WE'RE nearly at that time of the year again, when the Federal Government lays forth its budgetary plans for the following year.
But first, a supplementary budget. By the time you read this, the request by the Najib administration for an extra RM14.1 billion to the RM251.6 billion annual budget has most likely been approved by the Dewan Rakyat, despite calls by Pakatan Rakyat MPs to lengthen the debate for this bill.
It will subsequently go to the Dewan Negara where it will also most likely be speedily dispensed with, and finally to the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong before passing into law.
I will not go into the merits of this supplementary budget - many Pakatan MPs would have ably contested this bill, especially with regards the “fiscal ceiling” of 55% debt-to-GDP ratio - but would instead like to raise an equally resonant matter closer to home: our own domestic budgets.
News reports indicate that, of late, Malaysia’s household debt stands at 83% to GDP, or 140% to household income (i.e. on average, Malaysian households owe 1.4 times what they earn). This does not bode well.
Coupled with the very real hurt that Malaysians are feeling after the RON95 RM0.20/liter petrol price hike, the ringgit of the average Anuar, Chee Seong, and Sanjiv is being stretched more than ever before.
It seems like life is much tougher than before. Like it’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet. I keep getting SMSes about how such-and-such a person needs help with rental arrears; about people looking for second or third jobs, because what they’re earning right now is just not enough to feed a small family of four.
At times like these, I really wonder what the Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Programmes will do for the bottom 40% of Malays; how the poorest segments of society of all ethnic groups will be lifted up through holistic government policies (we already have an inkling of what such policies have done for the top tier elites, haven’t we?).
Are we really going to see a change from being a middle income nation to the high-income society that has been touted these past few years?
Then I realise most of us are not even thinking that far. We’re too caught up thinking about how to get enough food on the table; about where to buy cheaper diapers and baby formula for the latest addition to the family; about having enough money to pay for rent, for our children’s school fees, for our car loans, for our mortgage… We just don’t have enough money. But it’s not for lack of trying, I don’t think.
I think we need better paying jobs, better opportunities to rise up the social ladder, better chances to better ourselves.
We need a fairer and more equitable system to distribute wealth. We need a fairer democratic system, where MPs from both sides receive their fair share of allocations to run programmes, where the Federal Opposition is allocated resources to properly have researchers and the infrastructure to enable the genesis of the much awaited shadow cabinet ... and where the slide back to our draconian past through reinsertion of repressive laws is stopped before the bills even get to the floor.
We need a better deal. We deserve so much more.
Is it possible? As I look at my four-month-old son, lying asleep soundly by my side, I am reminded that while I know not the answer, I will do my level best. For him. For all our children. For our future.
- The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.