THE revised Budget 2023 is just not another budget. It was not merely introduced because a new government has come into existence.
There is a different theoretical and philosophical basis for the new budget announced by Prime Minister-cum-Finance Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in the Parliament yesterday (Feb 24).
The budget has received mixed reactions from various quarters – but by and large – it has been hailed as expansionary and pragmatic.
Unlike the other earlier budgets, Budget 2023 is different in kind and scope. Knowing where Anwar is coming from, he opted for a budget that can cut across ethnicity and race without denying them.
All other earlier budgets were very much anchored in race and religion to the extent they mirrored the nature and extent of racial and religious divisions in the country.
Of course, there is no running away from the deeply embedded structures of race and religion, but a start has to be made even though it might be weighed down by these twin inter-connected variables.
The challenge for Anwar and his Cabinet colleagues was how to come up with the Budget 2023 to escape the entrapment of the past.
The last budget introduced in October 2022 – just before the 15th General Election (GE15) – by the former Barisan Nasional (BN) government was populist one. It was meant to garner support for UMNO/BN by over-emphasising on race and religion with some concessions to non-Malays here and there.
No racial bias
However, the budget introduced by Anwar has all the trapping of a non-populist budget that seeks to address the social and economic gaps in the country.
The budget mentions the word Bumiputera once or twice more in relation to economic consolidation and rationalisation of foundations. The non-Malays were hardly mentioned by way of special allocations.
However, the expenditures and development allocations under the budget takes full cognisance of the affected groups whether they are Bumiputera or non-Bumiputera.
The Budget 2023 might not be great budget certainty not under the weight of massive debts to the range of 1.5 trillion ringgit and not to speak of the embedded nature of corruption that has penetrated all corners of the society.
A few years back, both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank remarked that Malaysia had lost more than RM3 tril due to corruption.
If I am not wrong, Budget 2023 was introduced to address serious socio-economic gaps arising from debts mainly due to corruption and other forms of financial misdeeds.
I recall that in my one or two conversations with Anwar in the past, he was deeply troubled by the over-attention to ethnicity and religion.
His counter point was simply this: policies and measures introduced in the country without an ethnic bias might end up benefiting all Malaysians regardless of ethnicity or religion.
I think if I am not wrong, Anwar wants to impart this message by way of the Budget 2023.
Not a populist approach
Given this implicit notion, why politicise ethnicity and religion unnecessarily? Of course, there is no running away from ethnicity and religion.
They have to be addressed carefully and judiciously. There is no necessity to read much into Budget 2023 – it is a significant attempt to address the social, economic and financial problems by taking a non-politicised approach.
It is not an ideal approach but a pragmatic one that engenders the thinking that the considerations of the welfare of all Malaysians might not be a zero-sum game.
Theoretically, Budget 2023 might not be just a short-term initiative to address the serious social and economic gaps in the country among the different races.
It provides a policy framework to re-envision the development trajectory for a deeply divided societies like Malaysia. An approach that has long bedeviled other more sectarian approaches to development.
In brief, Budget 2023 is just not another budget but a development approach that seeks to go beyond the narrow confines of race and religion.
I support the Budget 2023. – Feb 25, 2023
Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is the state assemblyman for Perai. He is Also Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.