(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The passage by the Dewan Rakyat yesterday of the RM1.82 billion Supplementary Budget 1998 was most improper and irregular as it violated the principle of government transparency and responsibility to Parliament.
I cannot accept the argument given by the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday when I questiioned the most improper and irregular manner of the presentation of the Supplementary Budget 1998.
Anwar said the urgency in tabling the Supplementary Budget 1998 which seeks an additional allocation of RM400 million for operating expenditures and RM1.42 billion for development expenditures had made it impossible for the government to provide details, including a comprehensive breakdown of the allocations.
Anwar said that details were lacking as some provisions of the Bill were still being studied.
I can accept the argument that the country is faced with "extraordinary" times and that there is great urgency for the government to act fast to try to stop the deterioriation of the economic situation.
However, I cannot accept that Parliament should be asked to pass a supplementary budget 1998 without the full details of the allocations being presented to Parliament for debate and approval, which tantamounts to giving the government a blank-cheque to spend as and how it likes without securing parliamentary approval.
This was why I had suggested that if the government is in urgent need for funds for Supplementary Budget allocations, and is not ready with the full details of the allocations for debate and approval by Parliament, it should present a bill to seek contingency allocation of the funds it needed, which would have to be properly regularised later with a Supplementary Budget bill giving a comprehensive breakdown of the allocations.
In actual fact, Parliament yesterday was asked to pass a 1998 Supplementary Budget not just for RM1.82 billion, but at least for RM 13.62 billion.
The original 1998 Budget presented by Anwar Ibrahim to Parliament on Oct. 17 last year was for RM64.1 billion, i.e. RM45.6 billion for operating expenditures and RM18.5 billion for development expenditures.
On December 8, 1997, Anwar announced a cut-back of at least 18% of Federal government expenditures in the 1998 budget, beginning with an immediate 10% cutback across the board of both operating and development expenditures and 8% on a more selective basis.
This would mean a cutback of at least RM11.6 billion from the 1998 budget of RM64.1 billion.
The Government has since done a U-turn in its budgetary policy, adopting a counter-cyclical strategy including a fiscal stimulus to generate economic activities and contain the contractionary impact of the financial crisis, involving RM7 billion allocation for development expenditures in 1998 and another RM5 billion to assist in the financing of infrastructure projects.
What is important to note is that although the government had slashed RM11.6 billion from the 1998 Budget passed by Parliament, the government is not restoring all the allocations and expenditures which Parliament had earlier given its approval. If it is a matter of merely restoring all the allocations and expenditures amounting to RM11.6 billion which had already been passed by Parliament, then there is no need for another parliamentary scrutiny and debate.
This is not the case. The government now proposes to spend not only RM11.6 billion which had been slashed last December as a result of the 18 per cent cutback decision, but to exceed the total 1998 budget of RM64.1 billion by at least another RM1.82 billion.
All these are new expenditures and allocations, the details of which should be presented to Parliament for scrutiny and approval.
Anwar was wrong when he said in Parliament yesterday that although the full details of the Supplementary Budget 1998 had not been furnished to MPs, he had given the major heads of allocation in his Ministerial statement in Parliament on July 13, as for instance, RM1 billion for Education Infrastructure.
I pointed to Anwar however that there is no allocation whatsoever for education in the Supplementary Budget 1998 and that as a result, there could be no debate on the Education supplementary estimates although RM1 billion is meant for education infrastructure.
This was also why dubious history was made by the Dewan Rakyat yesterday when the Supplementary Budget 1998 was passed in half-a-day of debate during committee stage, when in the past, Parliament had always found the two-day allocation for committee stage for supplementary estimates insufficient for debate by MPs - for the simple reason that no details were given for a total of RM11.6 billon of new expenditures and allocations and MPs could not debate them.
Anwar yesterday promised to give the full details of the new expenditures and allocations of RM13.62 billion to MPs as early as possible, even before the end of the present Parliamentary meeting if this can be done.
If Anwar is not able to present the full details of the RM13.6 billion Supplementary Budget 1998 before the end of the parliamentary meeting on Thursday, he should circulate the full list of particulars to all MPs once it is ready.