When will the people can participate in government budgeting?

Coming this November, our Minister of Finance will be tabling his maiden budget speech, which is the National Budget 2021. It is the biggest budget of all in the country, as it determines how the government funds are spent in each category.

However, if we go down to the streets and ask the regular citizens whether they know about our national budget or how do they benefit from it, I believe we’ll get a lot of blank stares and question marks.

Very few people actually understand what it is all about. And when they do not understand, how can we expect that the national budget is tailored for the people’s needs? Most of the time, the budget is decided from the top, and not from the bottom up.

We are always saying that Malaysia is a democractic country; a country that respects the rights of each citizen. But have we ever thought that we ever have a say in our country’s budget? Do we have the right platform to give ideas or to vote on how government money will be spent?

We don’t. We never have.

Despite a couple of years back, when we started to have the option to give ideas on government budgets through website; we are not really empowered to participate in making decisions regarding the annual budget.

Perhaps, the elected politicians must give themselves more political will to begin at a small level. Begin to create awareness of the importance and empower the people in making decisions for their community.

In our case, I think Member of Parliaments (MP) and State Assemblyman (ADUN) play an important role in making engagement with their constituents, and to get them to participate in giving inputs on government budget.

Participatory budgeting gives citizens real control over where a budget is spent. As such, budgets can be spent in a way which better reflects the strengths, needs and aspirations of the population and can be more effective.

Participatory budgeting allows citizens to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects, and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is spent.

The budgeting that involves the public can be done in several processes:

– Participants or citizens are divided geographically into the areas that they live in.

– Members of Parliament then have to form their team of staff and volunteers with the advice from the Ministry of Finance. State Assemblymen should assist in the efforts whereby they can also garner feedback and inputs for the State Budget concurrently.

– The team that are established in each constituency will use multiple methods to get the ideas from the public including meetings, workshops, town hall sessions, door-to-door visits, public interviews, etc.

– Feedbacks and inputs have to be from individuals as well as local NGOs, religious organizations, trade organizations, etc.

– All proposals and ideas, initiated by the citizens, will then be compiled and submitted to the Ministry of Finance.

– The drafted budget is shared to the public and put for a vote. The government implements the top proposals.

For this, I have to give credit to YB Steven Sim and YB Lee Khai Loon who have executed participatory budgeting in their own constituency. It may not be perfect yet, but it is a good start to empower the citizens and let them feel responsible towards their own living place.

Participatory budgeting empowers people to decide together how to spend public money. The process will strengthen democracy, build stronger communities, and make public budgets more equitable and effective.

The rights of the citizen is not only to vote every 5 years; but to subsequently give feedback and be part of the government’s decision making process.

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 25 August 2020.