Television licence abolition - BN adopts BA proposal

Speech (3)
- Budget 2000
Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Monday): Two days before Daim presented the 2000 Budget in Parliament,  for the first time in Malaysian political history, an alternative budget was presented - the  Barisan Alternative's "Budget 2000 - the Barisan Alternatif's Strategy for Recovery, Development and Justice".
We are glad that one of the budgetary proposals of the Barisan Alternative budget, the abolition of television licences, was adopted by Daim in his 2000 Budget.

Daim should have been more frank and thank the Barisan Alternative  for this proposal, but he tried to mislead the people by resorting to the fiction that the government had abolished television licences since April 1 this year.

In his budget speech, Daim said: "The Barisan Nasional Government is a responsible Government and has never misled the people".

But his claim that the Barisan Nasional Government had never misled the people was short-lived as immediately after his budget speech, the DAP pointed out that Daim had not told the truth when he said that the government had abolished television licences since April this year.

Daimís budget speech  was the first time Malaysians heard that television licences had been abolished since April 1, and even the Information Ministry officials were  not aware of it, as since  April 1 Malaysians had  been paying the RM24 television licenses which were collected with the issue of official receipts.

It is most regrettable that to forestall the Barisan Alternative from claiming credit for proposing in its alternative budget the abolition of television licenses, Daim had to commit the dishonesty of claiming that the government had abolished television licences since 1 April.

The Deputy Information Minister, Datuk Sulaiman Mohamad had admitted that after  the Barisan Alternative 2000 Budget was made public on Wednesday, 27th Oct. 1999, the Finance Ministry held an emergency meeting on the night of 28th Oct. and decided on the last-minute incorporation  of this proposal to abolish television licences in Daimís 2000 Budget in Parliament the next day.

 This was  the reason why last Friday, the reporters in Parliament got their copies of the Budget 2000 so late, when Daim was nearing the end of  his speech - unlike previous budget presentations when the budget speech was distributed to all the press immediately after  the Finance Minister started his delivery.

Daim said the abolition of television licences fees would result in a revenue loss of RM43 million annually to the government.

The refund the government must make to Malaysians who have already paid their television license fees would be more than RM43 million, probably more than RM60 million.

Refunds must be made to those who have paid three or five-year television licences as well to those whose licences are still valid partially - e.g. to those whose annual licences were renewed say in July 1998.

In 1997,  7,457 Malaysians had paid for a three-year television licence  and 1,724 for a five-year television license; in 1998, 8,047 had paid for a three-year television licence and 2,583 for a five-year licence; while in January 1999 alone, 591 paid for a three-year and 167 paid for a five-year television licence.  I do not have figures for those who paid for three-year and five-year licences in the nine months between Feb. - Oct. 1999.

I am concerned however that when Malaysians go to the various post offices to reclaim their refunds, totalling over  RM60 million, there would be utter chaos and pandemonium with the Malaysian public pushed from pillar to post, wasting a lot of their precious time as well generating a lot of public temper from a very messy and inefficient system of refund.

In the first place, which Ministry would be responsible for the refund - the Information Ministry which had collected the bulk of the television licence fees,  the Multimedia  Communications Ministry which has now taken over  the licensing and enforcement of television from the Information Ministry, or the Finance Ministry itself?

Regardless of which Ministry is responsible for the refund, the government should ensure a hassle-free refund system so that the  Malaysian public would not be inconvenienced and they should be able to get their refund from the respective post  offices they had taken out their television licences in the first place.

But when will the post offices in the country get the RM60 million to pay out the full refunds?  Is it going to be after the next general election or after next year?

The Barisan Alternative Budget 2000 had also proposed raising personal income tax exemption to RM12,000.  Daim had only acted partially on the Barisan Alternative's proposal, raising the personal income tax exemption from RM5,000 to RM8,000 - still short of another RM4,000 as suggested by the Barisan Alternative.

It is regrettable that Daim had not acted on the Barisan Alternative's budgetary proposal for allowing 100% tax deduction on educational expenses, although  he increased the relief on education insurance from a maximum of RM2,000 to RM3,000 and allowed EPF contributors to withdraw a portion of their EPF contribution for the purpose of tertiary education.

But these are inadequate measures for a government which is fully committed to enhance the quality of life and the competitiveness of the nation in the world marketplace by giving top priority to education in the country.

When the Barisan Alternative (BA)  budget was released, Barisan Nasional leaders and their propagandists tried to deride it, with a correspondent in the New Straits Times claiming that the BA budget would "derail recovery" on the ground that the BA was proposing a contractionary fiscal policy, even using the colourful but malicious language that the BA policy was like "using kerosene to put out a fire".

In actual fact,  Daimís Budget 2000 and the BA Budget Strategy are in agreement over the need for an expansionary budget to reflate the economy in light of the weak recovery thus far.  The main areas of disagreement are in terms of spending priorities, spreading the tax burden and the appropriate budget strategy to stimulate a sustainable recovery.

In any event, if Daimís 2000 Budget had been presented by the Barisan Alternative last Wednesday, the BA would have been denounced by the Barisan Nasional propagandists as irresponsible for Ďtaxing less, spending moreí.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong