Monday, March 19, 2012

BR1M=BN’S money politics

Jeswan Kaur | March 19, 2012 
Where did the government obtain the additional funds for the programme as only RM1.8 billion was allocated in the budget approved last year?
A meagre RM500 packaged under the guise of Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) might not do the trick in influencing the country’s voters to sway in favour of Barisan Nasional. The alm was nothing more than a trickery, conceived by the federal government to make sure the people’s nambikei or trust is bought at the cheapest price possible.

To hypothesise that the BN government is prihatin or sensitive towards the high cost of living plaguing the rakyat would be wrong; if BN was bona fide in its concern, its chairman and Prime Minister Najb Tun Razak would have more prudent with his monthly electricity and water bills, both amounting to RM160,000 and RM66,000 respectively.

Likewise, if Najib was sincere in wanting to assist the people, he would not have used money from the national purse to finance his daughter’s engagement ceremonies, as claimed by opposition PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli.

Rafizi said he had receipts to prove how RM409,767, which was the cost to hold a luxurious dinner event at a five-star hotel in central Kuala Lumpur, was billed to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

The bill, for an event on June 13 last year, showed that RM18,792 was spent for 36 VIPs and RM309,975 for 862 attendees while handling cost amounted to RM81,000.

Among the dishes in the menu were an array of lavish Wagyu beef, smoked salmon, lobster bisque and scallops.

The receipts, circulated to the media, indicated that the booking was made by one of Najib’s confidant Mohd Po’ad Jelani who was also implicated in another corruption allegation.

Making matters worse was the claim that the PMO had also footed the bill for Najib’s birthday bash. In exposing this unbecoming act of Najib, Rafizi said the premier’s birthday party on June 24 last year cost RM79,053 and was billed to the PMO.

Acccording to the banquent event order from Shangri-La Hotel, which supplied the food, the bill was not only addressed to the PMO but was also billed under the PMO’s account.

Has the PMO become a “Najib and family” entity or does the premier care two hoots about abusing the “privileges” that come his way?

With his own family’s “expenses” unaccounted for, how does the country’s leader expect to lend a helping hand to the needy?

BR1M no trump card for Najib and BN

Did the RM500 aid really reach deserving hands or was it something of a “bonus” given out to just about anyone who had filled up the application form correctly?

Or was the BR1M a political gimmick to pressure the rakyat into voting for BN in the coming general election? Some of the recipients who turned up to collect their vouchers were allegedly shown pictures of opposition party DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang and that of Najib and asked whom they would support in the 13th general election. Does this reflect sincerity on the part of the federal government in helping the rakyat?

Maybe BN was hoping to “use” the BR1M as its trump card to secure hope of making an impressive comeback in the next polls. But looking at the premier’s “breach of trust” as far as public funds go, there is no reason for recipients of the BR1M to accord heartfelt gratitude to BN.

Clearly, the keikhlasan or sincerity behind the RM500 alm is missing. The BR1M is being used as an ammunition by the BN government to bring down its enemy, Pakatan Rakyat.

This was evident when Najib bragged that Pakatan-controlled states – Selangor and Kelantan – have the highest number of households which were allocated aid under BR1M.

The premier said Selangor took up 13% of the national allocation and Kelantan 84%.
“This shows that the government is unbiased towards race, religion and political leanings,” Najib had said.

If indeed the federal government under BN does not discriminate, why does it matter which state received the most number of BR1M? Is the objective via BR1M to offer aid or to make a political statement, that is, to send the message home that both Selangor and Kelantan under the Pakatan-ledership have failed to look after the welfare of its people?

Pertinent question

It is still hard to believe that the BN leadership cares about the rakyat. The conviction is hard to come by, especially when news about Najib’s extragavant lifestyle abounds, that too at the expense of the national coffers.

As of March 1, there were 4.78 million applications for the RM500 aid, of which 3.74 million were approved. Twenty percent of the applications were rejected for incomplete information, among other reasons.

“In total, 59% of households nationwide or 3.8 million households were given the aid. The government spent a total of RM1.92 billion on the programme,” Najib had said during an answer- and-question session in Parliament on March 13.

He also did not rule out the possibility of continuing the BR1M in time to come, all depending on the government’s income.

The premier keeps dismissing claims that the government had used public funds or sought help from the World Bank to implement the BR1M.

The BR1M has also been extended to enable those living in the interiors of Sabah and Sarawak to apply for the aid.

The prompted Azan Ismail (Indera Mahkota-PKR) to raise a pertinent question: where did the government obtain the additional funds for the programme as only RM1.8 billion was allocated in the budget approved last year.

“In the budget, it is stated that RM1.8 billion would be allocated for the programme. But now Najib announced that RM1.92 billion was spent. Where did the government get the extra funding from?

“What’s worse, he is now saying that the deadline may be extended,” Azan said. He said no applications were made for a supplementary budget to meet the additional expenses.

Azan added: “We are not against the programme to assist the poor but one can’t use public funds lackadaisically.” He said a full audit of the BR1M programme was necessary.

Is it therefore wrong to think that the BR1M is yet another form of “money politics” devised by BN in its desperation to win the coming general election, seen as the most challenging ever?

Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.

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