2002 Budget prepared in a very slipshod and unprofessional manner which is most uninspiring

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The 2002 Budget had been prepared in a very slipshod and unprofessonal manner which is most uninspiring - and it is no surprise that the market reaction had not been a very stimulating one  as reflected by the thumbs-down signal  given by the stock market yesterday where the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Composite Index (KLSE) fell by 5.93 points to 609.09 from 614.21 on Friday’s close.

Just to give two examples.   According to the Economic Report 2001/2002  - which the Prime Minister cum Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad presented to Parliament on Friday, 19th October 2001 as an accompanying document to his budget speech -  as at September, 563 companies have been awarded MSC-status, of which 48 are world-class companies, exceeding the target of 500 and ahead of the scheduled timeframe of 2003 for the development of the Multimedia Super Corridor.

Four days earlier, however, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Energy, Communications and Multimedia Ministry, Chia Kwang Chye, told Parliament during question time that as of Oct. 1, 567 companies have been given MSC status with 48 of these being internationally renowned.

I do not know what is the difference between “as at September” and “as of Oct. 1”, and although the discrepancy of the figures for the total number of MSC-status companies  is a very small  one, it does not reflect highly  on the professionalism in the preparation of the 2002 Budget - especially when  a document presented in Parliament  four days after the parliamentary answer gives more outdated information.

The Economic Report 2001/2002 also gave data on the outcome of efforts to “attract the best brains into the country to create a world-class workforce”, including Malaysians who are abroad and with the required expertise who are given incentives to return, in particular through the granting of permanent status to spouse and children and tax exemptions on personal effects and income remitted into the country.  It said that by mid-September 2001, of the 356 applications received from professionals working overseas, 122 were approved in the areas of finance, industries, ICT and medicine.

However, also four days earlier during the parliamentary question time, the  Deputy Human Resources Minister Dr. Abdul Latif Ahmad gave a completely different set of figures when he said that up to September 26, 2001, 326 applications from Malaysian professionals overseas to return home to serve the country had been received  (The Sun 16.10.2001) - which is different from the figure of 356 by mid-September given by the Economic Report.

A check with the Hansard on-line confirmed that The Sun  report had not made any mistake and that Abdul Latif did tell Parliament on 15th October 2001 that there was a total of 326 such applications up to Sept. 26, which contradicted   the data given by the Economic Report tabled in Parliament on 19th October 2001 that there had been 356 such applications by mid-September!

What is most disappointing about the 2002 Budget, whether the  two-hour speech or the Economic Report 2001/2, is the failure to deal  with the substantive issues  involved, as for example,  why  MSC had not attracted substantial interest from global technology or had a significant impact on Malaysia’s economy, with  no Malaysian technology company becoming a global player.

There was also no attempt to acknowledge that the programme to attract the best brains into the country to power Malaysia’s quantum leap into a K-economy has been a dismal failure and the urgent need for a fundamental policy appraisal if Malaysia is to become a haven to a world-class workforce - especially when the conditions to create such a haven has become increasingly  unfavourable with all the declarations of Malaysia as an Islamic state and jihad over the US-led military actions in Afghanistan.

In his speech at the Second Global  Knowledge Conference in Kuala Lumpur on 8th March last year, Mahathir spoke of the challenge  to enrich the Malaysian economy and society through “an annual infusion of 5,000 extraordinary world citizens of extraordinary talent, extraordinary creativity, extraordinary knowledge, extraordinary skill and extraordinary networking and other capabilitities …as the whole area of human capital is critical to our performance and global competitiveness”.

Instead of the annual brain gain of 5,000 top  K-workers, the government bureaucracy is struggling with some 356 or 326 applications and could only process 292 of them while approving 124 by the end of September - which does not even constitute 2.5 per cent of the 5,000 target!

The government should remove all red-tape and restrictions and extend the incentives to all Malaysians abroad who want to return home to contribute to the task to transform Malaysia from a P-economy (production-economy) to a K-economy  (knowledge-economy).

In fact, Mahathir’s speech at the Second Global Knowledge Conference, particularly on the prerequisites if Malaysia’s “Strategic Initiative One” for the quantum leap to a Knowledge economy and Information Society is to succeed, should be compulsory reading for all Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament.

Mahathir had spoken of the need for  all Malaysians to undergo an “ocean change” and not just “sea-change” of attitudes and mind-sets, to “examine every sacred cow”, to be prepared to “unlearn” and “force ourselves into new habits” to build the new processes, institutions and organsiations necessary for the Information Age.  Unfortunately, anyone reading Mahathir’s speech delivered  20 months ago   cannot  but be struck by the shock that there had been no  “river” or “longkang” change  whatsoever even among the political elite in government, whether Ministers or Members of Parliament in the past few years.

The Prime Minister had promised that there would be a 18-month “process of national consultation, brainstorming, drafting and national mobilisation” for the K-economy Master  Plan, as he had made this pledge:

 “The K-Economy Master Plan must be a masterplan for the entire nation and a personal master plan for every citizen. It must belong to and be owned by all Malaysians.  This is why in the process of drafting it, all segments of Malaysian society must participate.  Before a full national consensus is reached, a thousand ideas must contend and a hundred flowers must bloom.”

The Prime Minister’s pledge has however been forgotten by the government - Ministers and MPs alike - and the Malaysian people had been completely excluded from the process of drafting it, with no idea allowed to contend or a flower to bloom from the Malaysian citizenry to contribute towards the K-Economy Master Plan!

Secreted  away in the Economic Report 2001-2002 is the information that the  K-Economy Master Plan had been surreptitiously drafted and completed but is  classified under the Official Secrets Act - which is completely unheard-of as there is no other country in the world whose K-Economy Master Plan is a secret document under the Official Secrets Act.

The Information Minister, Tan Sri  Khalil Yaakob should do his duty and immediately print and circulate the Prime Minister’s speech at the Second Global Knowledge Conference to all Ministers and MPs to remind them of the need for  an “ocean change” in their attitudes and mind-sets if they are to provide the leadership to ensure Malaysia’s successful  quantum leap to become a knowledge-based economy and information society.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman