional support base of the ruling government in view of GE14.
Besides that, the abolishment of tolls in certain areas in Selangor, Kedah and also Johor speaks volume of the confidence level of the ruling BN government in view of the inroads made by the opposition in those States, especially Kedah and Johor.
The BN government seems to be taking the fight straight to these states who many predict will be a hot battling ground in the elections.
In order to fulfil this ‘fantasy’ election, the projected expenditure for this “election-budget” totals up to RM282.3 billion, even though the projected revenue for 2018 is only RM239.9 billion. That shows there is a RM 42.4 billion of deficit.
In order to fill that gap, the government is likely to resort to more borrowing, thus plunging us into greater debts. This is still not including supplementary budgets that are a common practise by the ruling government.
What does this mean for Sarawak? In first view, there are allocations given for the development of rural areas especially in infrastructure, telecommunication and electric subsidies.
However we see a significant drop in allocations for the Pan-Borneo Highway from the previous allocation of RM16 billion in 2016/2017 to RM 2 billion in 2017/2018, with the justifications that all the packages have been distributed and payments have been made in the previous year.
However, as much as it seems attractive on paper, it is important to note that the budget reading does not translate to money in hand of the intended party. Questions need to be asked whether all the previous allocations of previous budgets including the promised RM16 billion for Pan Borneo last year reached to the hands of the intended contractors.
For example, the flyover that was promised at the 7th Mile, 6.5 mile (opposite Kuching Sentral) and 4.5 miles that was part of the Pan-Borneo project and was supposedly to commence construction in June of this year, is still yet to be seen.
On top of that, the spirit of this budget shows that the BN government is not serious about giving us back our State’s autonomy and fiscal decentralisation. There was no mention of the return of 20% of our oil royalty although there was a resolution passed in DUN Sarawak since years ago.
There were no signs of returning of revenues required to run our Education department in our demands for greater autonomy in the State.
The reality is that the BN government is not serious about returning the autonomous powers to the State. They are more interested in dishing out ‘short-term’ goodies to win an election at the expense of the long-term interest of the State.
This is in contrast to Pakatan Harapan’s Alternative Budget where we show our seriousness in recognising the autonomous powers of our State on top of returning 20% of our oil royalty.
• Dr Kelvin Yii is Special Assistant to the Kuching Member of Parliament