Knee-jerk measures to optimise government spending are not enough: The Star

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak addresses journalists during a budget review session in Putrajaya on Jan 28, 2016.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak addresses journalists during a budget review session in Putrajaya on Jan 28, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Mar 13, the paper calls for greater transparency in spending of budget allocations.

It must be difficult for the Treasury to implement 53 measures to optimise its spending for the 1.6 million civil servants.

A freeze on hiring new staff, stricter control on overtime, curbs on various expenses and a minimum 30 per cent cut in spending on all government-organised events are part of wide-ranging measures being introduced.

The measures listed in the Treasury circular "Guidelines on Measures to Optimise Government Spending" are a follow-up to the recalibration of the 2016 Budget announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in January.

The cuts are necessary because the Government's revenue has plunged along with the global oil price, and comes just two years after it introduced 11 measures to slash public sector expenditure.

The earlier measures included reducing the entertainment allowances of senior officers on the Jusa C Grade and above by between 5 per cent and 10 per cent, reducing toll facilities for senior officers by 30 per cent and amending the eligibility for domestic and international flight tickets for civil servants.

These 11 measures were supposed to save RM400 million (S$135 million) in 2014, according to Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa then.

However, some of these measures were rescinded several months later.

No specific reason was given.

It is understood, however, that the drastic measures then caused many businesses to suffer as the bulk of their business came from the Government.

Back to the present day, the Treasury has ordered all ministry secretaries-general, department heads, heads of statutory bodies, chief executives of companies limited by guarantee and other agency heads who receive allocations from the Government to carry out all the measures outlined.

"To ensure that fiscal targets which have been set are met, measures to optimise government spending are to be implemented across the board so that resources can be managed more efficiently and effectively," the circular said.

Several secretaries-general have listed ways to optimise their budget and Agriculture and Agro-Based Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Ismail Bakar was quoted as saying it was too early to assess how much savings the ministry could make through the measures.

It has never been done before but perhaps it is about time, in the name of transparency, that our ministries give a breakdown on how they spend the hundreds of millions allocated to them annually.

The Auditor-General annual report is a "must report" event for the media because of the "abuses" found in the system. Report after report is churned out but is there real action taken against those who abuse the system?

The public should demand to know how the ministries are spending their budgets.

It is as simple as holding a townhall or perhaps uploading the list of expenditures on their website. Isn't that the basic rule of transparency?

Certain government campaign launches are still being done in a big way with the Prime Minister being the guest of honour and the pre­sence of the top management at the event.

Is the attendance of all necessary when surely a secretariat has been formed to organise such an event? Isn't that a waste of money and manpower especially if the event is held outside of Putrajaya?

Is the Government just tinkering around the edges or is Putrajaya really addressing the real wastage?

Knee-jerk measures are not enough.

The Government must look at it systematically and not just try to fix one part of the equation. There is a need to look at expenditure holistically.

Ordinary Malaysians have to cope with rising cost of living and the same goes for government ser­vants, all of whom are voters, too.

The Government must remember this even as it implements this unkind cut.

* The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers.