On 31st October 1999, I had publicly called on the government “to ensure a hassle-free system” to immediately refund money to the people as a result of the abolition of the television licences fees since April last year as announced by the Finance Minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin in his budget presentation two days earlier.
Although the 2000 Budget was not passed because of Parliament’s dissolution in the midst of its debate, the abolition of television licence fees since April last year came into immediate effect as it did not require any legislative action by Parliament.
In actual fact, Daim originally had no intention to abolish the television licence in the 2000 Budget he was to present to Parliament on October 29, 1999.
However, this proposal was made in the Barisan Alternatif’s “Alternative Budget” made public two days earlier on October 27, 1999.
As a result of the Barisan Alternatif’s proposal, Daim made a last-minute change to his 2000 Budget and claimed that television licences had been abolished since April 1 last year, which nobody - neither the departments concerned nor the public - were aware of, just to avoid being seen as copying from the Barisan Alternative budget.
The then Deputy Information Minister, Datuk Sulaiman Mohamad later
admitted that after the Barisan Alternative 2000 Budget was made
public on 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 Daim’s 2000 Budget in Parliament the next day.
This was also the reason why for the first time in Malaysian budget history, 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 started his delivery.
I find it most regrettable that although the Ministry of Energy, Communications and Multi-Media had some three months to implement the refund, it had not been able to carry out a hassle-free system.
It was not smooth-sailing for the refund all over the country yesterday. There were post offices which were unable to give refunds. There were complaints about long queues to collect the refund, involving a lot of waste of time. What was worse, all those who had taken out their television licences before April 1, 1999 were unable to get their refund, after taking part in long queues.
All this hassle would not have happened if the Ministry concerned had heeded my media statement of 31st October 1999 which is up on the Internet, and it does not bespeak well for Malaysia’s IT future when the Ministry which is directly responsible for IT has such a pre-IT mentality as unable to make full use of information available on the Internet.
I had stressed in my statement of Oct. 31, 1999 that the government must refund television licence fees for those who have taken out licences before April 1, 1999 and paid three or five-year television licences as well to those whose licences were still valid partially - e.g. those whose annual licences were still valid for the period from April to October 1999.
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. There are also those who paid for three-year and five-year licences in the nine months between Feb. - Oct. 1999.
I said on Oct. 31, 1999 that I was concerned that 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, especially over television licence fees taken out before April 1, 1999
There is no excuse for the Multimedia Ministry to be so incompetent that after being given a warning three months ago that it would have to refund television licence fees taken out before April 1, 1999 for three or five-year periods, there is still no mechanism to deal with this category of refund.