THE essence of a good national budget is its ability to address equity and sustainability.
Equity and sustainability would help ensure the common good of the nation even though they might not be perfect in their execution.
One of the fundamental principles of budget equity is in its treatment of healthcare, especially for those most vulnerable.
A robust healthcare system sustains a nation in terms of healthy citizens with an increase in productivity.
While Malaysia has made some strides in healthcare over the years, the current preoccupation of politicians to stay in power at all cost has direct bearing on priorities.
Even though we have passed 60 years of independence, national leaders are still in the conundrum of race-and-religion centred privilege that continues to plague the nation’s priority, especially in the budget, which that tends to mollify race and religious elites.
Obsession with power and control supersedes even the importance of critical human rights such as healthcare.
Budget 2021 is ethnically inclined and unsustainable and deserves to be rejected by people of conscience.
Healthcare, which is regarded as a critical social economic indicator of a progressive society, has been put into regressive budget reduction, while there is an increase in funding for departments like Jasa and Islamic affairs under the Prime Minister’s Department.
While the country is going through a health crisis due to Covid-19, which would place a strain on the budget in dealing with other chronic health issues, Jasa has been allocated RM85.5 million.
Meanwhile, Islamic affairs is allocated RM1.4 billion of taxpayers’ money, an increase from RM1.3 billion in Budget 2020.
You wonder whether that RM1 billion increase could have been channelled to the Ministry of Health.
The reasoning that Jasa is promoting national unity in fighting Covid 19 does not make sense since unity in an authentic sense is reflected in policies of the government and its leaders’ vision of a united society in the context of a pandemic.
You do not need a special allocation for it.
Budget 2021 has seen a reduction in funding for treating critical illness.
According to press reports, the Ministry of Health has reduced its medical budget by 20.5% from RM14.2 billion in 2020 to RM11.3 billion in 2021, making wide-ranging cuts across all healthcare services, including massive 74% decrease for pharmacy and suppliers.
Funding for mental health has also seen a 9.1% reduction (RM31 million) from RM344 million in 2020 to 313 million in 2021.
This is in the context of an increase in the need for mental support for Malaysians who find it difficult to cope with anxiety and stress due loss of livelihood.
Can a nation afford to reduce its health expenditure and built a sustainable and equitable social economy?
Therefore, the Association for Community and Dialogue urges all parliamentarians with conscience to call upon the Perikatan Nasional government to review Budget 2021 by focusing on the essential priorities, since its priorities are ethnocentric, anti-equity and unsustainable.
It ignores the fundamental human rights such as the importance of well-funded healthcare. If it’s not possible for a review, the budget should be rejected. – November 23, 2020.
* Ronald Benjamin is secretary for the Association for Community and Dialogue.