It is this time of the year again.
No, it is not another public holiday or the date for some demonstration, or counter demonstration.
It is the time for this annual exercise called the “Budget Speech”, delivered by the Prime Minister, who for more than a decade already doubles up as the Minister of Finance.
It is quite something for the press to play this thing up. In fact, on that day when the Prime Minister delivers his speech in Parliament, customers in warungs up and down the country will be glued in with bated breath, as if Dato Seri Najib was about to announce a special allocation especially for them.
In a way, that is true for those involved in the murky world of Government tendering. Projects may take years from concept paper to allocation, and it is very important for those seeking to win Government projects to know whether the allocation is sufficiently large, and reassess whether their “cable to Ma’am” is strong enough.
However, for some time now, Cabinet Ministers have had little festive cheer over this period. Year after year, it seems that the Budget Boys in the Treasury have been pruning and cutting all their allocations. The total budget for 2016 was RM 267.2 billion, which was only about RM 12 billion higher than in 2013, when it was RM 255.6 billion. However, the bulk of the increases were to the Prime Ministers Department, whose spending allocation increased by a cool RM 10 billion, from RM 13.4 billion in 2013 to RM 20.4 billion in 2016, an increase of 53%. In 2008, the year before Dato Seri Najib took over as Prime Minister, the total spending for the Prime Minister’s Department was only RM 6.9 billion.
In contrast, other Ministries have seen their allocation trimmed, slashed or perpetually undefended.
For example, the allocation to the Ministry of Higher Education was slashed by RM 2.5 billion, from RM 15.8 billion to RM 13.4 billion. Heavy-weight Ministries like the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Defence had small cuts. Other Ministries which are considered in the “featherweight” category have to make do with a fraction of the allocation. For example, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, helmed by Rembau MP and UMNO Youth Chief, Khairy Jamaluddin, had to make do with an allocation of RM 931 million for 2016.
In Prime Minister Department budget-speak, this is just a single line item.
The Prime Minister’s RM 20 billion budget boasts of hundreds of millions and billions allocated to projects with little meaning, use or oversight. Examples include the RM 750m allocated for “Restructuring Communities”, RM 610 million for “Development Projects”, RM 1.3 billion for “People Friendly Projects” and RM 3 billion for a “Facilitation fund.”
So the question is why does the Prime Minister have to spend so much money year in and year out?
After all, if his predecessor could do with RM 7 billion a year, and that in itself was considerably larger than the spending during Dr Mahathir’s time, why does Dato Seri Najib need 3 times the amount to do practically the same job.
And the performance of his tenure as Prime Minister is actually worse.
The GNI Income Per Capita growth figure, which was well into double digits when the currency strengthened in 2010, has been largely left out this year as the figure contracted due to a slowing economy and weakness in the currency. Perhaps that may explain the sudden reduction in PEMANDU, an organisation best known for their ability to quote numbers from nowhere, whose budget shrank from RM 142 million to RM 29 million for 123 staff. But don’t feel sorry for the Government’s jargon creators par excellence, this still amounts to a respectable RM 240k SPPK, or “spending per Pemandu Kon-sultan”.