Daim should have been more frank and thank the Alternative Barisan for this proposal which was made in the Barisan Alternative's "Budget 2000 - the Barisan Alternatif's Strategy for Recovery, Development and Justice" made public two days earlier.
Instead, Daim claimed that television licences had been abolished since April 1, which neither the government nor the public were aware of, just to avoid being seen as copying from the Barisan Alternative budget.
The Deputy Information Minister, Datuk Sulaiman Mohamad has 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 is the reason why last Friday, the reporters in Parliament got their copies of the Budget 2000 so late, when Daim had already gone more than half way of his speech - unlike previous budget presentations when the budget speech was distributed to all the press before the Finance Minister starts 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 RM50 million as in 1997, 7,457 Malaysians had paid for a three-year television licence and 1,724 had paid for a five-year television license; in 1998, 8,047 had paid for a three-year television licence and 2,583 paid 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, which would total some RM50 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 or 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 Malaysian public should 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 RM50 million to pay out the full refunds? Is it going to be after the next general election or after next year?