WWF-Malaysia’s Statement on Budget 2018
Petaling Jaya: The Budget 2018 statement by the Prime Minister contained a broad range of initiatives to provide relief to the rakyat from the increasing cost of living and to work towards long-term visions like Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50). The Government must certainly be commended for addressing the needs of the especially vulnerable in society through financial assistance. However, many of the issues the rakyat faces today stems from a degraded and neglected natural environment. It is therefore disappointing that we did not hear specific allocations for protecting and enhancing our natural environment in the budget speech.
Nature supplies us with the building blocks to create a good life. Our durians and coconuts were celebrated in the Prime Minister’s budget speech, but an important part of their production relies on services provided by our biodiversity like fruit bats and bees, and also more invisible services such as nutrient cycling. Our manufacturing industries rely on abundant, reliable and clean water, produced and regulated by our forests, which, when healthy, also provide natural flood, landslide and coastal protection. A large part of our tourism draw is our unique biodiversity – Malaysia is recognised as one of the 12 mega-diverse countries in the world, and, as Malaysians, we should be proud and excited to share this with tourists during Visit Malaysia Year 2020.
To sum up, nature provides us with natural resources, helps to moderate extreme weather events, supports the overall ecosystem we live in, and is invaluable to our cultural beliefs and traditions.
However, more often than not, nature’s critical value is only realised when its services are disrupted. Nature’s contributions are either extremely expensive or impossible to replace using even the best available technology. Budget 2018 makes allocations to address many matters largely arising from such disruptions. However, the allocations generally seek to provide relief to the symptoms rather than tackle its root cause, the degradation of natural ecosystems. If the root cause is not addressed simultaneously, these problems will continue to surface with worsening impacts as time progresses, as we are already seeing.
Protection of natural resources and sensitive areas is the responsibility of both the federal and state governments. While presently there are no fiscal measures in the annual budget to encourage states to conserve natural resources and sensitive areas, WWF-Malaysia would urge the Federal Government to seriously consider the means to do so to avoid recurring costs and expenses from increasingly severe natural calamities.
The Budget also needs to pay attention to protecting our seas to establish and properly manage marine protected areas, promote sustainable fisheries and implement an ecosystems approach to manage our marine territories. Iconic apex species like turtles and shark species are also in urgent need of conservation aid. If these matters are not addressed, our fishermen will soon be faced with increasingly empty seas, loss of food security and deprivation of the dignity of the ability to earn an income.
WWF-Malaysia would hence like to recommend that allocations in the current budget be used to support environmental conservation to protect Malaysia’s developmental gains on a long-term basis as follows:
I. National Security Threats
Apart from being a direct threat to wildlife, poaching of wildlife is also a threat to the safety of government officials and is linked to organised crime syndicates, illegal firearm trade, and human trafficking. Clearly, poaching is a critical threat to national security and needs to be tackled urgently.
In an innovative initiative, the Federal Government regularly brings together the military and the Ministry of Natural Resources to conduct joint enforcement operations under 1Malaysia Biodiversity Enforcement Operation Network (1MBEON) in Peninsular Malaysia. However, in addition to existing 1MBEON operations, there is a need for specialised response units to work on continuous monitoring and patrolling as an effective measure in curbing encroachment into our forests, state and national parks, and wildlife sanctuaries. This requires crucial federal budget allocations. We urge that some of the allocations that were announced to strengthen security be channelled towards addressing this.
Allocations to enhance security measures in our marine territories should also address the issue of encroachment of foreign vessels into our seas for illegal fishing. The Department of Fisheries Malaysia has reported that Malaysia loses up to 6 billion Ringgit annually from Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU) by foreign vessels; this is not only an immediate loss but also impacts our long-term fishing resources.
II. Fishing capacity
Subsidies have been allocated to our fishermen in Budget 2018 to ease their costs of living. However, these subsidies could backfire in the long-term as Malaysian waters are already overfished and providing certain forms of subsidies can make this problem worse by promoting even more overfishing, leading to a depletion of the overall fish stock. This would in turn reduce fish catch as well as jeopardise food security and sustainable livelihoods. Subsidies for fishermen should be carefully designed with these considerations in mind and be directed towards measures that will produce greater environmental and social rewards.
III. Green Technology
The focus on Green Technology in the budget is very welcomed. In the recent World Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan, Malaysia underscored our natural attributes as part of our essential ability to spur green growth for the world. We hope that green technology that works in concert with existing natural features should therefore receive special focus. This could be through setting selection criteria that promote such focus, setting aside a sum of the allocation specifically for this, or a combination of these and other measures to spur this. Ideas like green/blue infrastructure can be utilised for flood mitigation for example.
WWF-Malaysia also calls for the prioritisation of green technology including processes that facilitates or propels a circular economy that converts waste to wealth and helps the transition out of current unsustainable practices. Such measures can be valuable in providing new financial streams and jobs as well as prevent the devastating impacts of increased waste generation. Green Technology can also be used to promote better conservation outcomes from improving monitoring, control and surveillance of natural resources to improving farming practices like feed conversion ratio, disease control, developing alternative fish feed and other measures.
IV. Beyond 2020, Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and TN50
As a practical measure, we hope allocations made in Budget 2018 are assessed in terms of advancing the implementation of the Global Agenda 2030 and the SDGs in the country, which Malaysia has signed up to and see as part of the process of achieving TN50. The distribution of the allocations in Budget 2018 should be in a manner that serves at least, and ideally more than one SDG, while at the same time, not detracting from the achievement of any of the other SDGs. The assessment should be done using a holistic and comprehensive approach that applies cross cutting considerations which are also transparent. Stakeholder consultation would hence be beneficial, an effort that the Government is already undertaking in several initiatives including the design of TN50.
Another long-term aspiration would be to build brand recognition for Malaysian-made products. Given our amazing endowment of natural heritage, our unique proposition to the world could be an assurance of producing biodiversity friendly goods and services, giving not only a competitive edge but also amenities like climate resilience and mitigation, and securing the wellbeing of Malaysians. Creating Brand Malaysia as Biodiversity Friendly is a journey that can begin strategically with the suggestions made above.
In conclusion, we acknowledge that some or many of these ideas may already be in the Government’s plans in implementing Budget 2018 but due to time constraints, they could not be spelt out during the Budget 2018 announcement. WWF-Malaysia stands ready to assist the Government in meeting the objectives highlighted above and building a Sustainable Malaysia for all. By safeguarding our natural environment, the Government can leave a lasting, living legacy for future generations of Malaysians to enjoy a good quality of life.
Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma
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For more information, please contact:
Interim Head of Communications, WWF-Malaysia
Tel: +603 7450 3773