By Boo Su-Lyn
The Malay Mail Online
January 1, 2014
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1 — The Barisan Nasional (BN) government remains in a difficult position despite announcing cost-cutting measures in an attempt to match the rising cost of living faced by ordinary Malaysians, with political analysts saying real reforms are needed to cut waste and appease an unhappy public.
Political analysts dismissed Putrajaya’s spending cuts as tokenism, calling instead for the downsizing of a giant civil service and the Cabinet to create real reforms.
Last night, thousands of Malaysians ushered in the New Year in protest, taking to the streets of the city’s capital to rally against the sudden series of spending cuts — from higher fuel and sugar prices to the expected spike in toll and assessment rates.
Critics have also said that Putrajaya’s measures to cutback on government spending, which include reducing the entertainment allowance of ministers and trimming electricity bills, were too superficial and would do little to rein in the wastage of public funds.
To Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the chief executive of the think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), “true reform” would mean reducing Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Cabinet.
“A token announcement is good in order to appease the public, but unless it’s followed by real reforms, it’ll just remain tokenism,” said the analyst.
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He pointed out that the United Kingdom has a population of about 63 million people that is served by fewer than 20 Cabinet members, while Malaysia’s population is half the size of the UK’s, but has a Cabinet that is almost twice as large.
Shortly after last May’s general election, Najib appointed 30 Cabinet ministers and 26 deputy ministers.
Wan Saiful also said that the 1.4 million-strong civil service force should be downsized, pointing out that staff size was not reduced despite the Ministry of Higher Education merging with the Ministry of Education this year.
On Monday, Najib announced 11 measures that Putrajaya will implement from January 1 next year to slash public expenditure, such as cutting the entertainment allowance of ministers and deputy ministers by 10 per cent and that of senior government officers on the Jusa C Grade and above by between five and 10 per cent.
Apart from the allowance, the prime minister said the government would also trim its consumption of food and drinks, as well as the use of buntings and banners during conferences, seminars, meeting, courses, workshops and other official functions.
The use of event management firms and the handing out of door gifts or souvenirs during such events will also be reduced, he said.
Other measures include a reduction of 30 per cent or between RM50 and RM100 in the toll facility offered to senior government officers.
The eligibility for domestic and international flight tickets for civil servants will also be amended, where those in the Jusa C Grade and below will only be eligible for economy class tickets on domestic flights.
Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of the think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), said ‘true reform’ would mean reducing Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Cabinet. — AFP picWan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of the think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), said ‘true reform’ would mean reducing Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Cabinet. — AFP pic
Najib also announced that the electricity cost at all ministries, government departments and agencies would be reduced by five per cent.
Fresh applications for the renovation of government offices will be put on the back burner for the time-being, Najib said, while existing office space will be fully optimised to keep spending low.
The appointment of consultants for government projects, and for the conducting of feasibility studies will be tightened further, with each application to be first approved by the National Development Planning Committee, which is chaired by the Chief Secretary to the Government.
James Chin, political analyst from Monash University’s Malaysian campus, said that the size of the civil service could easily be slashed by 30 per cent.
“The measures are not enough to save money because the real issue is the bloated civil service and wasteful spending by ministers and the ministries,” Chin told The Malay Mail Online via email.
“The 10 per cent cut here and there will not have an impact since it’s the overall figure that is important. The budget will still be in deficit with the reduced spending. Yesterday’s (Monday) announcement was a PR job,” he added.
Malaysia’s 1.4 million civil servants currently cost the country some RM60 billion in wages annually, accounting for a third of total government spending. Malaysia also has one of the highest public workers to population ratios in the world.
DAP’s Gelang Patah MP Lim Kit Siang said last October that Malaysia’s civil servants-to-population ratio was 4.68 per cent in 2009, compared to Singapore’s 1.4 per cent, Indonesia’s 1.79 per cent, South Korea’s 1.85 per cent and Thailand’s 2.06 per cent.
James Chin, political analyst from Monash University’s Malaysian campus, said that the size of the civil service could easily be slashed by 30 per cent. — Reuters picJames Chin, political analyst from Monash University’s Malaysian campus, said that the size of the civil service could easily be slashed by 30 per cent. — Reuters pic
Professor Jayum Jawan, political analyst from Universiti Putra Malaysia, pointed out that despite the entertainment allowance cut for ministers, deputy ministers and senior civil servants, legislators in various Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) states have received large salary hikes.
“How does that measure to the small cuts?” Jayum said.
“The entertainment allowance is not really big. It does not really do much. How much would that contribute to the state and federal coffers after they raise the salaries two or three times? They need to go into substance,” he added.
PR states Selangor and Penang recently announced pay raises of 88 per cent for state assemblymen. Selangor had also increased the salaries for its mentri besar, Speaker, deputy Speaker and state executive councillors by between 106 and 373 per cent.
BN state Perak has also increased the salaries of state representatives, while Johor is similarly considering a salary hike for its assemblymen.
Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said that Najib’s announcement did not address the long-standing factors behind government wastage.
“I’d rather that a mechanism be put in place to strengthen the procurement process and government expenditure, to build KPIs, and to have a check and balance system tied to government KPIs and promotion KPIs,” Khoo told The Malay Mail Online.
He pointed out that Putrajaya should address the leakages and mismanagement of public funds that are revealed by national audits every year.