Putrajaya cuts RM45m from Budget 2021 allocations for controversial Jasa unit

Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz speaks during the winding-up debate on the Supply Bill 2021 in the Dewan Rakyat November 26, 2020. ― Bernama pic
Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz speaks during the winding-up debate on the Supply Bill 2021 in the Dewan Rakyat November 26, 2020. ― Bernama pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 — Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri tabled a motion today to halve the allocations for the Special Affairs Department (Jasa) under Budget 2021.

Jasa, a Barisan Nasional-era propaganda unit that was disbanded under Pakatan Harapan, is being revived by the Perikatan Nasional government with a previously proposed allocation of over RM80 million.

After the proposal became a lightning rod for criticism, the PN government rebranded the unit as the Community Communications Department (J-Kom).

Lawmakers approved Abdul Rahim’s motion today via a voice vote.

In tabling the motion, Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri said J-Kom was founded based on the principles of the Federal Constitution and the Rukunegara at its core.

He said the agency’s purpose is to develop the community at a grassroots level, as well as to instill patriotism and community empowerment from a digital aspect.

However, five Opposition MPs stood up, arguing against the necessity of the agency.

The five MPs were Tuaran (Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau), Petaling Jaya (Maria Chin Abdullah), Lembah Pantai (Fahmi Fadzil), Kuantan (Fuziah Salleh) and Jerlun (Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir).

They expressed their concerns that J-Kom was a guise to continue Jasa’s propaganda attempts and argued that other government agencies could disseminate government information, including the Information Department.

“I do not agree with the re-establishment of Jasa or J-Kom or whatever name it is presented in,’ Madius said.

He argued that the government already has a corporate communications unit chief who is aided by the Information Department to explain ministerial policies.

He said dissemination is already being performed by state-owned broadcaster Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) and Kemas at the grassroots level.

Madius also pointed out that each ministry already has its own corporate communications unit as well, adding that the funding for J-Kom meant that there is a reduction in funding for the said units and the Information Department.

He accused the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government of abusing tax money by funnelling it through J-Kom to strengthen its political position.

Madius also called for the funding to be channelled to the Health Ministry instead to bolster efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Maria claimed J-Kom would fan racial politics, affecting unity.

She said that the staff in the agency were also mainly political appointees.

Fuziah also accused J-Kom of being a unit which conducts political missions, insisting it is “masked” as a rebranded agency.

Government backbenchers were fully supportive of J-Kom.

Rompin MP Datuk Hasan Arifin claimed J-Kom helps those in rural areas have up-to-date information, adding that it was impossible for the unit to play a role in the country’s political landscape.

Padang Rengas MP Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz also defended the unit, arguing that while a huge fund must be given to frontliners, the role of other agencies including J-Kom cannot be halted.

“Therefore, I feel that to say all must be given for Covid-19, I feel that would be a problem to us. So other agencies must run and they too need funding.

“Secondly, we hear the views from the Opposition. That is, this Jasa has a stigma. Its name is Jasa and that means it is working for the government. Like my friend from Rompin, I too feel that no matter how much propaganda you use, if the rakyat do not want, they would still reject. So don’t worry. The rakyat are not stupid, the rakyat are smart,” Nazri said.

The matter did not end there.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah came under fire from Opposition MPs during his wind-up when he blamed the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) government — of whom he was a member — of “cruelly” terminating over 700 staff then with Jasa.

“You were in the Cabinet! Have some shame lah. Aren’t you ashamed of betraying?” Jelutong MP RSN Rayer shouted.

“The person who made the decision in the Cabinet and he is now here, shaming his own self,” Puchong MP and Saifuddin’s predecessor, Gobind Singh Deo then interjected.

Saifuddin was foreign minister in the PH Cabinet.  

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