Zafrul Evaded ‘Big Picture’ In Budget’23, ‘Speech’ For The Rich

The long readout of allocations — or goodies — could have been attached to Tengku Zafrul’s Budget 2023 Speech!

Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz spent two hours in Parliament on Friday (07 Oct), from 4pm to 6pm, on reading the Budget 2023 “Speech”. It mostly consists of a list of allocations — goodies is the word misused every year — including comparatively grudging paltry sums, as usual, for Sabah and Sarawak.

Budget 2023 remains, like the national annual budgets before, for the rich. Besides Sabah and Sarawak, there are also grudging paltry sums for the poor.

It has been argued every National Budget Day that these Territories, countries on their own, are being treated worse than the relatively physically smaller states in Malaya.

Anyone who has visited Sabah and Sarawak will find virtually no hint of Malaysia in these Territories. They will find themselves in two worlds, all on their own, separated by the tiny oil-rich Sultanate of Brunei, an absolute monarchy paying lip service to the rule of law, whose independence remains a blessing in disguise for its two larger neighbours.

Brunei, among the wealthiest countries in the world, represents what Sabah and Sarawak could have been on their own, if they were not bogged down by Malaysia and the problems in Malaya. The oft-cited Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA’63), observed in the breach by the Federal government, isn’t the be-all and end-all of life.

The Borneo Territories — Sabah and Sarawak — remain the poorest states in Malaysia since 16 Sept 1963. They are even poorer than Kelantan and Terengganu, the poorest states in Malaya.

It’s a toss every year between Sabah and Sarawak for the dubious distinction of being the poorest in the country.

World Bank reports have documented the poverty in Malaysian Borneo just as it has traced the history of colonialism in British India and the Hindu evil caste system which imposed poverty on countless generations for thousands of years.

The list of allocations, the nitty gritty details, could have been attached to the Budget 2023 Speech. The finance minister alas had virtually nothing else to say in the Speech beyond the list of payments.

We also do not know how the RM372.3b Budget 2023 was further divided beyond RM272.3b for operating expenditure, RM95b for development expenditure, RM5b for Covid-19 fund and RM2b for contingency savings.

Development Expenditure

The RM95b may well have been carried over from Budget 2022 and from previous years. If so, we don’t know the actual development expenditure for 2023.

It has been disclosed in the past, perhaps inadvertently, that no more than perhaps 50 per cent of the development expenditure for a year is new. The rest consists of projects carried forward from the previous year/s.

Zafrul should have elaborated on this point in his Budget 2023 Speech but alas there was no Speech. He was all about creating a “feel good” atmosphere by rattling off figures on “goodies” in between gulping down water.

Macroeconomic Indicators

Zafrul’s Speech should have focussed and elaborated on macroeconomic indicators including the global economic outlook, markets including India and China, global supply chain issues and international logistics and a whole list of issues including financial policy, taxes, national debt burden, Ringgit Malaysia (RM), relations with IMF, World Bank, ADB and IDB; the status of the GLCs and GLICs and their effects on the stock market; and the story on 1MDB with the finance ministry. We need the due diligence and forensic accounting on the 1MDB money trail, whether on political donation or other aspects.

Other areas include rising prices and inflation, welfare policy, poverty eradication, cash handouts, women, youth, vulnerable groups like the Orang Asal, Orang Asli, stateless, PTI and refugees; innovation, education, foreign labour, training labour, the lifelong learning concept, getting Malaysia out of the middle-income trap based on cheap foreign labour and the low end of the economy, labour replacement technology in the workplace, defence, and internal security, among others.

Now, we may have to wait for the Annual Bank Negara Report, if there are some answers coming.


All politics, it’s said, are about restructuring the distribution of revenue and resources, and restructuring the distribution of political power. In India, it has been done for starters by outlawing the Hindu evil caste system and redressing historical grievances.

The political power structure in Malaysia, an Equal Partnership of Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya on paper, remains lopsided, being observed in the breach. Sabah’s demand for 40 per cent of the revenue collected in the Territory, as stipulated in the Constitution, remains elusive.

During the runup to GE14, then DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng publicly pledged that both Sabah and Sarawak would each get 50 per cent of the revenue collected in the two Territories and 20 per cent of oil royalty.

After GE14, Guan Eng said that Mahathir Mohamad who again became Prime Ministerial Dictator did not agree with the figures. Colonialism, which has been outlawed under international law since World War II in 1945, has been defined as a criminal enterprise based on a nation accumulating capital at the expense of subject nations ruled by the former.

Therein lies the dilemma in Sabah and Sarawak.

Political Will

If there’s no change in the amount of revenue, resources and power taken by the Borneo Territories, it can be blamed on the lack of political will in the Federal government in Putrajaya, the absence of leadership in Sabah and Sarawak, both Territories not speaking the same language, and the imposition of proxy governments in Malaysian Borneo.

In Sarawak, the proxy government has not changed since 1966 when Chief Minister Stephen Kalong Ningkan was ousted by an emergency declaration engineered by the Federal government. No Orang Asal has been Chief Minister of Sarawak since Penghulu Tawi Sli who replaced Ningkan briefly. It has been one proxy after another.

In Sabah, no Orang Asal has been Chief Minister since Huguan Siou (Paramount Chief) Joseph Pairin Kitingan was ousted in Mar 1994 through three defections engineered by Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim in cahoots with local Chinese moneybags (names withheld) in Sarawak and Labuan.

It must be stated that Chief Minister Musa Aman, who was ousted on Sat 12 May 2018 by a ragtag bunch including PTI (pendatang tanpa izin or illegal immigrants), claims Orang Asal heritage on his mother’s side. His father, Pathan from southern Afghanistan, came to Sabah by way of the British Indian Army in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India. — NMH

About the writer: Longtime Borneo watcher Joe Fernandez keeps a keen eye on Malaysia as a legal scholar (jurist). He was formerly Chief Editor of Sabah Times. He is not to be mistaken for a namesake previously with Daily Express. References to his blog articles can be found here.

The points expressed in this article are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of NMH.

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Joe Fernandez
Longtime Borneo watcher Joe Fernandez has been writing for many years on both sides of the Southeast Asia Sea. He should not be mistaken for a namesake formerly with the Daily Express in Kota Kinabalu. JF keeps a Blog under FernzTheGreat on the nature of human relationships.

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