THE new government’s pledge to review the federal budget and finances, including expenditure and revenue, in the first 100 days should be applauded.
These are in dire need of a comprehensive review as they suffer not only from the increase in the size of the Prime Minister’s Department over the past few years, leading to huge emoluments expenditures, but also from what I call a “legacy problem”.
What I mean by this is when the new administration created its own programmes and agencies, it also retained the existing programmes and agencies with almost similar mandates from the previous administration. As a result, these similar programmes continued to receive allocations from development expenditures for decades, as did the agencies with similar mandates and objectives.
Examples of projects that have been funded by development expenditures for decades are Penyertaan Bumiputera Pulau Pinang, Membina Pejabat dan Perumahan BPR and Pengubahsuaian dan Menaik Taraf Parlimen Malaysia.
Based on the published budget documents, these programmes have been funded by development expenditures under the Prime Minister’s Department for more than 10 years. In fact, allocations have been given to the Penyertaan Bumiputera Pulau Pinang project since the Sixth Malaysia Plan.
There may be valid reasons why these programmes/projects are still being included in the development expenditure, such as smaller but different projects being undertaken or costs for maintenance and repair in the case of buildings.
Unfortunately, information provided to the public does not show that the government is doing a good job in achieving the objective of the programmes, let alone reviewing them.
Agencies with an almost identical mandate include those created to spur regional development. In then 1970s when Malaysia embarked on the New Economic Policy (NEP), the government created various agencies, including Lembaga Kemajuan Wilayah Kedah (Keda), Lembaga Kemajuan Kelantan Selatan (Kesedar), Lembaga Kemajuan Terengganu Tengah (Ketengah), Lembaga Kemajuan Johor Tenggara (Kejora) and the Penang Regional Development Authority (Perda) to lead development efforts in their respective areas.
These agencies played a central role in opening new townships and creating economic opportunities.
In early 2000, the government created five economic corridors with their new agencies to attract investments and spur economic growth to address uneven development across the nation.
These five new agencies are Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA), Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA), East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC), Regional Corridor Development Authority (Recoda), and Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (Sedia).
It is not clear how these old and new agencies differ in their mandate and how they work with each other, but all of them are given budgetary allocations. While the old ones, except Perda, are given allocations under the Rural and Regional Development Ministry to address uneven development across the nation, the new ones are under the Prime Minister’s Department. In total, these regional development agencies were allocated about RM261mil in the 2018 budget.
I believe agencies that work for bumiputra empowerment, such as Mara and Teraju, or those that provide assistance to entrepreneurs such as Tekun, Magic and AIM, and those that are involved with Islamic issues such as Ikim, Yadim (Yayasan Dakwah Islamiyah Malaysia) and IWM (Institut Wasatiyah Malaysia) have these overlapping functions. So do early childhood education programmes like Permata and Kemas.
This is not a suggestion to immediately streamline or merge them, but to emphasise the importance of reviewing their functions and allocations before making any decisions.
Reviewing programmes and agencies that may have overlapping functions and have been funded for a long time will help the new government achieve their target in the first 100 days to prioritise publicly-funded projects and shift the budgetary allocations for the wellbeing of the people, especially the disadvantaged. It will also help to realise the promise to restructure the Prime Minister’s Department as some of the agencies mentioned are parked under this department.
This article is written by Sri Murniati, a Research Manager at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) and the article is first published in The Star, 24 May 2018.