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Budget 2016 - Austerity at a Time of Growth

For the first time ever, Najib shows and pointedly attacks the opposition's shadow budget whilst tabling his own; the most humble and conservative reading of this would be, that he can no longer ignore the opposition.

For all intents and purposes, despite all the chest puffing verbal fanfare of growth and prosperity, and the seemingly generous and nonchalant 'dishing' of big ticket items and civil service wage increases; the 2016 budget was a true blue austerity budget packaged in sweet sounding language of political enchantment; otherwise known as 'rhetoric spin'. It was cut, cut and more cuts, every step of the way if you cared to look at the numbers.

Visciously deep cuts to welfare of RM40+ million year on year means quality of life for welfare dependent households will deteriorate. An already under resourced and over subscribed system, managing a large constituency of welfare dependent Malaysians, especially with such economic outlooks is only going to grow; a 40million cut is only going to be disastrous for that. There will be no capacity to extend welfare to newly identified or new incidences of welfare dependence, many existing recipients of welfare transfers will suddenly find themselves no longer qualified.

SPAD's funding has almost been halved. There is no mention of funding being decentralised to states to manage public transport thereby it is likely to be a straight cut. Do not be decieved by public transport Big ticket items like BRT and LRT extensions; they are mostly Public private partnerships, GLC's spending hence are off budget; so its more than likely to be commercial interest centric. Cutting funding to SPAD is tantamount to cutting public transport; a departure from the 11MP rhetoric of building a people centric public transport system.

Even the big ticket items, off or on budget aside, makes it sounds as if only KL and Klang is worthy of public transport; with a politically tokenistic mention of Sabah to appease wounded sentiments. I had every reason to wonder whether I was listening to a KL-Klang budget; certainly didn't sound like the rest of Malaysia mattered nor needed public transport.

It is also not entirely irrational to predict a fare hike in KTM train service. Subsidy for KTM uneconomic service (serving mostly the east coast) have been cut by half from 53m to 25mil. There are two possible trajectories; either train services will be cut, or passengers will have to pay more, a lot more. This will affect the east coast Malay heartland, Mentakab, Kuala Lipis, Jerantut, Gua Musang. AGAIN, a departure from people centric public transport.

1.3billion cut to higher education is also absolutely ridiculous, with almost all IPTA (apart from UKM) who had to suffer slashes of varying severity; but all nontheless severe. Cutting higher education when you have a thriving acadaemia, with a highly competitive youth workforce of high employability is bad enough; cutting higher education at the current state of affairs will be an irrepairable blow to our youths' future.

My first reading of Najib's speech strikes me as one that contains a lot of misleading or selective misrepresentation; I wouldn't object if someone were to say it is dotted with lies. Take for example, his announcement of there being an increase in paddy subsidy for farmers in the speech, mirroring our Pakatan Harapan alternative budget, but in the numbers counterpart of the budget, it was a cut. Spin, to a certain extent is inevitable, but outright lies? Or am I still insufficiently desensitised of the evils of BN?

This is Najib and Barisan Nasional through and through. Their reluctance, inability, and dogged refusal to depart from their corrupt, unjust old ways leave them no other option but to take the dangerous and painful path of austerity. There maybe an ounce of respect left for him or his party if he was to out rightly say that ,"it is time to tighten our belt, but let's ride out this inevitable storm together."

But no, he chose to paint the fake picture of it being all being hunky dory and smelling of roses when the truth couldn't be further from that. For a 4 to 5 percent growth economy of our size yet having to employ austerity measures is what epitomises bad governance in the wrong direction. This is before we even mention corruption and donations.

It wasn't all a lie though. Some of what he said did ring true. In a show of resolve to douse detractors' attacking by drawing parallels with the 1998 financial crisis, he said (with the current situation) there is no comparison with '98.

I have to agree with him as he is absolutely right. In 98, there was no GST, no 1MDB, national debt was a fraction of what it is now, and the PM then was fighting foreign interference and didn't receive RM2.6 billion in 'foreign' donations.

In all seriousness, major cuts to higher education, welfare, public transport, yet a marked increase in allocation from 19 to 20 billion to the PMO is like a king who is rationing his courtiers, army, servants and people at a time of crisis, yet he himself is adding to his day an extra meal.

There's a great deal more I could say, but I think it is best I leave it there for now. I must calm myself from this burning rage; and I could only do that if I stop thinking about Najib, BN and the scariest Malaysian budget yet.

For Malaysians, a shift towards better public transport, better higher education to prepare and capacitate the next generation for the future now seems much further out of reach. The poor, the less fortunate and the soon to be impoverished seems more alone than ever.

It is not going to be a good year for Malaysians; it is going to be dark future for Malaysians. Unless of course there's a change of government.

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