BUDGET: BEYOND THE SPEECH

Media Statement by Liew Chin Tong on 4th November, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur
The Budget Speech of the Finance Minister receives the most attention and sets the direction for the economy. Although, the many Malaysians who think that the Speech is the only Budget document, are gravely mistaken.
Unfortunately, not all of us read and investigate fully, even though it would greatly improve the quality of our arguments.
A journalist friend from Malaysiakini wrote me a message early this week. “It’s that time of the year again,” he referred to the Budget session. “And, this time, we cannot turn to you for help.” It was a rather funny conversation. He is now hoping that there will be someone in the new opposition doing what I use to do – to read the entire “Anggaran” book (the Federal Expenditure Estimates) for the media and the wider audience. He said, “thanks to you, I know how to look for these numbers.”
A journalist friend from Malaysiakini wrote me a message early this week. “It’s that time of the year again,” he referred to the Budget session. “And, this time, we cannot turn to you for help.” It was a rather funny conversation. I take it as a compliment that he found what I used to do useful – I would read the entire “Anggaran” book (the Federal Expenditure Estimates) and translate them into simpler language for the media and the wider audience. He said, “thanks to you, I know how to look for these numbers.” But I should thank him for bothering to dig deeper.
I worked for Teresa Kok when she was first elected as MP for Seputeh in 1999 and found out through carrying the many volumes of Budget documents for her that the Finance Minister’s Speech is but one of the many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.
Since the 13th Parliament session, the Auditor-General’s Report was not presented immediately after the Budget. It is now presented thrice a year.
Apart from the Speech, the Budget comprises the following document (which can be found on treasury.gov.my :-
1. Tinjuan Ekonomi/Economic Outlook 2019 (formerly called “Laporan Ekonomi/Economic Report”)
2. Anggaran Perbelanjaan Persekutuan/Federal Expenditure Estimates 2019
3. Tinjuan Fiskal Dan Anggaran Hasil Karajaan Persekutuan/Fiscal Outlook and Government Revenue Estimates 2019 (formerly known as “Anggaran Hasil Kerajaan Persekutuan/Federal Revenue Estimates”)
4. Senarai Perjawatan (it can be found on Parliament’s website)
The Economic Outlook sets out the economic challenges and opportunities for the nation in the coming year which guides the overall Budget strategy.
The Economic Outlook (or its previous incarnation, the Economic Report) can be read together with Bank Negara’s annual report (which is usually presented in March each year) as the two most important official documents on the economy.
The Federal Expenditure Estimates is what I hope analysts pay attention and spend some time to understand. It details the line item allocations given to each of the ministry. If Budget is conceived as a list of how the Government spends the taxpayers’ funds, the Expenditure Estimates is the best place to see where the money goes.
The new Government added “Fiscal Outlook” to the original “Revenue Estimates” to show the importance of fiscal reforms in relation to government’s revenue.
The Senarai Perjawatan is rarely mentioned in most discussions. It is no longer in printed form but only in soft copy. The document details the staffing arrangement and their grades/salaries of each ministry/department. A thorough look at the document would help one to understand the running of the government.
It is my sincere hope that all analysts if not other lay persons would at least spend sometime to examine and scrutinise these documents so that the wider audience can be engaged in an informed debate and not mere hearsay of various hues. For Malaysia to progress, all of us need to do a bit more homework for better understanding and debate.
Liew Chin Tong
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