|While the recently unveiled 2014 Budget provides numerous benefits for the people, the opposition’s alternative budget is not as inclusive as it is claims to be.|
THE 2014 Budget has finally been unveiled. The uncertain period is now over. Businesses and ordinary folk can now firm up their economic decisions for the coming year after a long period of taking a wait-and-see approach.
Supporters have begun singing their praises and detractors have started lashing out.
We have also heard talk of the shadow budget from the other side of the political divide. Although the elections are over, a responsible rakyat should take some time to read, analyse and evaluate both documents, for the simple reason that pre-election budgets would give a distorted view of the respective parties' actual economic standpoints.
Post-election budgets, on the other hand, are more realistic, less populist, and less rhetorical. And indeed, they were, although this is true for the official more than the shadow budget.
Although the opposing sides seem to never see eye-to-eye with each other on almost every issue, it is worth noting that both budgets for the coming year have similar objectives.
Both seek to exercise greater fiscal discipline, achieve higher and more equitable economic growth and address the higher cost of living. The difference lies in the specifics, as well as in how much emphasis is given to each objective.
Scrutinising the two budgets revealed that the shadow budget, or what Pakatan calls the alternative budget, still has a long way to go to become a real alternative.
Most glaringly because it is not as inclusive as it is claimed to be. While the alternative budget deserves two thumbs-ups for addressing the pressing issues of fiscal responsibility and cost of living, its failure to propose pro-growth and pro-business measures has to be given a double thumbs-down.
Double because the same criticism has been hurled towards last year's alternative budget, and again towards Pakatan's election manifesto.
Achieving economic prosperity is an endeavour that reaches beyond real income growth, which does include fiscal responsibility and economic equity. But in our eagerness to achieve growth sustainability and inclusiveness, the core concept of real economic growth must not be forgotten. After all, there is little to boast about being able to equally distribute a slow-growing, constant, or worst, a shrinking economic pie.
In a challenging global economic environment such as now, competitiveness and productivity are key.
A responsible budget should address, not only the rakyat or the household sector, but also the business community and the private sector, as it is ultimately the engine of economic growth. Ignoring this important section of the economy would certainly be an injustice.
In this regard, the official budget seems well-prepared, as usual. Various specific fiscal and non-fiscal measures have been announced to spur growth in the private sector.
It includes various tax incentives for oil and gas, tourism, financial and capital market sectors and encourages commercialisation of research and development findings and venture capital. Various funds have also been set up to promote small and medium industries , the agriculture sector and intellectual property rights, among others.
In contrast, the alternative budget offers only three pages (out of the overall 37-page document) of scanty and vague measures that would supposedly promote innovation, creativity, value creation and entrepreneurship.
Among others, it proposed funds to facilitate the implementation of the minimum wage policy, to strengthen the copyright industry and to promote commercialisation of inventions, all of which are praiseworthy and deserve credit.
Unfortunately, the remaining proposals lack specifics, such as their promise to "undertake economic, structural, institutional, political, social and law reforms to raise Malaysia's long-term underlying growth trend competitiveness" and to "constantly look for ways to lower the costs of doing business".
For a "responsible government-in-waiting" that can proudly count in their ranks a former finance minister, a former corporate leader and countless other capable people, the excuse that it lacks the government machinery to come up with a well-prepared budget is hard to square.
It has already gained control over the two most developed and industrious states in the country and therefore, would have the means to engage the business sector.
It has also held countless pre-budget meetings and events, so, surely, there must have been avenues for the business sector to voice its wishes. Not to mention it would be a gross understatement and insult of these people's capability.
Looks like I will have to wait for another year, if not longer, to see a real alternative budget.
By : Mazlena Mazlan