Sunday October 7, 2012
Budget debate in the spotlight
At The Dewan Rakyat Last Week
By MAZWIN NIK ANIS
THE Budget – formally known as the Supply Bill 2013 – took centre stage in the Dewan Rakyat barely a week after it was introduced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Parliamentarians were serious in debating the Budget – easily the most important Bill of the year – and hardly cracked jokes. This was rather odd as some of the Yang Berhormat are known for their ability to lighten the Dewan’s mood with their sometimes slapstick humour.
Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was given the honour to start the ball rolling on the Budget debate. He began by expressing his unhappiness that Najib, who is Finance Minister, was not present in the House.
Pointing out that it was a tradition for the minister to be present when the House discussed the Budget, the Permatang Pauh MP grumbled that his own request for a debate had not been entertained.
“We asked for a debate but (he) doesn’t dare. He is also unwilling to debate in Parliament and only asked the backbenchers to defend (the Budget),” he said.
He was supported by Tian Chua (PKR-Batu), who claimed that it was conventional for the Opposition Leader to debate with the minister and not backbenchers.
However, Khairy Jamaluddin (BN-Rembau) argued in his Twitter posting that Pakatan Rakyat MPs were ignorant about parliamentary procedures with their demands for Najib to be present during the Budget debate.
“(The) Minister responds to (issues raised during) debates. He does not debate! If (you) want to be a hero to challenge the PM to debate, at least know the rules. Otherwise, (you will be left) embarassed!” he tweeted.
Independent Pasir Mas MP Datuk Ibrahim Ali said the Opposition should not kick up a fuss because Anwar was also not present during Budget debates when he was Finance Minister in the 1990s.
“Anwar did not stay to listen to Lim Kit Siang (then Opposition Leader) when he debated the Budget. So, why the fuss?” he queried.
In his speech, Anwar demanded that the Government be prudent and transparent in managing the economy, take serious steps to reduce borrowings and manage the deficit, plug leakages, improve its delivery system and fight corruption.
The Government, he added, should also not be overzealous in its spending, noting that the higher allocation was not merely due to salary increments for civil servants and higher subsidy.
He also cited examples in Pakatan-led states where the state governments had reduced expenditure – chiefly in Selangor, where he claimed RM105.8mil was saved via the implementation of open tenders for procurement and RM81mil by taking over Alam Flora services.
For the other MPs, the amount of financial assistance provided by Putrajaya to these states became a bone of contention, with the Opposition claiming that the aid figures were “exaggerated”.
Both Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan (BN-Kota Belud) and Khairy said that while the Federal Government collected only RM1.2bil in taxes from Kelantan between 2008 and 2011, it spent RM20bil on the state.
Taxes from Kedah only came up to RM5.4bil, some RM25.5bil short of the Government’s spending.
It was the same in Selangor and Penang, these MPs claimed.
“This shows that the Barisan (Nasional) Government is responsible and does not want the rakyat in the four states to be left out,” Khairy argued.
However, the backbenchers were challenged by Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail (PKR-Machang) and Azmin Ali (PKR-Gombak), who demanded detailed information and a breakdown of the financial aid provided to Kelantan and Selangor.
In his speech, Khairy urged the Government to ensure that it could manage its debt, pointing out, however, that 96% of its RM480bil borrowing was domestic lending.
“This is not like a runaway train which has gone out of control. The Government can still manage its debt and the borrowings were made not to pay old debts but to make investments for sustainable development,” he said.
“The Opposition quoted the 2008 Auditor-General’s Report of leakages amounting to RM28bil but nowhere is the figure printed in this or any other A-G’s report. Please do not mislead the people,” warned Khairy.
Although the Budget remained the main focus, MPs were still puzzled over the date of the 13th general election.
When Ahmad Kasim (PKR-Kuala Kedah) prodded Datuk Mohamed Aziz (BN-Sri Gading) on why Najib had not called for elections when this Budget was touted as the “Government’s best ever”, the man quipped: “Please be patient … There is still time for us to serve.”
The Dewan sits again tomorrow.