In many ways, it was a Budget for Malaysian families. It struck a chord for many Malaysian wage earners who have to juggle with their household expenses and worry about everyday matters like housing, transportation and safety.
For parents with schoolgoing children, they would probably welcome the news that from next year, the textbook loan scheme would be provided to all students regardless of their families’ income and with no restriction on the number of eligible children.
That wasn’t all. Abdullah said that effective 2008, there would be no more annual fee for primary and secondary schools. Last year, the Government abolished examination fees for the PMR, SPM and STPM.
Many of us, in our 40s and 50s, can probably recall that some of our parents could not afford to pay for our examination fees and the number of papers we sat for our exams was based on what we could afford.
Even after we passed our examinations, the number of universities and colleges was limited. Today, we have lost count of the number of our public universities and private colleges with twinning programmes, with young Malaysians able to get foreign university degrees without even setting foot overseas in many disciplines.
To encourage participation in school uniformed units, the Government is providing a free uniform for one activity for school students from families with a monthly income of RM1,000 and below. It would have been better if the ceiling was higher as for many in the major towns, even a RM2,000 household income is a struggle.
But the most important item was the Government’s move to make owning a house affordable, especially those without fixed income, such as farmers and small traders. The setting up of a fund to provide guarantees to two banks, with an initial allocation of RM50mil, is unprecedented.
Abdullah went one step further by announcing that EPF contributors could make monthly withdrawals for the financing of their home loan repayments, which is a major burden for most of us.
If the other goodies seem to benefit only the lower income, the home loan repayment scheme would help the majority of middle-income Malaysians. It would be a big step towards improving their quality of life.
This is a major move which would benefit the five million EPF contributors, cutting across all races and religions. This is truly a Malaysian gift in the first Budget after the country’s 50th independence, and is expected to involve up to RM9.6bil annually for the purchase of houses. That aside, RM381mil has been set aside for the implementation of low-cost housing programmes.
It was good to hear the Budget committing to a comprehensive public transportation system, including rail and bus network in major cities, with over RM12bil to improve the traffic system in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
It is important to note that the people’s complaints of increasing crime have been taken seriously by the Government. A sum of RM6bil has been allocated for the police.
The key words used by Abdullah were “police presence” and “visibility” – that means we hope to see policemen on the beat or in their patrol cars, not just stopping motorists by the roadsides, which, unfortunately, seems to be the perception of many Malaysians.
With an additional 2,000 cars, 1,900 motorcycles and 1,600 laptops, this would help the police fight crime more effectively.
The use of London-style camera surveillance would also go a long way in helping the police to eliminate crime as photographs would be recorded more effectively. To supplement the network cameras in busy streets, shopping areas, airports, bus and train stations, studies have shown that improved lighting in crime-prone areas are essential.
As the plan involves recruiting 60,000 new personnel over the next five years, the force should seriously consider holding walk-in interviews in designated places such as schools, shopping complexes and community halls.
The Higher Education Ministry has adopted such a method and has successfully recruited many lecturers. Such walk-in interviews also mean more transparency. There is no reason why the police, with the support of Chinese associations, cannot hold such recruitment exercises to encourage more Chinese to join the force.
A racially balanced, decently paid police force with fair promotion prospects that would attract good talent is essential as policing becomes more sophisticated. It means recruiting graduates in accountancy, law, chemistry, forensic science and information technology,
Without doubt, it has been a Budget with plenty for all, focusing on the bread-and-butter issues. It will be hard not to think of it as an election budget.