Budget 2013: Same old formula, with no solutions

Tony Pua
Sep 28, 2012

Over the past few years, the government has been able to increase its budget tremendously to achieve record expenditures annually.

This has allowed the government to prop up the economy as we face challenges in attracting private investments, as well as a drop in our trade contributions.

However, Budget 2013 has projected an increase of only 0.7 percent (2012: 11.8 percent; 2011: 16.1 percent) in projected revenues from RM207.2 billion to RM208.6 billion in 2013.

This is the slowest projected increase in the tabled budget since 1999, barring the global financial crisis in 2009.

Consequently, the government is forced to table a smaller budget than the prior year. The proposed operating expenditure has been reduced by 0.3 percent from RM202.6 billion to RM201.9 billion, while the development expenditure is also reduced from RM46.9 billion to RM46.7 billion or 0.4 percent.

The marked decline in revenue growth will have a very significant impact on the government’s ability to impact growth in the Malaysian economy through fiscal means.

The fact that we have not been able to reduce our budget deficit below four percent over the past few years reflects the years of wasted opportunities, where we have failed to curb our expenditure through reduced wastage, abuses and corruption.

Consistent decline in development expenditure

Of concern is also how the government has consistently reduced its emphasis on Development Expenditure, which will create greater multiplier effects on our economy.

The proportion of the budget expenditure dedicated to Development Expenditure has reduced from 31.5 percent in 2003 to 27.1 percent in 2007 to 21.3 percent in 2012. The worrying trend continues in 2013 where the proportion is reduced further to only 18.6 percent, a record low in Malaysia’s history.

This represents lower investment by the government with its current revenue, which will result only in lower returns to the economy in the years ahead.

Our federal government debt has increased rapidly from RM242 billion in 2004 to RM363 billion in 2009 and to RM456 billion in 2011. For 2012, it is projected that our debt will hit RM502 billion. That represents a marked 107.4 percent increase in debt over the past eight years.

More worryingly, the debts have increased our structural debt service commitments significantly.

The rate at which our debt servicing commitments are growing will severely constrict our future operational and development expenditure. This, together with a much slower rate of growth in government revenue, as shown in Budget 2013, will have a major impact on our economy, given its current heavy reliance on public spending and investments.

From 2003 to 2008, our debt servicing obligations increased by 21.9 percent from RM10.5 billion to RM12.8 billion. However, in the next five years from 2008 to 2013, the annual commitment has increased by a whopping 73.4 percent!

Federal debt will increase

The official federal government debt is also expected to increase as a proportion of our GDP from 51.8 percent to 53.7 percent, staying marginally below the 55 percent legal federal government debt limit.

However, even the 53.7 percent is an artificial figure as it fails to take into consideration the government’s contingent liabilities and hidden debts, which amounted to RM117 billion as at December 2011.

What is frightening is the government’s contingent liability is expected to increase exponentially in 2013 due to the expenditure on the RM53 billion MRT project as well as other mega-infrastructure projects.

These debt-driven expenses are completely off the balance sheet or not considered part of the official federal government debt, despite it ultimately being funded by the federal government.

In Europe, Spain, which is facing a major financial crisis that requires hundreds of billions of euro bailout, has an “official” debt to GDP ratio of 68.5 percent. But due to various contingent liability and bank bailouts, the “real” ratio, which is significantly higher, has caused a near collapse of its economy in a crisis that is still evolving.

We must not allow ourselves to get entangled in a similar crisis.

No political will

Based on the Economic Report, the government was able to keep its deficit below five percent at 4.7 percent for 2012 only because of an unbudgeted increase in revenue by RM21 billion for the year. If not for the above, based on the government’s expenditure in 2012, our deficit would have increased to 6.7 percent.

The government has announced its plan in Budget 2013 to keep the deficit at four percent. However, it has become clear that the government’s original target as late as 2011 to reduce our deficit to 2.5 percent by 2015 is no longer achievable.

The steep decline of growth in the government’s revenue will make the task seemingly impossible.

The budget demonstrates no political will on the part of the federal government to make the necessary structural changes to the way we manage our budget. We see a decline in the proportion of funds spent on development expenditure. We also do not see a serious effort to tackle federal government debt, both “official” and “hidden”.

Budget 2013 reads like a repeat of budgets in the previous years, using the same formula without taking into consideration the changing circumstances and the increasing economic challenges we face today.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Monday, 1 October 2012 - 9:08 am

    The budget is fraudulent.

    1) Decrease in operating expenditure? How? Since when they have been able to?

    2) No Mega-projects under Najib or a new UMNO president? How is it even possible? They will most certaintly break this pledge when they start campaigning in Sabah & Sarawak during the GE..

    3) How is it MRT is contingent liability of Govt? Its voodoo accounting. MRT is 100% govt owned by a govt agency that likely have to be subsidized since the model of real-estate cum box-revenue is dubious..

    Its fraud. Plain fraud..

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Monday, 1 October 2012 - 9:15 am

    One more thing. I would bet my house they will announce GST next year..The personal tax decrease is a prelude – they are laying the ground work for excuse for GST..

You must be logged in to post a comment.