Another year, another budget and feedback

ANNUAL Budgets are a skilful exercise in the art of compromise. There is no perfect budget because every citizen cannot be pleased at any one time: different people can have vastly different needs and expectations.

A national budget is thus a yearly snapshot of public funding allocations. This is a revolving door through which official funds go out as disbursements earmarked for some areas, derived from revenues that come in as taxes from other areas.

So while Malaysians rejoiced at the allocations of Budget 2011 as in housing, transport and education, they also winced at the introduction of service tax and the absence of bonuses again for the civil service. But the connection is inevitable: payouts have to come from taxes taken in.

Budget 2011 is distinguished from its predecessors by its size, citizen-direct inputs through Internet channels, emphasis on infrastructure, environment-friendliness and generosity to Sabah and Sarawak. To an extent, it aimed for a progressive, holistic and broad set of disbursements.

It has a visible focus on human capital, including emphases on higher educational institutions as well as research and development. This ties in neatly with the overriding objective of developing a high income economy that is inclusive and sustainable.

If this focus on human capital holds, perhaps Budget 2012 would give civil servants their bonuses as well as produce the beginnings of a minimum wage at least. After attaining the necessary education and skills, citizens as workers need to feel that their daily contributions at the workplace are adequately recognised.

Elsewhere, compromise is evident enough. Four PLUS-owned highways will not raise toll rates for five years, but six more highways will be constructed to collect toll.

The exemption from import duties for hybrid cars for another year and Kuala Lumpur’s MRT public transport planned for 2020 will help reduce the carbon footprint of the country’s busiest urban centre. But more emissions can be expected from occupants and vehicles with the Warisan Merdeka skyscraper by the same year.

Opposition critics have labelled this a typical “election budget”, but their retort is equally typical. There should be nothing wrong with an election budget if the beneficiaries are the electorate as citizens, which the Government is tasked to serve, including even its harshest political rivals. For more stories on Budget 2011

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