Opinion

The RM12b department

JULY 17 — The Prime Minister’s Department’s allocation for 2010 is a whopping RM12 billion, not RM4 billion as some people may have perceived it to be. That’s a lot of money for one single department.

In a parliamentary reply by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz to Taiping MP, Nga Kor Ming, it was revealed that RM3.9 billion was allocated to the PMD for its “operations” in 2010. The minister was telling the truth; PMD’s “operating budget” was indeed the said amount.

But he seemed to be withholding another piece of information already in the public domain. Under a separate category of “development”, the PMD received RM 8.238 billion. Thus, the total budgetary outlay for the PMD in 2010 is RM12.1 billion, as revealed by the Federal Budget Estimates.

The PMD’s budget wasn’t so huge not too long ago. In the entire Eighth Malaysia Plan period (2001-2005), the development budget of the PMD was RM7.2 billion, or 4.3 per cent of the Plan’s total allocations. This means the development allocation for 2010 alone (RM 8.2 billion) surpassed the sum allocated for the first five years of the 21st century.

The PMD, which was already relatively strong and powerful compared to other Commonwealth countries, has grown beyond recognition, especially over the course of the last decade.

Its development budget underwent a four-fold increase in the Ninth Malaysia Plan, driving its allocation up to RM 29.6 billion, or 13.5 per cent of the Plan’s total.

The huge increases in the PMD’s budget in 2009 and 2010 have never been seen before. The combined operating and development expenditure for 2009 was RM14 billion; nearly double the RM7.1 billion allocated for 2008. The total for 2005 was a mere RM4.1 billion in comparison.

A different way of looking at it is that the development budget for 2009 (RM10 billion) was five times that of 2005 (RM2 billion) while in 2010 (RM8.2 billion), is four times that of the base year.

What does this mean?

The development allocation for PMD is discretional expenditure that allows the prime minister to approve it literally at the stroke of a pen, whereas other ministerial expenditures or treasury payments must pass through more rigorous checks. 

The “big push” in the increase of the development budget occurred in the Ninth Malaysia Plan and in 2009. In both instances, the increase occurred during the time when former prime minister Tun Abdullah Badawi’s position was threatened by internal revolts in Umno and other political challenges.

The big push of Budget 2009 was presented to Parliament in August 2008, amidst talk of defection of Barisan Nasional MPs, especially those from Sabah and Sarawak. Immediately, RM1 billion of the RM6.9 billion increase was allocated to Sabah and Sarawak. The other RM5 billion was for the development of the five corridors, which included Sabah Development Corridor and Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (Score).

Perhaps it can be said that such a big push managed to fend off the Sept 16 challenge, allegedly when those BN MPs were supposed to join the Pakatan Rakyat.  

Besides the surge of monetary allocations, the staff size of the PMD and the speed of its growth (or over-growth) are completely mind-boggling. In 1981, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad assumed power, there were 4,414 staff in the PMD. In 2001, there were 9,673; 21,045 in 2003. In 2009, the PMD hired 25,332.

In the same reply, Nazri told Parliament that the PMD has employed 43,544 people in 2010.

According to Nazri, the increase in operating allocations and staff were due to the “creation of new agencies” within the department as well as the addition of posts in a few existing agencies.

The powers concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Department in Malaysia certainly have other Commonwealth prime ministers’ envy. Besides the personal offices of the prime minister and his deputy, there are five full ministers, five deputy ministers, a number of ministerial-ranked advisors (which I am still unable to confirm), and 45 agencies under the watch of the Prime Minister’s Department.

Some of these agencies, such as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency, Auditor-General’s Office, Election Commission, Human Rights Commission, Public Complaints Bureau, and Public Service Commission should have been placed under parliamentary oversight.

The Parliament should govern its own affairs, independent from the PMD; likewise for the judiciary and national palace.

It is disturbing that the Prime Minister’s Department is like a messy bazaar with all sorts of agencies under its watch that do not make any practical or coherent sense.

For instance, the dissolution of entrepreneur development ministry did not return the governance of public transport to the transport ministry but instead a new land public transport commission was formed within the PMD. One can only suspect that the licensing power of public transport is too great to let go.

The other agency that is gathering huge staff strength is the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, which is our version of the coast guard. Why should it be housed under the PMD? The right thing to do is to place it under either defence or home ministry, and at the same time merge Marine Police with MMEA. At it is, Malaysia has the navy, MMEA, Marine Police, Fisheries Department and a whole hosts of agencies guarding our waters, yet our borders don’t seem to be less porous.

Something is very wrong with Malaysia’s public finance and governance, especially in these last few years. And the people have to bear the brunt of the current subsidy cuts, allegedly to help the government saves RM750 million this year.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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