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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Military procurement is more important?

During the era of Mao Zedong, there was a great saying "rather nukes than trousers". However, it has turned into a negative adjective later.

Of course Malaysia will not turn into such kind of country. But according to the annual report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the total imports of weapons for Malaysia over the past five years has soared by 722% compared to the previous five years. Even the Defense Minister does not deny it.

Do we need to buy so many weapons? Would the country still have enough of resources to develop education and promote economic transformation after the budget has been spent on military equipment?

Malaysia has been running a budget deficit for 13 years and it is a record-breaking deficit this year, amounting over RM51.1 billion, or 7.4% of gross domestic product (GDP). The central government debt has also made a record increase by 18.3%, reaching RM362.5 billion. It accounts for 52.4% of gross national product (GNP). Averagely, each Malaysian is bearing RM13,426 of debt.

As the financial situation has been deteriorating, the government is trying everything possible to cut expenses, including reducing 20% of school funding, reducing sugar subsidies and it is also planning to increase fuel prices. Schools will now have to bear the cost of utilities and the burden of the poor has been increased. It is really hard to understand why the government still increases military spending.

Singapore's military procurement grew by only 146% and Indonesia grew by 84%, but why has Malaysia grown by 722%, the highest among the three? Old weapons need to be replaced but does it need to surge by seven times? There is no war in Southest Asia, and there is no sign showing an outburst of conflict.

ASEAN has already signed the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone with many countries and Malaysia has also been protected by the Five Power Defence Arrangements. Basically, we are not facing any safety problem. But Malaysia has bought two submarines, six frigates and 26 fighter aircraft over the past five years.

Malaysia spent about RM3.4 billion to buy 18 Su fighters and RM4.6 billion to buy two submarines.

However, the military procurement is not transparent enough. When they bought the Scorpion submarine, there was a dispute in the Parliament over whether the RM530 million was paid for the commission or service charge. At that time, the government pledged that the quality of the submarine was the best in the world. But our first submarine was unable to dive due to technical defect.

The Budget 2010 allocations totalled RM191.5 billion, of which RM138.3 billion is for operating expenditure and RM53.2 billion for development expenditure. But a total of RM11 billion has been allocated for defence. How much money is left for development, education, welfare, medicine, as well as research and development (R&D)?

A total of RM30 billion allocated on education seems to be a great amount of money but it only accounts for 15.67% of the total expenditure. In Singapore, education spending has always been accounted for 20% of its total government expenditure. Meanwhile, the Malaysian R&D expenditure only accounts for 0.6% of GDP. It is relatively low compared to advanced countries.

How easy the economic transformation could be with such a serious imbalance in resources allocations? (By LIM SUE GOAN/Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE/Sin Chew Daily)