The high price of not passing the Budget

THE adage “be careful what you wish for” exists for a reason, even if the point is lost on some of us.

It’s a simple warning to consider the consequences of what could happen if we get what we desperately want.

This was the advice offered by Aesop, a slave and storyteller who was believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 BC and 564 BC, and whose name was immortalised in Aesop’s Fables, a collection of stories imparting moral values.

The book may have been considered children’s reading, but it contained life lessons too, which unsurprisingly, have gone conveniently over our heads.

Many of us have an idea of what we want, but we haven’t considered how our lives could be affected should we get it.

So, here’s the point. Many Malaysians are hoping to see the Budget 2021 thrown out by the Dewan Rakyat tomorrow.

They would include Members of Parliament who would like to see the Prime Minister defeated.

Failure to get the Budget approved by the Dewan Rakyat is as good as a vote of no confidence in Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Opposition members and government backbenchers who don’t have positions in our over-bloated Cabinet will likely join the ride.

They may be on the opposing side of the bench but they share one common goal – to be back in the government as ministers.

And this isn’t necessarily because they have undying love for the country or the people.

Then, there are those who are cheesed off at Muhyiddin for what’s been termed a backdoor government, where many Malaysians see the administration as illegitimate.

But “credit” for that goes to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who opened the door for Muhyiddin after he stepped down as prime minister.

If we use the backdoor government analogy, then Sabah Warisan president Tan Sri Shafie Apdal was just as guilty when he toppled the Barisan Nasional government in 2018 by convincing seven Barisan state assemblymen to defect.

It was a classic backdoor state government. It’s strange because the same Malaysians and political parties which decried party hopping, cheered the collapse of the Barisan state government under Tan Sri Musa Aman.

So, in Malaysia, our political compass alters according to our sentiments and allegiance. Truth be told, many of us are guilty of moving the goal posts according to our convenience.

We stand up strongly against corruption, for example, but if an opposition figure is arrested and charged, then the charges have to be “trumped-up charges”, or that the amount of money is “too small compared to those in power”.

Of course, it doesn’t help that there’s a trust deficit in the government and institutions in the establishment. When inconsistencies and double standards exist in the rule of law, people lose faith.

Budget 2021 is evoking a sense of injustice where minorities feel left out, so many are openly voicing their discontent.

Obviously, these grievances need to be heard and addressed to prove that Budget 2021 is for all Malaysians and not just one race.

But let’s entertain the scenario if Budget 2021 were to be rejected. The consequences could be pretty disastrous for average Malaysians. Don’t shed a tear for politicians, though.

To shed more light on the hypothetical situation, I sought the

opinion of former Finance Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, a highly respected economist.

Mohd Sheriff is a co-founder of the eminent Group of 25, comprising influential and moderate Malaysians, and he has always been a critical but reasonable figure.

“The price for Parliament not approving the Budget, due to the opposition voting against it, will be quite high for the economy.

“How? It will confirm to the world that Malaysia is politically unstable. Direct foreign investments will be discouraged.

“Local investors will prefer to wait and see. Capital flight will shake the financial market. With funds leaving the country, the ringgit will come under pressure.

“A weakening ringgit, for example, RM5 to US$1, will create inflationary pressures on the prices of imported goods.

“The higher import costs will be transmitted to local production and sales, including the home-grown products sold in pasar malam.

“In the financial market, it will lead to higher interest costs, making the costs of doing business more expensive.

“In the end, there will be more jobs lost than the loss due to Covid-19. The poor will suffer more than the rich, ” he shared in a text message.

It’s always the same story of the poor getting the short end of the stick, and it doesn’t even matter who’s in charge.

The MPs have a right to scrutinise and question the allocations given to various ministries and agencies. They ought to since that’s exactly what we want them to do, so no blank cheques are blindly handed to the government.

For example, why should MPs approve RM85mil for the revival of the Special Affairs Department (Jasa) without specific details on how it will benefit Malaysians.

The Finance Ministry will need to re-examine and make amendments since even if the Dewan Rakyat approves it, Budget 2021 must still go to the Dewan Negara.

There’s nothing wrong with reducing the allocated amount to certain institutions because the money won’t be disbursed in one lump sum.

Many government agencies have yet to see the full amount of monies announced for them last year! That’s how the wheels of bureaucracy turn.

But a defeat of Budget 2021 will have dire consequences. Malaysia can’t hold a general election because the spread of the coronavirus will be devastating.

Just look at the United States and Myanmar. Yes, South Korea and Singapore have done a much better job with their elections, but dare any of us vouch that we will be able to keep the disciplinary standards of these two Asian countries?

In the recent Sabah state elections, politicians broke all SOPs and like it or not, the state elections led to so many Sabahans getting infected and dying. It was a forced state election.

So, we don’t really need to demand for a general election that will cost us RM1.2bil.

A rejection of the Budget is also tantamount to snubbing the advice of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong following the chorus of support for Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah.

Basically, it is this – do we want to reject Budget 2021 because it is incredibly unpalatable in its entirety or is it simply because it is from the Muhyiddin Administration? We need to be honest about this.

Malaysia has a massive problem in hand. We need to get the economy going, keep and create jobs, get funds for frontliners as well as make sure we have access to vaccines.

Let’s leave our differences and political allegiances aside and get the Budget passed for the nation’s sake.

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