‘Discretionary development allocations’ channelled to this department should not be used as a slush fund; instead, redirect them to bring development to the rakyat, says Francis Loh.
A few days before the official dissolution of Parliament on 7 April, the prime minister, at a meeting with 10,000 civil servants in Putrajaya, announced a RM1.46bn windfall for the 1.6m civil servants in the country.
They would receive an additional annual salary increment beginning from 1 July 2018, on top of their current annual salary increment for 2018.
The prime minister further announced a period reduction for time-based promotion for government staff from 13 years to only 10 years, which would benefit 13,008 officers, costing another RM34m.
A new special DG56 Grade for those in the education service officers scheme was also announced. All DG54 officers with excellent service records would automatically be promoted to this new grade after five years service. The scheme would benefit 323 officers and would cost the government RM7.4m. Pensioners, too, would receive an additional 1% increment (on top of the 2% announced in January).
A few million ringgit was also awarded to Cuepacs, the Malaysian Retirees Association, the Malaysian Retirees Association Foundation, and the 1Malaysia Government Retirees Club.
All in all, Najib Razak offered RM1.5bn-plus to the civil servants and pensioners with the hope that they would vote BN on 9 May 2018. If Umno-BN fails to get re-elected in the coming general election, I suppose there will be no double increments and special awards forthcoming.
This gambit by Najib to buy the votes of the civil servants to shore up eroding support for him and his party has rightly been slammed by various opposition and civil society organisations.
Even as these criticisms were being heard, Najib nonetheless resorted to the same gambit at a meeting with MIC leaders and other Indian associations the very next day. He promised Indians would be allocated additional units under the Amanah Saham 1Malaysia (AS1M) scheme. Interest-free loans would be made available to poor Indians to invest in the AS1M. Additional funds would also be made available for micro entrepreneurs, for upgrading of Tamil schools, and for more places for Indians in vocational colleges.
In Semporna, Sabah, the benteng of Shafie Apdal’s Parti Warisan, he distributed land titles to 1,000 residents and promised the upgrading of an 18km two-lane road to a four-lane highway that would link the island of Bum Bum to Semporna.
Earlier, when rumour had it that Dr Mahathir Mohamad was considering contesting the election in Langkawi, Najib announced a RM2bn development plan for the island.
So, a few hundred million ringgit here and there.
Of course, this is not a prudent way to run any economy, especially when Malaysia’s foreign debts and deficit-financing have reached critical levels. These outlays, if and when they occur, are essentially off-budget allocations.
But then again, our prime minister is in possession of a massive slush fund that has been parked in his Prime Minister’s Department. The growth of this fund, as well as the growth of the department under Najib has been humongous and unprecedented.
PM’s Dept: 10 ministers, 3 deputy ministers, a chief secretary, 34,000 employees
As of 2017 (as recorded in its website), the Prime Minister’s Department involved the following 10 ministers: Jamal Khir Baharom, Joseph Kurup, Joseph Entulu Balaun, Shahidan Kassim, Paul Low Seng Luan, Nancy Shukri, Wee Ka Siong, Azalina Othman Said, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, and Hishamuddin Hussein.
There were three deputy ministers: Razali Ibrahim, Asyraf Wajdi Dusuka, and Devamany S Krishnamany.
They were assisted by Ali Hamsa, chief secretary to the government; Othman Mahmad Sensor, deputy secretary general; Zainal Abidin Abu Hassan, deputy secretary general (finance and development), and Normi Noraini, deputy secretary general (management).
Within the Prime Minister’s Department were located 57 departments, 10 federal statutory bodies, 13 companies, five corridor development agencies, five foundations and two international organisations.
It might make sense for about half of these department and agencies to be located here, for instance, the Economic Planning Unit, the Implementation Coordination Unit, the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu) and the five corridor development projects tasked with initiating new development projects; the National Security Council, the Civil Defence Force and the Eastern Sabah Security Command,0 tasked with safeguarding our borders; the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) and the Department of Federal Territory Islamic Affairs (Jawi); and the Public Service Department.
But why should the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Legal Advisor’s Offices and the Legal Affairs Division, the National Audit Department and the National Integrity Unit – all of which are supposed to be watchdog agencies to some extent – be put under the prime minister’s charge?
A case can be made for the Economic Planning Unit and the Implementation Coordination Unit to be placed under the prime minister in order to plan and coordinate economic development strategically. But why should the Innovation and Human Resources Management Division, the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and Microcredit Development Unit and other units charged with leading our economy be slotted in here?
Surely you do not need to make the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of delivering housing schemes for the police and army and to run the 1Malaysia Civil Servants Housing Unit?
The Land Public Transport Commission (Spad), previously structured as the Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board, also comes under the prime minister’s watch, rather than the Ministry of Transport’s.
In the same vein, shouldn’t the National Professors Council (Majlis Profesor Negara) and Permata be placed under the Ministry of Education? And the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Isis) perhaps be linked to Wisma Putra? And shouldn’t all organisations which cater to Parliament be placed under Parliament’s own jurisdiction, not the executive’s?
In his book The Budget – How the Government is spending OUR money, Teh Chi-Chang shows that the number of employees in the Prime Minister’s Department has grown exponentially while the number of employees in Parliament has hardly grown over the same period. In 1981, 4,414 were employed in the former, only 156 in Parliament. In 2001, there were 9,673 staffers in the former compared to 157 in Parliament. By 2009, it was 25,332 to 257.
According to the Prime Minister’s Department’s website, a total of 33,904 people worked in the department in 2017. This total excludes those employed in the Attorney General’s Chambers, the MACC and the Public Service Department, which all report to the executive.
Funds galore for the PM’s Department
The corollary to this expansion was the increasing amount of funds pumped into the Prime Minister’s Department. We do not have comprehensive data for the periods under Dr Mahathir and Abdullah Badawi. But the little data we have available gives us a relative sense of how financing of the department has escalated under Najib.
In 2000, under Mahathir (1989-2003), RM5.2bn or a relatively low 4.6% of the total budget of RM111bn was allocated to the department.
In 2005, under Abdullah Badawi (2003-2009), RM4.1bn or a relatively low 4.0% of the total budget of RM102.5bn was allocated to the same. Apparently, RM7.1bn was channelled the next year, around 4.8% of the total budget.
The big jumps occurred under Najib’s watch. Between 2010 to 2015, the amount varied from RM15bn-20bn, and hovered at 5-7% of the total budget. The allocation reached a peak in 2016, when RM20.6bn or 7.6% of the total budget (RM267bn) was pumped into the department.
Fortunately, this has dropped over the past two years. For 2018, it fell to RM17.43bn or 6.2% of the total budget of RM280bn.
But this is only one facet of the problem. As the allocations to the Prime Minister’s Department have increased, allocations for development have dropped in 2018 to only RM46bn (16% of the total budget), the lowest since Najib came to power. Critical cuts have been made to the allocations for health, education, welfare and security. Just ask the medical personnel, the principals and teachers, the university administrators, and the police force itself!
Significantly, development allocations that ought to be going to the ministries have ended up in the Prime Minister’s Department instead. Such allocations have been categorised as ‘discretionary development allocations’ under the purview of the department. To our knowledge, no details on how these allocations have been spent have been provided to Parliament, let alone to the rakyat. Only broad categories are given as indicated in the table below:
Development prog coordination
Co-ord of poverty eradication prog
Why has the Prime Minister’s Department been put in charge of community restructuring and coordinating development programmes? It has also been put in charge of poverty eradication, instead of, say, the Regional Development Ministry? And of disbursing funds and promoting small projects and people-friendly projects?
And what kind of facilitation requires RM1.5bn for 2017 and more than double that amount for 2018? Are all the goodies being disbursed now – the windfall for the civil servants, the special grants for Indians on the eve of the general election, the BR1M, Teks1M, and so many other goodies – located somewhere under one or another of these projects and programmes? Isn’t this essentially a slush fund?
Only under Najib
It must be stressed that such ‘discretionary development allocations’ for the Prime Minister’s Department were virtually non-existent under Mahathir and Abdullah Badawi.
Former Finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has commented that there were no ‘discretionary development allocations’ previously. As well, all additional spending not budgeted needed the approval of the Ministry of Finance, and so it should be.
The creation of this slush fund makes a mockery of the budgetary process, which is meant to make the government accountable for every ringgit that it spends. After all, it is the rakyat’s money. Whither transparency in the Prime Minister’s Department?
We have three conscientious members of Parliament to thank for monitoring the growth of the Prime Minister’s Department to its current humongous size: Liew Chin Tong, Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad and Wong Chen have asked important questions in Parliament, and posted important statements to keep the public aware of these goings-on. Tahniah to them. We need all three of them back in Parliament.
A democracy is usually defined as a political system in which leaders are elected in free and fair elections involving a multi-party system. Change in government occurs regularly, and these transitions from one government to another are meant to be smooth.
But democracy is also characterised by establishing political institutions which provide checks and balances on one another, disallowing any one person, party or group from capturing these institutions and using them to serve their own ends.
In the case of the Prime Minister’s Department, one sees how it has been used to accumulate power and funds to serve the agenda of the prime minister himself. This has been at the expense of the other ministries in his own government! Funds which ought to have been channelled to ministries and projects that benefit the rakyat have been used to pump up his own slush funds.
Civil society organisations should have a right to express themselves, to assemble, to form groups and to be consulted between elections, especially if we want good governance. They have a right to scrutinise the growth of the Prime Minister’s Department and its accumulation of funds.
After 60-plus years of one-party rule by Umno-BN, most of our institutions have been compromised and abused. They have been misused to control and hoodwink us instead. All the more reason to vote in a new government on 9 May.