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NOVEMBER 11 — When the 2021 budget was presented last Friday, for the very first time in my life, I was infuriated over a budget. I have been disappointed or elated before but never angry and hurt. This budget has hurt me deeply at a very personal level.
On the surface, it was already an inappropriate budget for so many reasons. People have lost jobs and are struggling to make ends meet and yet, here we have a budget suggesting that the people dip into their future old age savings as an alternative.
For one, it was insensitive and irresponsible and for another, I would rather the civil service and our underworked, over bloated cabinet take pay cuts to soothe the pain.
I would also have expected less spending everywhere. Why Jasa now?? Why would religious matters want more spending money at this particularly difficult times? I am a spiritual person myself and I am wondering if it isn’t the nature of spiritual matters to be especially humble and giving when times are hard.
The list goes on but worst of all, this budget has communicated in “ringgit and sen” that people like me, who are not Bumiputra, have no essential productive value above that of about 2 per cent. This is a blatant racist policy being articulated in the worst possible manner.
Like scraps thrown at stray dogs, this budget has made us feel less than human. Race has always been a part of our socio-political landscape for decades but this kind of miserly allocation has never been our Malaysian way and reeks of intolerance of a particularly unusual nature.
We can conjecture and gripe but that would not be a reasonable thing to do. At the core of this unhappiness sits the issue of “race.” I have never understood our country’s preoccupation with race. For the last 50 years it has worn race coloured glasses and lazily interpreted every policy through race.
Housing, government employment opportunities, promotional opportunities, university applications and business opportunities have never been easy for non-Bumiputras. Yet, we have accepted all of that for the overall betterment of the whole. But this latest 2 per cent allocation comes across as the second last nail in the coffin of our forefathers. The last nail will be when we get nothing at all.
I know speak for most of us. We have all been deeply hurt by this outright dismissal of our significance to this country. We know we are valuable. We know that our forefathers have contributed immensely to building this nation from its roots.
They built the roads, the railways, worked the mines, fell the trees and cleared the forests to make way for development. We, on our part have served in many other ways and all through, we have proudly paid billions in taxes because this is our country and that is what good citizens do.
What our government has missed for decades by looking through its “race coloured” glasses is that the problem is not really between the Bumiputras and the non-Bumiputras. It is really about the gap between the rich and the poor. So instead of making the budget about race, they might want to try to focus on reducing this gap.
Many years ago, I was forced to remove my own race coloured glasses when I accidentally took a wrong turn and found myself in the parking lot of several blocks of low cost flats full of Chinese dwellers.
A short distance away, a group of scrappy children were playing amidt scavenger crows picking on litter. Like anywhere in the world, poverty has these similar bleak attributes. But what surprised me most was to know that not all Chinese lived in bungalows or in gated and guarded communities.
In the years that followed, I learnt that poverty comes in all shades and colours and that it does not come pinned to the shirt sleeves of people of a particular race or caste.
Our government needs to pull our disintegrating country back to the centre by addressing the real issues of poverty accurately. It needs to focus on narrowing this gap between the rich and the poor because research has shown that the bigger this gap, the worse the social and health problems of a country.
A budget that increases spending specifically for the Bumiputras will only increase inequality by providing opportunities for the rich Bumiputras to be richer, which will put us back right where we started.
This budget could have been an opportunity for this government to rise in strength by targeting the B40s instead of the “Bumiputras.” Although there are many Indians and Chinese who are living below the poverty line, by sheer statistics, it will be clear that the bulk of the B40s are indeed the Bumiputras.
This could have been an opportunity to start a new Malaysian rhetoric; one that reduces racial divisiveness; that educates and leads our people towards a new direction; that shows character, integrity and courage to take the bull by its horns.
Even more significant, would have been the opportunity to take the wind out of the opposition’s sails. In one clean sweep, this government could have become a more deserving government for all of its people .
Deep down, I think every Malaysian knows that no one race can thrive peacefully without the other. We need everyone to be an integral part of the entire Malaysian landscape.
It is time we threw out those outdated race coloured glasses and looked at our issues from other perspectives. No one race can really progress if the others continue to live in poverty. We all need to rise together.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer(s) or organisation(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.