Defence Budget Primer Series

Budget Series: An Overview of the Defence Budget Discussion

What does the Defence Budget tell us? Are we spending too much, just enough, or too little on national defence? Which programs should be prioritized over others? This series of articles will break down the formatting and the structure of the Defence Budget.

The logo for next year’s budget. Officially, people refer to the document as Anggaran Perbelanjaan Persekutuan or Estimated Federal Expenditures. Colloquially, in Malay people often refer it to as Belanjawan or sometimes just Budget / Bajet.

As promised, in the days leading up to the budget, we will be covering a few things about the Defence Budget. This overview article will provide readers with an idea of just how extensive a scope we will get into and help them navigate the articles to come.

Before we begin with our in-depth examination of the budget, we should ask ourselves a few important questions. What does the Defence Budget tell us? What doesn’t it tell us? Does it say we spend too much? Or does it indicate that we spend too little? And if so, are we spending it on the correct priorities? Or the wrong ones?

To get to these answers, we need to break down the budget document into smaller pieces to understand what kind of data it provides us, and then make a judgment about whether or not that information helps us to answer these questions.

So, we need to ask ourselves – does the Defence Budget provide enough data or evidence to answer these questions? What kind of information does it present? And if that’s not enough, what other pieces of the puzzle do we need to make our judgments?

“In God we trust, all others must bring Data!

– W. E. Deming

This series of articles will break down the formatting and the structure of the Defence Budget. This is necessary because the defence budget, like all other official government documents, is filled with bureaucratic and policy-specific jargon that does not necessarily mean anything intuitive to the average reader.

Jargon and bureaucratic language may seem arbitrary and difficult to comprehend at first, but there is a strong logic for how and why certain terms are used. We must understand that ultimately, the defence budget is written by four general types of public servants (not to be used as an exhaustive or definitive list!):

  1. Policy Officers – to transform the political agenda of the government of the day into executable policy, from which the military in turn determines its requirements. For the most part, these are civilian officers from the Pegawai Tadbir and Diplomatik (PTD) service scheme, though some military officers also sit in the policy division as well.
  2. Military Officers – to determine the strategic, operational, and tactical needs of the military, based on the political requirements of the civilian government. Each service branch has its own high headquarters, under which an assistant chief of staff is placed in charge of force development and planning (perancangan dan pembangunan – Darat, Laut, Udara, Markas ATM).
  3. Accounting and Finance Officers – to make sure all expenses and revenues are recorded appropriately according to the government’s financial standards and codes. Those interested in these standards may refer to this Treasury Circular! For the most part, these are also primarily civilian officers from the the finance service scheme of civil service (W – Kewangan), though some military officers serve in this capacity at their respective units.
  4. Procurement and Development Officers – to facilitate the acquisition of goods and services related to the military, and determine the price tag of those military requirements. These are again mostly civilian PTD officers.

Given this, it really is no wonder why the language in the budget may prove somewhat inaccessible. That said, in order to be an informed and critical citizenry, we will have to do our share of using our intellectual power to break through this inaccessibility to help us understand why defence spending is important, and make sure it is done correctly.

To help with this goal, our articles will cover the following topics:

  1. Provide a basic overview of the entire defence budget document by major sections.
  2. Going through each section of the budget to discuss the practical and substantive meanings of the data.
  3. Explain the strengths and weaknesses of the data in the budget.
  4. Provide a useful framework for assessing the budget.

The lessons you’ll learn from our entire discussion of the budget are the following:

  1. The Defence Budget document is useful for telling us how much of our tax dollars are being spent, and to a limited extent, what that money is being spent on. In other words, it is a measure of one aspect of effort by the government to defend the country.
  2. This by implication also gives us a sense of what the government’s defence priorities are, which fits into our discussion about Grand Strategy and national security policy.
  3. The Defence Budget document is not useful in demonstrating how the money that is being spent achieves the intended objectives and priorities. In other words, it is lacking when it comes to measuring impact.

Link to 2020 Budget

Below is a link to the 2020 Defence Budget, which will be used as a reference in this series.

If you are interested to look at budgets of year past, Sinar Project keeps an extensive archive of them dating back to Malaysia’s founding.

An Outline of B/P.60 – Kementerian Pertahanan

The Defence Budget document, titled B/P.60 – Kementerian Pertahanan, is actually only nine pages long out of the 514-paged Federal Budget document. If you want to know why it has this title, please be sure to check out at least the Title Page coverage!

The table below breaks down the document by section. Hopefully this will let readers get an idea of what is to be expected in the material ahead.

SectionSummary of Content
Title Page, 1 pageRestates the mission, vision, and primary clients of the Ministry. Provides a graphical summary of defence spending levels for the last five fiscal years.
Kerangka Keberhasilan Kementerian, 3 pagesDefines key programs, activities, key performance indicators, and outcomes that the Ministry sets out to achieve every year. Indicators look at both military and civilian outcomes.
Statement of Estimated Expenditures, 5 pagesProvides a line-by-line summary of expenses by various expense categories and by various activities for the coming year. Expenses are broken down by expense type (Objek Am), purpose (program / aktiviti), and service branch (Darat, Laut, Udara, Bersama, Awam).

Projek Pertiwi will also look into each of these sections in more detail as well. As each section will tease out a lot of nuance, we hope you’ll take the time to pore through the material at your leisure. They will be linked in the table above as they become available for your benefit.

Happy reading!

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