JOHOR BARU: The upcoming Johor Budget 2020 should give serious weight to bread and butter issues facing Johoreans, especially in relation to affordable housing and river contamination.
Come November, the state government will table the second state budget since Pakatan Harapan took over from Barisan Nasional after winning the May 9 general election in 2018.
The Johor Budget 2020 could be considered the maiden state budget by Johor Pakatan Harapan as the last one, tabled at the state legislative assembly in Kota Iskandar, Iskandar Puteri on Nov 29 last year, was accused by the Opposition of being a “copy and paste” or rebranding of the previous BN state government’s work.
It will also be the first budget to be presented by Datuk Dr Sahruddin Jamal who officially assumed his new role as Johor Mentri Besar on April 15.
The first-term Bukit Kepong assemblyman replaced Datuk Osman Sapian, who is also the Kempas assemblyman, who resigned as the Johor Mentri Besar on April 8.
While the state budget will be more or less based on the national budget to be tabled at Parliament on Oct 11, Johor should focus more on the well-being of Johoreans.
People here from all walks of life have high expectations and hopes for the upcoming budget to boost Johor to the next level so that it can emerge as one of the most developed states in the country.
The state government needs to address issues which are closer to Bangsa Johor’s aspirations with appropriate financial allocation to solve thorny issues, chief among which is to provide affordable houses under the Rumah Mampu Biaya Johor (RMBJ) scheme.
Self-employed Norizan Nasiman, 35, said he had applied many times for the RMBJ via online but his applications were unsuccessful, with no reasons given.
“I wanted to buy a house in Gelang Patah but was given a choice in Pasir Gudang... hopefully the state government will consider building more RMBJ houses in the most sought-after locations, ” he said.
But Norizan may have a long wait ahead of him as, despite the promises made by the Johor government, according to the Auditor General’s Reports 2018 Series 1, the state cannot deliver 100,000 units of the RMBJ by 2023.
The report stated that only 1,960 units of affordable houses can be built on average in five years, thus the target to construct 100,000 units by 2023 is far-fetched.
It added that the state government would require 51 years to achieve its target of 100,000 units of RMBJ, a rebranding of Rumah Mampu Milik Johor (RMMJ) coined by the previous state administration.
However, Johor housing, communication and multimedia committee chairman Dzulkefly Ahmad disputes this, saying that on average about 20,000 units of affordable houses would be delivered to eligible buyers annually within the next five years.
“The state government always looks at things positively and when we say we will deliver the houses, we will deliver them, ” he told StarMetro.
Apart from housing, the state government also needs to address environmental issues once and for all, as failing to do so will have a major impact on Johor.
The Sungai Kim Kim chemical pollution incident in Pasir Gudang in March this year, for instance, required attention not only from the state government but also the Federal Government.
Hundreds of residents there including schoolchildren were admitted to hospital and treated for symptoms such as nausea, severe headache and vomiting, believed to be caused by the polluted air which forced the closure of schools for some time.
While it is easy to blame the previous state government for failing to solve the problem and for lack of enforcement by the authorities, people especially Pasir Gudang residents are not interested to know who is wrong or right.
Marketing executive Seema Kumar, 38, a single mother of a 14-year-old boy whose school was one of those affected by the chemical contamination, said the state government must come out with long-term solutions and ensure the people’s safety, more so as there was a repeat incident just three months after the first one.
“Enough is enough, stop-gap measures can only go so far. The authorities should be serious in tackling this issue once and for all, ” said the long-time resident who suffers from asthma.
Following these pollution incidents, the state government should make more efforts to engage with environment-related non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Malaysian Nature Society Johor chairman Vincent Chow hopes the state government will consider setting up the Environment Consultative Committee with relevant stakeholders as members to address environment issues.
“Every one in Johor is part owner of its natural heritage and sidelining the environmental NGOs will not be productive, ” he said.
The NGOs want illegal sand mining, logging and farming activities along the riverbanks in Johor stopped to ensure that they do not pollute water sources.
Stern action should also be taken against those found encroaching into the buffer zones on both sides of the riverbanks in the state.
The authorities should start looking at how bad the situation is along the riverbanks, including at Sungai Johor as the river is the main source of raw water supply for the southern part of the state.
The state government must act fast to protect water resources to prevent a severe water crisis from occurring.
Signs are already there based on incidents over the years, such as the contamination of Sungai Johor which caused inconvenience to hundreds of thousands of consumers in south Johor when their taps ran dry following the shutdown of water treatment plants.
As for foreign investments, Johor needs to put in more effort to continue attracting investors if the state wants to maintain its position as the top investment destination in the country.
Some observers believe the way forward is to focus on high-tech, capital-intensive and green technology investments instead of labour-intensive ones to reduce our dependence on foreign labour.
The Johor government should also consider giving incentives to companies to upgrade and upskill their workforce and for small and medium enterprises to automate their operations.
Last but not least, Johoreans want to know what is in store for them in the upcoming budget, including measures to address the escalating prices of basic items and improve job prospects.
Economic development too should be evenly spread out throughout the state and not focused only on south Johor, which includes Iskandar Malaysia.