Since the tabling of 2021 federal government budget, the revival of Jabatan Hal Ehwal Khas (Jasa) has caught public attention and was widely criticised.
Although the majority of Barisan Nasional leaders agreed with the move to revive Jasa, they showed hesitation in allocating the astronomical sum of RM85.5 million to the agency amidst this Covid-19 pandemic crisis.
Many of them criticised the allocation for Jasa as way too big compared to the ones given during the BN administration. However, the truth is, we may have been fooled by what was shown on budget documents.
Former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak spoke self-righteously in his parliamentary debate last week on the RM85.5 million allocation to Jasa. He claimed that the four-fold increase, compared to BN’s Jasa, is unjustifiable and hence angered the people.
At first, I, too, believed at that time that Perikatan Nasional (PN) has increased the budget for Jasa by many folds compared to the RM30 million in Budget 2018, which was tabled by BN. However, thorough research revealed the truth behind the figures and numbers written in the budget documents.
The Pakatan Harapan government dissolved Jasa in October 2018. According to media reports then, about 300 permanent staff would be absorbed into other agencies, as they were career civil servants.
Meanwhile, Umno man Faisal Ismail Aziz, who led Jasa after Mohd Puad Zarkashi, resigned as director, claimed that about 800 contract staff lost their jobs following the dissolution of Jasa.
Therefore, the number of staff employed under Jasa was definitely not 272 as shown in the Budget 2018 document. The question then is, where did BN government hide all the expenses of the 800 contract staff?
Comparing the Budget 2018 tabled by BN and the Budget 2019 tabled by Harapan, I discovered that the “Contract Staff Emolument” under the Communications and Multimedia Ministry was reduced from RM52.37 million (2018) to RM605,600 (2019). In other words, it was a significant RM51.76 million or 99 percent reduction.
Jasa had obviously gone through a structural reform after Najib came into power. Najib succeeded Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in April 2009. It was obvious that he was not in time to change the Budget 2010 massively. In his first budget as prime minister and finance minister, Jasa was allocated RM54.86 million.
The figure was, however, slashed to RM21.75 million in the Budget 2011, a year after Najib came into power. It seemed as if Najib reduced the size of Jasa. In actual fact, he had creatively moved the budget elsewhere.
The item of “Contract Staff Emolument” was first placed under the then Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture in the Budget 2011; the amount was a huge RM71.19 million.
The real meat of Jasa’s budget…
From 2011 to 2017, the allocation to Jasa had been kept in between RM21 million to RM24 million. This allocation only increased to RM30 million in Budget 2018. The real meat of Jasa’s budget, however, was moved to the “Contract Staff Emolument” section mentioned above.
Between the same period, the allocation for Contract Staff Emolument was reduced from more than RM70 million to about RM50 million.
The last figure for this item, before Jasa was disbanded, was RM52.37 million in 2018. Overall, between 2011 and 2018, the Najib administration secretly spent an average of over RM80 million for Jasa but diverted our attention by hiding the real figures in the budget documents.
Nevertheless, not all contract staff under the Communications and Multimedia Ministry were employed for Jasa nor to do Jasa-related work. The ministry, like all other ministries, has an allocation for contract staff to do all sorts of ministry work.
Therefore, the allocation for contract staff emolument was kept during the Harapan administration but was only allocated a mere RM605,600.
In summary, it is very clear that after examining the past budgets, Jasa was indeed given more than what was written in the book or claimed by Najib, shamelessly, in the Parliament last week.
By comparing the staff number announced by former Jasa director and the figures on the budget document, we can ascertain that the Najib administration had also secretly allocated about RM80 million annually to operate the political propaganda outfit by using people’s money.
It is totally understandable why the PN government decided to revive the infamous Jasa. They must have thought that Jasa would save PN from collapsing, given the experience of Harapan, which fell in less than two years because the latter had dissolved Jasa.
However, PN must have forgotten that the BN regime was defeated in 2018, even though BN had been secretly spending tens of millions in Jasa.
This is not the time to engage in propaganda work. Malaysians are facing a global pandemic, a record economic crisis and a tumultuous political instability due to the treacherous Langkah Sheraton.
The role of the government in these crucial times is to protect lives, save lives and secure a national reconciliation.
Nothing less will do to save Malaysia and Malaysians at this juncture, and definitely not spending RM85.5 million in a political propaganda unit which will further divide Malaysians. – Malaysiakini
The views expressed here are strictly those of former journalist, advocate for media literacy and DAP MP for Kluang, Wong Shu Qi.