While everyone spent the last weekend mulling over the recently announced Budget 2011, I spent mine immersed in chocolates and experiencing a brief moment of notoriety on Lim Kit Siang’s blog.

It was back to business on Monday as I met up with two old friends over lunch. In true Malaysian fashion, our conversation flirted with everything from the erection, oops, election budget to matters of national (un)importance and just generally anything that came into mind. All this over banana leaf and lots of (burp) curry. The following is a parable of our discussion:

Friend A (special officer to a certain executive in a certain GLC): Service is so slow. Why does it take so long to make one iced Milo?

Friend B (self-employed IT entrepreneur): Nothing new about that…

Me (chocoholic): Yeah, what do you expect? We don’t get first class service on private jets like you.

Friend A: Hey that’s not fair! Just because my bosses like to lap it up in luxury doesn’t mean I enjoy any of it. You know, the amount of mis-management I see everyday, it’s no wonder we’re in such a big mess. Don’t even get me started. You think you’ve seen cost overruns?

Friend B: Haha, that’s Malaysian accountability for you. Plenty of meat for those in power, but hardly any bones for the likes of us. Speaking of cost overruns, have you seen the progress of our new National Palace?

Me: Hah. Another mega-project that has gone out of control. Did you know that from an initially budgeted RM400 million, it’s now gone up to RM800 million? And counting!

Friend B: RM800 million? That’s enough to build at least 50 schools. Or a couple state-of-the-art hospitals.

Me: Yes, it seriously shouldn’t cost that much to build a house, not when 40% of households in our country live on less than RM2,000 a month. That money could have been used to supplement nearly 80,000 low-income families with an extra RM1,000 a month for one whole year!

Friend A: Exactly. I think the government really has its priorities confused. A successful economy should be measured by the economic conditions of its people, and not purely by its gross developmental value or output, because income differences are not reflected. Mega projects that enrich a few but neglect the population at large bring no real economic value.

Friend B: What are you complaining about? Your company gets most of these projects…

Friend A: Haha, that’s true. But I tell you, more can be done with these new economic schemes, like the ETP and er, NKRAs and what have you. You know, those programmes run by the Kopi Minister’s colleague, that former MAS fellow.

Me: Ah you mean Idris Jala, the Minister of Acronyms. He’s got yet another acronym now, called KIJA. Do you guys know that this ‘Kementerian Idris Jala’, as it were, has been allocated a whopping RM12.59 billion for the next two years? This isn’t even taking into account various consultancy fees and salaries to be paid out for contractual work on their projects. For that kind of money, I pray there will be sufficient return on investment, or it’ll be another story of cost overruns on nonviable projects, like the Bakun Dam. *winks at Friend A*

Friend A: Very funny. But honestly, there’s one more thing that really upsets me. All this business about our highways. Isn’t it the responsibility of a government to build roads for its people? It’s a basic infrastructure….

Friend B: Spot on. Privatising the highways is a bad enough idea, the worst part is the totally lop-sided agreements. To make things worse, they’ve just announced 6 new highways, all without open tender! Again!

Friend A: *shakes head in despair* And we didn’t even get one of those contracts!

Me: Haha! I think the really frustrating part is how the government is trying to pull a hood over our eyes by putting on a show about how toll hikes will be frozen for the next 5 years. What wasn’t mentioned was the astronomical amount of money that has to be paid in compensation! RM5 billion over 5 years, and that doesn’t include RM2.5 billion already owing to PLUS. That’s RM7.5 billion my friends!

Friend A: That’s just ridiculous! In fact, it makes less sense. Tolls are paid by users of the road, whereas the compensation will mean the whole country will be paying for something only a few people use! Whoever negotiated these agreements must have no common sense!

Friend B: Sigh. So much inefficiency. If I run my business like our government I’d have declared bankruptcy a long time ago. We’re lucky we still have oil, though it won’t last forever. Speaking of inefficiencies… where is my Milo?

Our conversation didn’t end there, but let’s not venture into unsuitable print material…

Nota Bene:

I returned from lunch to learn that the federal government has approved an additional RM147 million for the new National Palace, bringing total costs to a ballooning RM935 million!