Schools, services hit as public expenditure cut by up to 15p

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 11 The education system is suffering cuts in subsidies for school uniform supplies and canteen food while teachers forgo training courses as attempts to reduce government expenditure begin to bite. An estimated 5,000 contract workers have also been asked to go and civil servants may soon have to see a reduction in overtime pay.

The Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) has revealed that government agencies have had their expenditure reduced by between ten and 15 per cent since early last month, with some even having to reduce their expenditure by up to 20 per cent.

The budget cuts come as the government, which is grappling with bringing down a budget deficit of over seven per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), re-introduced an apparent austerity drive after the prime minister unveiled the 2010 Budget last year.

Cuepacs President Omar Osman told The Malaysian Insider that no formal memo has been circulated since the expenditure cuts began last month but he understands that on average, the cuts have been between ten and 15 per cent.

For some government departments, the cuts could be above 15 per cent depending on the role and function of the agency, he said. Based on meetings with public service departments, we were told that the steps taken to be thrifty was to reduce costs as what was done more than ten years ago during the Asian financial crisis.

Omar believes that many agencies have started cutting down on the use of contract staff as a result.

These contract workers have been working for a long time, some for as long as ten years or more but they are being let go, he said. Up to December 2009, about 5,000 contract staff have been suspended and their services not renewed because of the need to cut operating costs.

According to Omar, there are also agencies that have reduced their overtime pay.

There are agencies that are giving replacement off days instead of money for overtime work, said Omar. In these situations, we request

that staff that are not paid overtime allowances to do part time work instead of unpaid overtime work.

The reduction of courses and training have apparently also begun and in some agencies it is being done internally as compared with hotels

and other off-site locations previously.

In fact, there are some organisations that do not prepare drinks and snack food except for mineral water when they have meetings… in fact the number of meetings have also dropped, he said.

In a memo circulated early last month, Treasury Secretary General Tan Sri Wan Abdul Azi Wan Abdullah directed finance officials in each agency to ensure public expenditure is done carefully, with wisdom, and that they get value for money.

Wan Abdul Azi says that this is because the allocations for 2010 experienced a drop of 11.2 per cent as compared with the allocation for 2009. The execution of programmes , activities or projects now need to be in line with the total approved allocation. All expenditure has to be planned carefully so as not to exceed the allocation and prevent wastage, he said.

Wan Abdul Azi also said that any expenses last year that have not been paid for or any new expenses need to be borne through savings from the current year or done as a trade-off with the Dasar Sedia Ada policy.

Any requests for additional allocations will not be approved except in pressing cases, said Wan Abdul Azi.

Omars views were shared by the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP).

NUTP President Hashim Adnan said that while the average cuts in expenditure ranged from ten to 15 per cent, some organisations suffered cutbacks as much as 50 to 100 per cent.

I say 50 to 100 per cent because, for example, in some schools, the uniforms for uniformed bodies was reduced by a lot, in fact, in some schools, it was not supplied at all, he told The Malaysian Insider.

This has resulted in some students not receiving uniforms, for example, for the Scouts, because the schools have cut 100 per cent of the allocation… these are some examples of the impact the expenditure cuts are having.

Hashim also claimed that the allocations for food on Saturdays and Sundays at school hostels have also been trimmed.

Students are encouraged to go home on the weekends. The situation has caused some parents to be uneasy, he said.

The most serious impact, says Hashim, is that courses and seminars for teachers have been either reduced or frozen.

Some of the courses that were advertised recently were cancelled at the last minute due to the directive to reduce costs, he said.

Hashim sees the cuts in expenditure as a temporary measure but said that at the same time the Education Ministry is spending a lot, citing as an example the allocations announced for the 20 high performance schools recently.

Even though this is a positive step, but it is not suitable for the current situation where the economy does not permit it… it would be better if we use the allocations for the 20 high performance schools to assist all schools that need the financial help, he said.