By Hazlan Zakaria
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim is questioning whether the rising federal subsidies are for the benefit of the rakyat or for crony companies.
He pointed to the ever-increasing fuel, toll and sugar subsidies that have ballooned several times over in the latest supplementary budget.
“When you hear ‘subsidy’ you think it is for the rakyat, but I would like to contend that it is for the cronies,” Anwar argued at a press conference in the Parliament lobby today.
Anwar (right) contended that the sugar subsidy is given to producers, the toll subsidy to toll operators and many fuel subsidies go to big companies including independent power producers.
None of which, he argued, goes directly to the rakyat.
Earlier in the House, Anwar hit out at what he said is the all too frequent reoccurrence of a supplementary bill at every parliamentary seating.
“Is our treasury projection so weak?” he asked, pondering over why budget overruns are so common.
Drawing on his experience as finance minister and what was done in other countries, Anwar said that supplementary bills shouldn’t be a casual occurrence but only tabled during crisis situations.
“In Japan, they only tabled the supplementary bill after the tsunami,” he related.
Anwar urged the Finance Ministry to first explain this “laxness” in planning and projections which caused such recurring overruns despite no harrowing crisis befalling the country.
He also accused the additional expenses to be nothing more than election gimmicks that the BN government is using to try and buy the rakyat’s support, obscuring major weaknesses in the nation’s finances.
Neither are they expenses that can help build up the country and attract more investment, he claimed, calling them nothing more then just pouring money to maintain the status quo.
‘Fiscal discipline and financial acumen needed’
Anwar stressed that what is needed is fiscal discipline and strong financial acumen, something which he doubts our current government has in abundance.
The state of Malaysia’s finances and budget overruns has been regular fodder for Anwar and the opposition in their criticism of the government.
However, Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also finance minister, has often brushed this aside as mere opposition propaganda, maintaining that despite continuing annual deficits, Malaysia’s financial health is not on the rocks.
In an immediate reaction, Deputy Finance Minister Awang Adek Hussin refuted Anwar’s claims while winding up the policy stage of the debate for the Supplementary Supply Bill.
“We paid subsidies to those who deserved it,” he reasoned, explaining that the subsidies were shelled out to deserving companies, not cronies, as well as to producers of items like flour and sugar to reduce their price for the rakyat.
Awang Adek also denied any irregularities in the tabling of supplementary bills, pointing out that this was only the second one for this year’s budget.
“It’s only twice, nothing strange, there were times when it was four times and no one complains,” he said alluding to a time when Anwar himself was finance minister. - Mkini