It’s almost the end of 2017, and the new year is upon us. Which means… National Budget season! Yes, every year around the end of October, the government draws up plans on how to spend the country’s money next year, and presents it to the public. In the past, suggestions for the budget came from people within the government, but since 2012…
…PM Najib Razak (who is also the Finance Minister) provided a platform for everyday citizens to give suggestions on how Malaysia should spend its money, and the Finance Ministry supposedly reads the suggestions and consider them in the next year’s budget.
“I started this measure in 2012 to receive suggestions, views and criticism from every rung of the society – whether from NGOs, entrepreneurs, corporates, youths and professionals, people living in rural areas and many more. This initiative had been continued every year since 2012.” – Najib Razak, translated from his blog.
The National Budget, once approved, carries the force of law, so that’s quite a big responsibility to just let anybody suggest what goes into it. There had been improvements in the system with every passing year, and in the past few years visitors to the website can even sign in and vote for the suggestions they like best. But do the most popular suggestions make it into the budget? Does anybody even bother to give suggestions? As it turns out…
There were more than 13,000 suggestions
An hour before the Prime Minister announced the budget, we accessed the budget suggestion box to collect some data, and as it turns out Malaysians had quite a lot to suggest. While news sources reported 13,387 suggestions received within the 15 days when suggestions were open, we counted only 13,203 on the website itself. Regardless of where the other 184 suggestions went to, that’s quite a lot of suggestions to process. Even after suggestions were closed on the 18th of September, logged-in visitors can still vote for the suggestions they like best by ‘liking’ them.
To put it simply, the rakyat can suggest anything within 14 categories, ranging from matters related to education, cost of living, taxes and rural development, to name a few. So which categories got the most suggestions? To answer that, we counted the suggestions and put them in a list:
- Employment (2898 suggestions, 10.75% votes)
- Education (1961 suggestions, 12.05% votes)
- Taxation, business and finance (1516 suggestions, 8.95% votes)
- Transport and infrastructure (1249 suggestions, 6.97% votes)
- Cost of living (1227 suggestions, 18% votes)
- Housing and urban living (920 suggestions, 11.42% votes)
- Public safety and transparency (633 votes, 8.14% votes)
- Healthcare (594 suggestions, 8.03% votes)
- Environment and agriculture (483 suggestions, 3.04% votes)
- Social welfare (449 suggestions, 2.93% votes)
- Youth and sports (349 suggestions, 1.72% votes)
- Digital economy (326 suggestions, 3.13% votes)
- Rural development (300 suggestions, 3.32% votes)
- Culture and tourism (298 suggestions, 1.54% votes)
As you can see, some categories were more popular with the rakyat than the others. Upon reading the suggestions themselves, we noticed that the drop in the number of votes was quite steep for most categories (out of the 13k plus suggestions, only six suggestions received more than 1,000 votes). To give an idea of what the rakyat asked for, we’ll be showing the simplified top comments for each of the fourteen categories.
“I suggest building a specialized hospital for children, as their medical, surgery and psychological needs are different from adults. It’s been done in other countries, like the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. Thank you.” – Leong (914 votes)
For Cost of Living:
“Due to the rising cost of living, I suggest that public servants get more service allowances,” – Ravidasan (2,760 votes)
For Taxation, Business & Finance:
“I would like to suggest for people earning up to RM50,000 be eligible for RM400 tax rebate as well, in addition to the current limit of RM35,000. I would also like to suggest the individual tax exemption be increased from RM9,000 to RM12,000” – Mohamad Faisal (1,021 votes)
“I request a special allowance to appreciate teachers which make up 1/3 of the public force, say around RM350 – RM500.” – Joshua P (980 votes)
“I suggest the PSIMP’s trainee teacher’s allowance be raised again, and for the PPISMP’s trainee teacher allowance be continued again for the June 2018 intake. ” – Muhammad Aliff Iman bin Kamal (1,095 votes)
For Transport and Infrastructure:
“We should make driving licenses a one-off payment: no need to pay for renewal every year,” – Khairy Mamdouh (1,505 votes)
For Housing and Urban Living:
“A special bank to help people who can’t get housing loans from conventional banks. The criteria for getting a loan will be loosened, but the interest rate will be higher than conventional banks, and the property bought belongs to the bank until full payment is made.” – Ahmad Mahir (110 votes)
For Rural Development:
“Use solar panels to generate electricity in rural areas.” – Joshua Phua Pei Xing (51 votes)
For Public Safety and Transparency:
“We should not let foreigners set up shop in this country. A lot of Bangladeshis set up grocery shops and phone shops in areas where they congregate. These people are threatening the safety of people living nearby, and their businesses can affect the locals’ businesses. We can’t tell if their wares are safe to use or not, and supposedly they either have no business licenses, or use another person’s name to get one.” – Su Teck (175 votes)
For Youth and Sports:
“Keep up the IM4U initiative, this program can produce more Malaysians with a volunteer’s heart and soul.” – Zaharuddin Abd Majid (62 votes)
For Social Welfare:
“I’m an unemployed OKU, and it would be great if the monthly OKU allowance be increased to RM750, as I can barely make it on the current RM350. Thank you.” – Mohd Alhafiz bin Abdullah (64 votes)
For Environment and Agriculture:
“We need to focus more on the rearing of ruminants like cows and goats, as every time the korban season comes around their prices soar higher every year, and their quality isn’t that good. For the past decade, there haven’t been any specific budget allocation to address this issue.” – Nordin Mat (45 votes)
For Culture and Tourism:
“I suggest the people with EPF be able to withdraw some of it to go to Mecca for umrah.” – Leong (280 votes)
For Digital Economy:
“The world is heading into an industrial revolution, and how are we going to face that without skilled professionals? So I would like to suggest that the government attract more people into the technical and technological fields, either through better pay, remuneration or others.” – Mohd Helmi (152 votes)
As you can see by this small sampling, not all of the suggestions submitted were straight out suggestions. Not all of the 13k suggestions were unique, and some suggested things that are already being done. We first looked only at the top suggestions, as given their popularity, these suggestions are the ones most likely to be read. So…
Does Bajet 2018 address any of these suggestions?
To roughly see whether the rakyat’s voice was heard, we compared their suggestions to the document published by the Ministry of Finance detailing the touchpoints of the budget as well as the PM’s speech transcript. At first, we looked at 18 top suggestions (10 highest rated from all categories, and top rated from the remaining 8 categories not in the top ten). However, out of those, only 6 kinda sorta made it into the budget. ‘Kinda sorta‘, because the solutions that came up in the budget kinda wasn’t what they asked for, but it sorta addressed the problem.
Now, in case you haven’t read the summary yet, for ease of navigation the budget was built on 8 thrusts, and we’ll be detailing where exactly you can find what we’re mentioning in the document in the parentheses following the descriptions. And since it’s a lot of data to sift through, do tell us if we missed anything at [email protected].
Four of the top ten suggestions more or less requested for more money for public servants:
“Due to the rising cost of living, I suggest that public servants get more service allowances,” – Ravidasan, in the Cost of Living category. (2,760 votes, highest rated of all suggestions)
“Increase pay of public servants by 4%, plus add RM100 to their housing allowances as houses are expensive nowadays,” – Richard Samie, in the Cost of Living category. (2,653 votes, second highest rated of all suggestions)
“I pity the gomen servants who haven’t received a bonus since 2013, so I hope you can give a two-months bonus for them,” – Haslina, in the Cost of Living category. (1,872 votes, third highest rated of all suggestions)
“I request a special allowance to appreciate teachers which make up 1/3 of the public force, say around RM350 – RM500.” – Joshua P, in the Education category. (980 votes, 7th highest rated of all suggestions)
The closest thing we can find in the Bajet that addressed these is a special payment of RM1,500 for public servants next year, with RM1,000 be given in early January and the remaining RM250 around raya time (Touchpoint 8, #48 / page 78 of speech).
The top suggestion in Healthcare asked for a hospital specializing in children:
“I suggest building a specialized hospital for children, as their medical, surgery and psychological needs are different from adults. It’s been done in other countries, like the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. Thank you.” – Leong, in the Healthcare category. (914 votes, top suggestion in Healthcare)
While there’s no such thing in the works yet, a billion ringgit was allocated to build wards for women and children at the Tengku Ampuan Afzan and Putrajaya Hospitals (Thrust 5, #36 / page 60 of speech).
The top comment for Social Welfare asked for the OKU allowance to be increased to RM750:
“I’m an unemployed OKU, and it would be great if the monthly OKU allowance be increased to RM750, as I can barely make it on the current RM350. Thank you.” – Mohd Alhafiz bin Abdullah (64 votes, top suggestion in Social Welfare)
The new budget did mention an increase in the OKU allowance (Thrust 7, #44, page 68 of speech), but it’s only for RM50 instead of the proposed RM300.
A suggestion in Environment and Agriculture wished for the government to be more serious in rearing ruminants:
“We need to focus more on the rearing of ruminants like cows and goats, as every time the korban season comes around their prices soar higher every year, and their quality isn’t that good. For the past decade, there haven’t been any specific budget allocation to address this issue.” – Nordin Mat (45 votes, highest in Environment and Agriculture)
The Bajet had announced the allocation of RM200 million for an initiative to find new sources of income. This includes help in farming corn, coconuts, durians, and a focus on the dairy industry by establishing a Dairy and Ruminants Board (Thrust 1, #5, page 20 of speech). Okay, so maybe what Nordin meant was for meat instead of milk, but hey. A whole new board specially for ruminants!
Okay, so maybe looking at the top 18 comments to see if the rakyat’s voice was heard is like looking at a whale through a keyhole. Perhaps we should be looking beyond the glamour of top suggestions here…
Less popular suggestions have been addressed, too!
Just because a suggestion didn’t make top comment, it doesn’t mean that it goes unnoticed. For example, some people have requested that:
“My suggestion is for the construction of a highway from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu to be hastened. Kelantanese people have to endure a huge jam every festive season.” – Fadhly Mustapha, 8th most voted in Transportation & Infrastructure (46 likes)
“Please return the Wau Express that had been discontinued since 2014. This train really helped students and the poor save money.” – Mohd Hisyam, 10th most voted in Transportation & Infrastructure (38 likes)
For those unfamiliar with the Wau Express, it’s a train line that connected Kuala Lumpur and Tumpat, a town some 15km from Kota Bharu, Kelantan’s capital. Anyway, both of these problems were addressed in the budget (Thrust 1, #8). For the first one, RM230 million has been allocated to continue the construction of the Central Spine Road Project, a four-lane highway that connects Kelantan to Kuala Lumpur as an alternative to the current two-lane road (page 24 of speech).
As for the train, the East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) project, which is believed to be able to ferry people and cargo from Port Klang to Pengkalan Kubor in Kelantan in just four hours, will begin construction in January (page 23 of speech). No word on whether it will be as affordable as the Wau Express, though.
In the Sports and Youth category, besides praise for the current ministry, there have been suggestions for more sport centers around the country.
“Build 1 mini sports complex for every district in Malaysia to ensure that youths/athletes can increase their quality and competitiveness at all levels.” – Ezri Jakaria, 4th most voted in the Sports and Youth category (31 likes)
“I suggest the government provide a Kompleks Sukan 1 Malaysia at every district, especially rural areas as this will help rural citizens to live a healthy life. Thank you.” – Che Rozeri bin Che Abd Rahmab, 8th most voted in the Sports and Youth category (19 likes)
According to this page, there are like 144 districts in Malaysia, which would mean 144 sports complex in all. Well, maybe not for every district, but the government will be allocating RM112 million to build 14 new sport complexes around the country (Thrust 2, #16, page 35 of speech).
While the top suggestion for Rural Development was ignored (the solar panel guy), other, less-liked suggestions were addressed. Particularly, these ones:
“Rural roads still need to be repaired and upgraded, by retarring and adding more street lights.” – Kamarul Zaman, 2nd most voted in the Rural Development category (35 likes)
“Increase the penetration of portable 4G broadband services in rural areas.” – Ahmed Fadzil bin Mustafa Kamal, 3rd most voted in the Rural Development category (30 likes)
The road problem was addressed by two separate allocations: RM1.1 billion for stuff like bridges, streetlights, suraus and pasars in rural areas, and a specially allocated RM934 million for just rural roads, of which RM500 million is for roads in Sabah and Sarawak. As for the broadband suggestion, RM1 billion was allocated through the MCMC to develop the communication infrastructure and broadband service, but in Sarawak only (Thrust 4, #23, page 42 of speech).
We could go on and on (there were more than 13,000 suggestions anyway), but the point to be made here is…
OMG! The gomen listened to the rakyat! …or did they?
While it seemed that quite a lot of suggestions were addressed, a few days after the budget was presented a few groups have voiced their dissatisfaction with the budget. The Persatuan Transformasi Pemandu Teksi Malaysia, for one, did not believe that the huge amount (RM1 billion) allocated to the public transport fund will do much to improve the land transportation system in Malaysia, apart from getting a few new buses and taxis. Other taxi associations felt the same way, saying that the budget did not address the real problems they are facing.
Mak Kee Chin, the chairman of Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) questioned the half-billion allocation for schools, saying that the fund is more focused on the physical state of schools rather than the education system itself. Mak believed that the funds should have been allocated for training of teachers instead, as some teachers don’t seem to be specially trained to handle the subjects they’re teaching. Another education activist, K Arumugam, felt disappointed that after 60 years of independence, schools still face problems in the form of leaking roofs and broken tiles.
Some politicians also viewed the 2018 Budget with skepticism and caution. One of them is PKR’s Wong Chen, who stated that the budget is ‘bizarre’ for two reasons. One of them is the seemingly large amount of money allocated to the Prime Minister’s Department for 2018.
“The health ministry only got RM1.8 billion for development purposes under the budget, and education only got RM1.4 billion. What is the prime minister spending RM12 billion on? The total allocated for the prime minister’s department, including for operating and development expenses, is RM18 billion.” – Wong Chen, for FMT.
The other thing was that while more items have been exempted from the GST and the income tax has been reduced for several income groups, the government at the same time expected more revenue from tax collection next year. This led him to believe that if the government is to reach the expected RM44 billion, every Malaysian household may have to pay more in GST next year. This concern was shared by DAP’s P Ramasamy, who believes that without the removal of the GST, the government will soon take back all the things given out through it.
While there does seem to be some flaws with the new budget, the tale of the farmer and his son taking a donkey to the market comes to mind. In case you’ve never heard of it, here it is in ragecomic:
Anyway, what the government did was to carry their ass to the market. By letting the rakyat have a say, they’re actually opening themselves up to suggestions and criticism. While in the story the villagers criticizing them arguably had good intentions, and while their criticisms do have some logic to it, following all of their suggestions eventually ends with the donkey escaping and by them being subjects of ridicule. Unlike the farmer and his son, however, the government showed some restraint in following the suggestions given to them.
Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? That depends on which villager you ask.