Ministerial tactic under fire

NEWS of a minister cutting funding and terminating all projects in local councils not under Barisan Nasional has sparked a controversy.

Last week, a letter was leaked that Tan Sri Noh Omar had told the Ministry for Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government, to halt all "BP1" projects in parliamentary seats held by the Opposition.

On Thursday, Noh Omar clarified by saying he only asked for such projects in Barisan Nasional seats to be prioritised, not a total cancellation as initially mentioned.

I'm not sure how the minister sees this as a better statement to make to the millions of Malaysians living in the Klang Valley which is predominantly under opposition lawmakers. In fact, the singling out of only "opposition-controlled seats" means every single state capital except for Kangar and Johor Baru will be affected.

Instead, the minister says that this was caused by the lack of funds budgeted to the Local Government Ministry. According to the Forecast Expenditure report on the Ministry of Finance website, the Local Government Ministry saw its development budget slashed from RM1.696 billion to RM1.665 billion – a reduction of merely RM31 million for 2017.

The Budget 2017 document shows cuts clearly being done with regard to the development of social housing, but nothing else. Thus, how can the minister be saying that money is tight?

BP1 projects, according to a slideshow from the Local Government Ministry's website, are minor projects inclusive of everything from fixing or upgrading a road or a drain, all the way up to the construction of public toilets and food courts.

From January to September 2016, a separate slideshow on the ministry's website shows a record of 2,428 such projects nationwide, totalling RM364.5 million. For opposition-controlled states, Selangor had 409 such projects valued at RM28.2 million, Penang had 55 projects with a value of RM3.72 million, and Kelantan had 150 such projects totalling RM22.25 million.

Thus, any one of these projects, which have yet to be completed, can be put on hold. And this is why what Noh Omar did is a mistake because it gives the Opposition the ammunition to blame the ministry and him for whatever may come.

If any area now suffers a flood, Noh Omar is likely to blamed for stopping the funding to repair the drains. If an accident were to occur in an opposition-controlled area due to a pothole, Noh Omar is likely to be faulted because local councils have no funds to resurface roads.

He is also likely to be blamed if road crossings are not upgraded thus endangering more lives.

Noh Omar will even be blamed if street lamps are not built or replaced.

In other words, the minister is literally risking floods, accidents and even injury and death, for what seems to be a political campaign to prove the Opposition is inept. And how badly that has backfired.

There are many things done in the name of politics, but this one is too disgusting to stomach because it is a gamble involving physical harm. With the letter now made public, one must ask – can the federal government be held liable for withholding funds in such a way that it led to accidents and even damage to property during natural disasters such as floods?

It is worth a check.

This act by the minister is not due to lack of funds. A RM30 million cut in Budget 2017 does not equal a prioritising of BN-controlled seats, it should instead focus on what and where infrastructure construction, repairs and upgrades are needed urgently.

This tactic shows the immaturity of Malaysian politics as a whole, and the use of public funds in such a way for political gain. While states such as Selangor and Penang may have enough state-backed funds to cope with such a shortfall, it will be dangerous for Malaysians living in other parliamentary seats not under the direct control of the state government under the Opposition.

I'm wondering how Kuala Lumpur City Hall is going to cope with such a ministerial tactic which affects Noh Omar's own colleague.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: