The Case for BN Perak: A Case for Capacity Building

The 2012 Perak Budget was passed last week with minimal fuss – criticisms of it being a deficit budget and an election sweetener were all the Opposition had to go with.

And in some respects, they cannot be faulted too much for that lack of substantive critique. The Budget surpassed a number of markers that make the label “people-friendly budget” a fairly easy one to sell, overused as it might be in recent times.

At a total of RM915.26 million, it stands as the highest ever budget for the silver state. In and of itself, that figure does not say much. But compared to other states, this amount is large. Even Penang, Pakatan’s crown jewel, tabled a 2012 budget of RM920 million. And consider this. Outside KL, Penang has the largest GDP per capita in the country at RM33, 456 which is more than double Perak’s RM16, 088.

What we have then, are two states with an almost identical budget size – and both incidentally are deficit budgets – and yet one is clearly starting from a clear position of relative prosperity. We can infer a number of things. First, Perak’s revenues appear to be on the up and there has also been good management of revenues for such a large budget to be possible. From Vale to Toyo, investments into the state have certainly increased significantly under Zambry’s leadership – with only that minor embarrassment in May over the Bukit Merah earth-mining information discord acting as a blip in an otherwise stellar year.

Secondly, the budget comparison also suggests that the state government has room, capacity and intention to generate income and distribute the wealth back to the people. Certainly at a per capita income of RM16 thousand, there is much to be done in Perak before it reaches the heights of those living in Penang or Selangor. But if, among other things, it wants to be part of the Greater KL gig, then per capita income must rise.

That commitment is certainly reflected in the details of the budget, with over RM321 million or 35 percent allocated for development purposes. Compare this with the budget under the opposition a couple of years ago when the figure stood at just 17 percent, and this tells a story of where each party’s priorities are.

But beyond the headline figures, the type of expenditures contained in the budget tells an even clearer story about the philosophy of development and wealth distribution that Zambry espouses. This was not a budget of handouts. Sure, there were things like the RM2,000 incentive for teachers but for the most part, ‘development’ in the budget meant productive expenditure that promise to yield returns in the long run.

In this respect, one can look at the RM31mil set aside for the education sector, involving purchasing of equipment, facility and education loan – amounting to close to 10 percent of the overall expenditure for development. This type of development expenditure is rightly lauded for if Perak is to be part of the national story of a high-income nation, nothing is more important that capacity building. The days of handouts and simple transfer of wealth are over. When speaking of moving up the value chain, it is now absolutely about developing a people able to generate further wealth through knowledge and skill.

And ultimately this is why this Perak’s 2012 budget is most impressive. Far from a quick fix to win votes, it outlines a long-term vision for the state, a vision that can only be achieved with the right governance over time. From a political aspect, this suggests that Zambry is already looking beyond the next elections. He has always exuded supreme confidence in his own ethos of leadership which is less overtly political, but a lot more substantive. And by reflecting that ethos in the budget, he may have inadvertently proven the opposition’s concern to be true – this is an election budget. But an election budget that puts a strong case to the people in favour of a Zambry-led BN government – a government who seeks to be judged by both its track record and further plans in generating wealth for the state and the people. One hopes this type of case will trump the case of polemical politicking that unfortunately still defines the crew on the other side of the Dewan.


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