Baru Bian: Budget 2021 “unjustified and skewed towards Peninsular Malaysia”

I HAVE a few initial thoughts on the Budget 2021 that was tabled on Friday.

The total allocation of RM4.5 billion for Sarawak is only RM100 million more than the RM4.4 billion allocation for 2020.

The then-parliamentary whip for Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) criticised the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government’s Budget 2020 for Sarawak and Sabah as being only 17.1% of the total allocation for development expenditure.

The chief minister complained that the 7.8% allocation of development expenditure for Sarawak was “considered unjustified and very much skewed towards Peninsular Malaysia”.

This year, Sarawak and Sabah’s share of the development budget is 13.9% in spite of the presence of several full ministers from GPS in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) cabinet.

However instead of complaining, the chief minister expressed gratitude to the PN government for the 7.3% of total development expenditure allocated to Sarawak, saying the budget has been “fairly allocated”.

In this time of the pandemic, we would expect a significant increase in allocation, considering the size of Sarawak compared to Peninsular Malaysia, but the chief minister has chosen to change his tune this year. His inconsistency is indeed puzzling.

On the revenue side, I echo the concern of several economists and analysts that the forecast of GDP growth of between 5.5% and 7.5% is unrealistic, given that our economy is experiencing a recession like so many countries.

The indications, including declining collections of corporate and personal taxes, expected lower FDI and DDI, and greater fiscal deficit ratio speak of decreased revenue.

The huge cuts in the budget for the Health Ministry are unjustified and unacceptable. Our health services are already stretched in facing the pandemic and to cut their allocations for other health needs puts unnecessary extra pressure on our medical workers, not to mention the patients in need of care.

Considering the fact that the people are facing hardship and the economy has taken a hit from Covid-19, the government should have given more allocations as a catalyst for economic growth.

The PH government had planned to construct the Trans Borneo highway in preparation for the moving of the Indonesian capital to Borneo (Kalimantan), and approved RM600 million for the road from Tawau to Semenggaris for 2020, but the project was cancelled by the PN government. This project could have provided a boost to employment and the economy.

We were told last year by the rural and regional development minister that the poorest district in the whole of Malaysia is Pakan in Sarawak. Even more humiliating is the fact that 13 out of the 28 poorest districts are in Sarawak.

Given this fact, the federal government should allocate special funds targeted at uplifting these areas.

Another factor is the allocation of RM100 million to empower the Indian community and RM177 million to the Chinese community. The Dayaks of Sarawak are the largest ethnic group in Sarawak, making up over 43% of the total population.

However there is no special allocation for the empowerment or education of Dayaks. I note there are various allocations to help the Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia; the indigenous people of Sarawak and Sabah are also deserving of assistance.

There is an allocation for Bumiputra entrepreneurs and SMEs, but it is doubtful that our Dayaks will be included in these allocations.

The allocations for recruiting more than 500 former military, police personnel, and Orang Asli for patrolling activities to control the biodiversity of forest areas and poaching, as well as to employ 500 people in the local and Orang Asli communities as tour guides at all national parks to boost the ecotourism segment should be extended to the natives of Sarawak as well.

In addition, Sarawakian Dayaks can be recruited to patrol the borders to stem the inflow of illegal immigrants.

The Special Affairs Unit (Jasa) was disbanded by the PH government as it was used as a political tool for campaigning by the Barisan Nasional government. What is the justification for the huge allocation of RM85.5 million under the Communications and Multimedia Ministry to revive Jasa?

It is inconceivable that the government is allocating an obscene amount to revive a unit that has no useful function except as a propaganda tool for the government. This amount of money would be better spent by this ministry to provide internet access to the 830 schools in Sarawak that have poor internet or no internet services.

The RM500 million Jalinan Digital Negara programme provides connectivity to 430 schools throughout Malaysia covering all states, and clearly many of our 830 schools will miss out.

On the Grant Khas Prihatin of RM1,000 each for 20,000 traders and hawkers, taxi drivers, e-hailing drivers, rental cars and tour drivers in Sabah, the same should be given to their Sarawak counterparts who are undergoing the same hardships.

Sarawak has great potential for tourism but there has been no provision to develop the industry. RM20 million was allocated however to improve the infrastructure and intensify the promotion of cultural villages in Terengganu, Melaka, Sarawak, and Negri Sembilan.

There also is not enough provision to help the hotel and tour industry players who are affected by the pandemic.

I am also disappointed there is no emphasis on food security, especially after the experience of empty supermarket shelves during the movement control order. Sarawak has the best rice (Adan or Bario rice) and our farmers should be encouraged to produce rice for our own consumption and assisted in promoting their produce for local consumption and export.

The finance minister should heed the concerns raised by various groups and individuals. There is still time for amendments and fine-tuning before the budget is voted upon.

Baru Bian is the Selangau MP