Civil servants rather than the wakil rakyat determine the success of any five-year plan. But when delivery systems fail, it is the people who suffer, writes SUHAINI AZNAM.
DELIVERY systems falter when someone passes the buck. And lack of coordination between state and federal agencies is often cited as the main culprit.
At a Backbenchers Club retreat at the Karambunai resort in March, the Sabah Economic Planning Unit had announced that only 49% of the RM12bil ceiling allocated to Sabah under the Eighth Malaysia Plan had been spent.
That half had not been spent sent ripples through the room. Taken aback, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak had demanded an explanation.
In fact, it was later clarified that the 49% was the 8MP implementation rate for Sabah based on a total ceiling of up to RM12bil.
It did not take into account projects slated for 2005.
Neither did it include direct federal funding to Sabah channelled through the State Development Office, a federal arm set up to provide development to states in opposition hands. Sabah had, until 2002, been an opposition state.
In addition, the Finance Ministry had issued about RM2bil more in warrants – i.e. government authorisation to spend given to the respective implementing body like health for hospitals, or education for schools etc.
A substantial portion of the RM4bil difference is expected be spent in 2005.
Revised figures show that 78% had actually been spent up to 2004, based on an allocation of RM8bil for that period. (See table)
This is not too bad considering that the 8MP implementation rate for the rest of Malaysia stands at about 82%.
But the Sabah MPs, marching to different realities on the ground, are up in arms fearing that the balance of RM4bil will now revert to the federal government.
“It is a waste of good funds when Sabah is so abjectly poor,” said MP for Tuaran Wilfred Madius Tangau.
Truth be told, the audience-savvy Sabah MPs seemed to act in concert, giving way to each other so that a complete picture could be presented to decision-makers in Parliament – and by extension, to the mainstream national papers.
Indeed, all interest groups, particularly politicians, are scrambling for the same pot of gold – the 9MP. But the Sabah MPs also have a political agenda.
Now that the once-opposition Parti Bersatu Sabah is part of the Barisan Nasional, the other coalition parties cannot make demands on the federal government on the pretext of risking losing the state to the opposition. All parties are in the same boat.
With only eight more months to go on the 8MP, Sabah MPs are anxious that their unspent RM4bil allocation be spent at some time, anytime, and not just be rolled over into the Ninth Malaysia Plan.
“We cannot just carry forward 40% here, 50% there because this will affect (future) projections,” said Datuk Ronald Kiandee, MP for Beluran.
He cited three secondary schools in his constituency, which were sharing the same premises with primary schools. They had been listed under the 8MP but had not been built.
“Now it means the situation will have to continue for another five years,” said Kiandee.
There is also a time lag between when project plans are submitted and actual implementation takes place. In the interim, costs escalate.
Is there a solution?
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili, MP for Kota Marudu, offered three possibilities.
“For financial constraints, you could suggest the identified project and submit the plans first, then only get the funding. The argument to this is you don’t want to disappoint the people. But otherwise, by the time the money comes in, your five-year plan is over and you have to carry over the funding to the next plan.”
Technical constraints refer to specialist expertise needed, which can often be projected, he added.
“Land is a state matter. But if it has already been identified for a specific use, then once you set it aside, you don’t have to seek approvals after the fact.
“In the present case, the unused money will be rolled over and included in the next Malaysia Plan. It is therefore a cumulative loss for Sabah,” said Ongkili.
Bottlenecks simply mean not getting the MPs’ wish lists, based on grassroots feedback and old-fashioned observation, translated into reality on the ground.
They address very basic infrastructure: roads, schools, clinics, piped water, and housing.
“Then the people look at us and say we are liars,” said Putatan MP Datuk Dr Marcus Makin Mojigoh. “The wakil rakyat becomes the punching bag.”
Other reasons cited for the failure in the delivery system were bureaucracy, a focus on urban centres, a lack of appreciation for the sheer size of Sabah and Sarawak, and terminology such as “burst the ceiling” and unanticipated rise in costs, added Kiandee.
By comparison, Sarawak, a naturally wealthy state, has been far better managed under the charming, if firm, grip of Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.
For 24 years, while a host of lesser parties tussled for power below decks, there was no question of who captained the ship.
Meanwhile, Selangor stands at the top of the pole.
“The problem for us is not poverty as much as distribution of wealth,” conceded Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo. “We have to close the gap.”
The Selangor government has vowed to wipe out its 20,000-strong squatter problem by July 2005.
In Kelantan, a poor state, things are not so bleak despite having had an opposition government since 1990, in part because Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat openly welcomes development, said Tumpat MP Datuk Kamaruddin Jaffar from PAS.
Plus the Kelantanese are known for their streak of independence.
“So people in Kelantan have become numb to the discrimination,” he added.
There are a few visible signs of development including the new airport terminal, the Kota Baru-Kuala Krai highway, the upgrading of several schools and a partially disbursed RM600mil water loan, noted Kamaruddin. “There is still no university.”
“But in the end, you can build any number of projects but it is still the RM400 you give that they can put in their own pockets that matters. People remember these things.”
In Terengganu, only recently wrested back from PAS, the situation is more tenuous.
“Delivery is with the civil servants,” said Kemaman MP Ahmad Shabery Chik.
“We are not empowered. The allocation is with state development officers. If we have requests to upgrade 8km stretches of roads all over our constituencies, we have to choose which one to give. Maybe two out of all applications will get it.
“Then those who don't, complain to our boss that we're not doing our work.
“When the government can only deliver 10%, then our role is that of a pacifier. Pacifier means you must give a kenduri. But that’s not in the job description,” objected Shabery.
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