Prioritising development of Sabah and Sarawak among think tanks’ wish list for Budget 2022

PETALING JAYA: The government should focus on developing Sabah and Sarawak and include other initiatives to help the country recover and prosper in Budget 2022, says two think tanks

The Institute for Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (Insap) and independent research institute Bait Al-Amanah made the proposal based on their findings during a Budget 2022 online stakeholders’ roundtable.

“We beseech the government to prioritise the development of Sabah and Sarawak in Budget 2022 by providing equitable federal budget allocation to both states,” said both think tanks in a joint statement on Wednesday (Sept 22).

“In pursuing balanced growth and inclusiveness, it is imperative to improve basic infrastructure for accessibility, including electricity, internet access, and transportation facilities in rural Sabah and Sarawak,” they added.

Both think tanks said that there is a need to boost investment in downstream activities of higher value-added industries towards greater economic opportunities and job creation in Sabah and Sarawak.

They also exhorted the government to implement gender-responsive budgeting to ensure that gender empowerment is taken into account in planning Budget 2022, adding that there should be an increase in financial investment in support services for local domestic violence victims and for there to be efforts to combat gender-based violence.

“We need to uphold gender-equitable and disability-inclusive digital accessibility in education and employment among others. Additionally, we support an expansion of upskilling, reskilling, and education programmes for women to improve employment opportunities,” they added.

The groups also called for civil service reform against complacency and mediocrity, adding that they are also advocating for an improvement in the public procurement system towards transparency and accountability.

In addition, they want stronger and more holistic incentives to drive the nation’s economic reopening towards recovery.

“We urge the government to extend the wage subsidy programme and provide more grants and funding support for SMEs as the backbone of the nation’s economy,” they said.

Apart from that, both think tanks said that they support long-term reskilling training opportunities to help SMEs in their journey towards digital transformation.

They also advocate for targeted initiatives for the hardest hit industries, especially for the tourism sector through the setting up of a tourism infrastructure fund and the opening of travel bubbles to revive the local tourism industry.

“As we move from pandemic to endemic, we support the call for a strategic reopening of international borders as a strong signal that Malaysia is still a choice destination for economic, trade, travel, and social convergence,” they said.

The two groups also touched on reprioritising food security through expanding investment in agricultural technology, and building a “comprehensive, continuous and responsive social protection system” to alleviate the vulnerable groups during this crisis, including the M40 families who have lost their sources of income.

Both think tanks also said that the pandemic has brought to light the deep-rooted systemic dysfunctions and structural problems that have been present in our nation for decades.

“In planning for Budget 2022, we need to proactively and diligently commit to reforms by placing people at the centre, in alignment with the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals,” said both think tanks.

“With a strong desire to create the right economic environment for Malaysia to recover and prosper, we hope that the proposals put forth will be taken into consideration for a more holistic and innovative Budget 2022,” they added.