(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): The Finance Ministry should review and reduce the 21% cut in the Health Ministry budget allocation as health and education should be regarded as essential expenditures with the cuts coming from less essential services like the Defence Ministry.
Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng said yesterday that his Ministry was negotiating with the Finance Ministry for the 21% cut in its budget allocation to be reduced.
Affordable quality health care is becoming more and more out of the reach of poor and low-income Malaysians and it is a matter of grave national concern that there would be a sharp deterioration in the standards and services in the public hospitals, which have already undergone great decline in the past decade.
The Health and Education Ministries are two Ministries which should be given special treatment in having the least reductions in the general cuts in budgetary allocations.
In his first 1998 Budget on Oct. 17, the Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced a two per cent cut in the allocation of all Ministries and departments, while in the second 1998 Budget on Dec. 5, he announced a cutback of at least 18 per cent of Federal government expenditures in 1998, beginning with an immediate 10 per cent cutback across the board of both operating and development expenditures and 8 per cent on a more selective basis.
This would mean a RM11.6 billion cutback from the original 1998 Budget of RM64.1 billion to RM52.5 billion.
The RM11.6 billion cutback in Federal government expenditures is necessary as part of the national belt-tightening process to face up to the national economic crisis.
However, the cutbacks should be fine-tuned and selectively applied so as not to undermine the future competitiveness of the nation or sacrifice the objectives of social equity and justice in the country.
Affordable quality healthcare should be a fundamental right of all Malaysians, and for this reason, there should be the minimum of cutbacks in the Health Ministry budgetary allocations, keeping it in the region of 5 per cent cutback. Even with the five per cent cutback in Health Ministry budgetary allocation, the Health Ministry should be able to deliver better, more efficient and higher quality health services to the poor and low-income Malaysians by cutting down on the enormous waste of public funds in the government service and improving on the efficiency of the health service by raising productivity in the public medical and health service.
The shortfall arising from the reduction in the cutbacks in the budgetary allocation for the Health Ministry should be made up from bigger cutbacks in other Ministries which do not rank so high in the national scale of priorities during the national economic crisis, as for instance, the Defence Ministry.
The Defence Ministry is given a RM5.7 billion total budgetary allocation for 1998 as compared to RM4.2 billion for the Health Ministry.
The Finance Ministry should keep the cutback for the Health Ministry to five percent of the 1998 budget and any shortfall in the Health Ministry cutback should be made up by a greater cutback in the Defence Ministry, as there should be a freeze on all major defence expenditures as well as a downsizing of the armed forces during the times of national economic crisis.