Although there is no Budget cheer for Sabah and Sarawak, the people in the two states can now plan for alternative solutions in the coming general election.
But it is a “blessing in disguse” because the people in the two states can now plan for alternative solutions.
It appears that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, his advisers and the ruling BN are very confident that both states won’t slip away from BN grip at the coming general election.
This explains why they could afford not to deal with the prevailing “touchy” issues in Sabah and Sarawak.
Otherwise, they would have addressed several “heartbeat” issues in Sabah and Sarawak..
Besides development projects, the basic needs here are houses, roads, water and electricity – all priorities with East Malaysians.
Important too is the abolishing of the chocking cabotage policy on transporting goods to the two states.
The cabotage policy generally stipulates that imported goods to Sabah and Sarawak must come through faraway Klang Port, even if there is a shorter route and cheaper vessels to the states from the source of the goods.
And to cap it all, in Klang, the cargoes must be unloaded onto Malaysian vessels only, many owned by proxies, to be brought to Sabah/Sarawak, across 1,000km of seas.
As a result, it has caused the prices of goods to soar higher in the two states than in the Peninsula.
Najib failed to address the cabotage issue. Instead, he planned to introduce more state-owned low-price stores in the states but the quality of their goods is unknown.
‘Easier to decide now’
Chairman of UK-based Borneo’s Plight in Malaysia Foundation (BoPi MaFo), Daniel John Jambun, said now that the two states have been sidelined in Budget 2013, it would make it easier for Sabahans and Sarawakians alike to think about alternatives in the coming election.
“While the budget is a good BN budget, we must bear in mind that Sabah and Sarawak contributed huge amount of revenue and yet we get nothing in return.
“This is why we are the poorest now in Malaysia as the focus of development has always been in the Peninsula. This budget confirmed it.
“If Najib is sincere, he should have listened to East Malaysia. Maybe he takes us for granted,” he said when contacted.
Jambun, who is also deputy chairman of the State Reform Party (STAR), said Sabah BN leaders would be heaping praises on the budget but right-thinking people would think otherwise and start looking for alternative solutions.
“It is a blessing in disguise… there is always a silver lining in the clouds…” he said from Kuala Lumpur where he was attending a political meeting.
Another issue of great importance to the coming general election is the oil royalty.
While Pakatan Rakyat in its shadow budget unveiled a few days ago announced an increase royalty from 5% to 20% to oil-producing states if it takes over the federal government, Najib chose to confidently ignore it.
Political scientist Dr Arnold Puyok, meanwhile, said Budget 2013 is a budget to expand or grow the economy in the face of the government’s “alarming” deficit.
“I would hope to see more measures to reduce wastage and to ensure financial accountability,” he said.
He said the good thing is that more incentives were given to fishermen and paddy farmers.
“This will help grow the traditional economy and alleviate poverty in the rural areas.
“Goodies to young and single people is an indication that the ruling party is set to win the hearts and minds of first-time voters in the upcoming election,” he said.
Economist Jerome Majanil viewed Budget 2013 as a political budget and was surprised that no major announcements were made for the corporate sector.
“The prime minister should be giving more attention to the corporate sector as it is this sector that gives money to the country.
“This budget should have said something on corporate tax so as to make sure we are continuously competitive and also ensure companies would not close down as they do pay taxes,” he said.
Majanil was also shocked to see that nothing big was announced for Sabah and Sarawak, especially on perennial issues affecting the slow development of the two “poorest” richest states in Malaysia.
“There is nothing for Sabah and Sarawak. The cabotage policy, for example, was willfully ignored. The government didn’t abolish or liberalise it. What is 50% discount for ferry fares to Labuan? It is nothing compared to the cabotage issue,” Majanil told FMT.
He said the need for a bridge to Labuan was also not addressed.
“Some of the recommendations are very difficult to implement. This is just a way of diverting attention.
“This budget is throwing away money,” he said.
Veteran journalist, Joe Fernandez, said “no matter what the budget says, the prime minister cannot run away from the fact that his BN coalition has outstayed its welcome”.
“After 55 years of BN rule, people are waiting to move into the 21st century.
“The focus of the next general election will not be the budget but the growing realisation and awareness among the people that no party should be in power for more than two or three terms at a stretch,” he said, adding that the opposition could do better.