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Saturday, August 30, 2008

2009 Budget: A Personal Commentary

As usual, the mass media (e.g. The Star) covered yesterday's announced Budget extensively this morning.

As usual, the commentaries are biased in favour of the government (e.g. see "Reactions from the business community" here - http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/8/30/budget2009/20080830073857&sec=budget2009).

As usual, criticisms are either muted, obscurely reported or simply don't get enough media space.

As usual, this is just so very, very wrong.


For most people, they are only interested in the Budget because of the "goodies".

"Is there anything for me?" ... Just a small amount?" ... "Nothing? If nothing, most will just not give a hoot about the Budget.

If so, that's a shame.


Because the Budget is funded by taxpayers and distributed profits from nation's assets.

Basically, they spend your money. And if it's a persistently large Deficit, your children's money because they don't have the money today, but they intend to spend next year's monies.

So, you should care very much how your own money (or your children's money) is being spent.


And because there are 27 million Malaysians, it is a lot of money.

In fact, the government is the biggest spender in Malaysia than anybody else in the country.

This year's total expenditure of RM $207.7 Billion (= Operating $154.2 Billion + Development $53.7 Billion) easily makes Malaysia Inc larger than anybody else in Malaysia by a long mile.

For rough comparison, here are a sample of some of Bursa's largest companies operating expenses reported in their latest Annual Reports. Comparison of Operating Expenses is not an exact science for various technical reasons. Still, the order of magnitude should give you a rough idea on how big the Government is from an Operating Expenditure viewpoint.

Sime 2007 Operating Expense =$19.8 Billion
Tenaga 2007 Operating Expense (Exclude Energy Cost) = $6.2 Billion
Maybank 2007 Overheads = $3.8 Billion
YTL Corp 2007 Expenses (Sales+Admin+Other+Finance) = $1.8 Billion
Public Bank 2007 Expenses = $1.7 Billion
IOI Corp 2007 Expenses (Marketing+Admin+Other) = $1.0 Billion

If you mentally add these numbers up, you can see that it falls far short of the Government's figure of $154 Billion or $208 Billion.

Also, it is possible that the Government Expenditure could be even larger than the combined operating expenditure of the Top 100 or Top 1000 listed company in Bursa, bearing in mind that Bursa only has 1,200+ companies listed ...

Is it merely a coincidence that listed companies have substantially lower operating expense figures?

What could be possible reasons why listed company figures smaller and public sector expenditure so large?

Can nothing be done to improve the situation in the public sector?


Since the Government is obviously the Biggest Spender in the country, shouldn't the Rakyat demand that the monies be well spent?

My most immediate question is why can't the Prime Minister/Finance Minister/Government reduce this number substantially, and yet deliver greater value to Rakyat at the same time?

In the Original 2008 Budget, the Operating + Development expenditure = $128.8 Billion + $40 Billion = $168.8 Billion.

In the Original 2009 Budget, the Operating + Development expenditure = $154.2 Billion + $53.7 Billion = $207.7 Billion.

The increase = $207.7 Billion - $168.8 Billion = $38.9 Billion or 23% Increase!

Is this huge increase even necessary at all?

Are there enough transparency?

Will all the monies be well spent?

Shouldn't the government make it a top priority to make the public sector leaner and more efficient first?

How much is being lost annually from corruption and wastages?

How much is being lost annually from inefficiencies and mismanagement?

What is the point in removing the Fuel Subsidy, and then, to give it back to selected people with cars via the $625 rebate and in the process, incurs huge expenses nationwide? What is the point in taking money from the left pocket, to put it into the right pocket, and in the process, dropping a lot of money on the floor, and leave many worse off than before?


I haven't even got to the most annoying part yet ...


The most annoying part to me is the lack of Results (i.e. Deficit = Lousy Result) and the Attitude of the BN government.

I am completely shocked when I discovered that the Deficit is going to be increased!

The government doesn't want to tell you how big it is in $ terms. See the 2nd Finance Minister comments here - http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/8/30/ecoreport2009/22187811&sec=ecoreport2009

Instead, he tries to mask it by expressing it as a % of GDP figure. He doesn't tell you that the GDP figure grows. And he doesn't compare it with prior year Original Budget figure to show you how much it has grown.

But you and I know that the $ Deficit figure has grown proportionately more.

It annoys me that not only is the $ Deficit bigger, but the government is trying to hide this fact and not being completely transparent about it!


The other reason why I'm annoyed with a bigger $ Deficit is because once these $ Expenditure are budgeted and communicated publicly to the various Ministries, they will be spent completely.

Actually, odds are, they will be over-spent!

See last year's Budget where Revised figures far exceeds Original Budget figures with no accountability.

They don't tell you this in the newspapers.

2008 OE Budget (announced last September) - RM128.8 billion
2008 Revised OE Budget - RM151.0 billion
Variation of 17.2% or RM22.2 billion(!)
(Source: http://tonypua.blogspot.com/2008/08/budget-2009.html)

So, do you think this trend will halt this year? Or more likely, this trend will continue this year?

Given the prevailing trend to "over-spend", shouldn't a prudent government plan for greater "safety margin" by planning for a Budget Surplus first?

Or the BN government simply do not understand the meaning of "planning" and "prudence"?


I am exasperated why our Budget Deficit need to grow this year.

As Anwar has mentioned this many, many times - are we not presently a net oil exporter?

Is the BN government still deaf to the fact that eventually, we will become a net oil importer one day?

Isn't it more prudent for the Finance Minister to plan for a Budget Surplus than a higher Deficit?

If he cannot even balance his books during the "best income producing years", what is going to happen to our country and our children's future, when the "bad years" falls?

What is going to happen to our nation's coffers when we become a Net Oil Importer?

Do we really want someone like him to continue as a Finance Minister?


Yes, eventually (if they have not already come out), some well paid economists or pseudo-economists will come out and say that this Budget Deficit is "necessary" because government wants to stimulate economic growth.

Or "The Government’s fiscal options are limited by the largely fuel subsidy-driven budget deficit of 4.8% in 2008."

To both of them, I say "Bunkum!"


Because they conveniently ignore that there are huge corruptions, wastages and money-siphoning in Malaysia today. Have you ever heard an economist who publicly declare that the government should eliminate corruption and wastages to stimulate economic growth?

You see, monies siphoned by the corrupt tend to be deposited overseas, where they don't have the same "multiplier effect". $1 siphoned and deposited into a Swiss Bank Account does not have the same multiplier effect as $1 earned and spent in Malaysia.

(Proof? A certain brother of a certain politician who was previously defeated in the most recent by-election is reported to be currently living in exile and shuttle between London and Dubai. He was previously awarded the mother of all contracts by the BN government to be worth $24 Billion back in 1998 and is now declared bankrupt in Malaysia and stripped of his Datuk title this year. Since he spends his money shuttling between London and Dubai, his wealth from Malaysia has now created a multiplier effect in London and Dubai, and does not appear to have created a multiplier effect in Malaysia.)

All good economist should know this concept very well, but which economist has been publicly quoted in MSM to say this?


Another reason why it is bunkum is because higher economic growth can be achieved by greater efficiencies and better management.

The same limited resources can be better utilized to produce more, if there is a strong mandate by Rakyat backed by a strong political will.

Compared to the private sector, it should be a relatively easier job since the public sector is simply too bloated.

You can already sense the degree of "bloatedness" when I compared the Operating Expense figures for companies listed in Bursa versus the Government above.

It is like comparing the stomach of a hungry rat against that of a bloated elephant.

No contest.

We don't have to beat the bloated elephant government down into a skinny rat.

We can temper this with humane management and humane economics that also places social well-being and welfare for the poor so that the entire nation's wealth can be shared more equally with everyone.

Doesn't this make sense to you?


So, let me be honest with you.

In your opinion, do you think this Budget is reeked with hidden agenda where our Finance Minister knows that he will no longer be Prime Minister by 2010, and so, intend to spend our children's monies and monies that rightly belongs to future generations today?

In your opinion, do you think this Budget is a budget carefully crafted by the Barisan National government who knows that its time is up, and so intend to have the mother of all expenditures in order to "korek" more before they lose power?

Yes, this is what's foremost in my mind.

Isn't this also in your mind?

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