Saturday, January 30, 2021

Anger over Jasa’s budget windfall due to lack of info, says backbenchers chief

MP defends department's 'good works' since its formation more than 60 years ago.

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The head of the ruling bloc’s backbenchers has called for a clear explanation of the roles and functions of Jasa, whose allocation of RM85.5 million in the recent budget ignited controversy over the department best known as Putrajaya’s propaganda arm.

Shahidan Kassim believes that doing so would diffuse the controversy surrounding Jasa, the acronym for the Special Affairs Department.

Jasa evolved from a unit formed under the information ministry in 1958 – just a year into independence – in the aftermath of the first general election in then-Malaya.

Shahidan, who heads the Perikatan Nasional Backbenchers Club (PNBBC), said Jasa was originally meant to disseminate information on government policies, with preserving political stability as one of its objectives.

He said the focus of the department varied under different prime ministers.

“For example, under Abdul Razak Hussein, Jasa emphasised development; during Abdullah Badawi’s time, it was on the concept of a civilised society (masyarakat madani); while under Dr Mahathir Mohamad, it was about Vision 2020.

“Before it was dissolved, Jasa’s focus under Najib Razak was on 1Malaysia,” the Arau MP and former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department told MalaysiaNow.

Shahidan Kassim.

Shahidan said Jasa officers had been trained with a variety of methods under different administrations, which made them efficient communicators at district, rural, urban and regional levels.

“They have become the nation’s asset in facing the socio-political challenges to preserve stability and sovereignty.”

He said a good Jasa officer would have to gain the acceptance of and communicate effectively with both the government and the people.

Jasa, which is now under the communications and multimedia commission, entered the spotlight after Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz announced its allocation of RM85.5 million in the budget last Friday.

Critics called the allocation huge for a department that acts as the government’s propaganda arm.

But Shahidan said the revival of Jasa, which was dissolved during Pakatan Harapan’s 21 months in power, was a bold move to help explain the government’s actions.

“It will also counter the lies by certain quarters on the good things that the government has done,” Shahidan said, adding that there had been instances of “outright lies” told to the public.

The previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) government announced that it was dissolving Jasa five months after coming to power in 2018.

Yesterday, however, MalaysiaNow revealed that Jasa had not been completely dismantled, and that it was officially “kept alive” even as the PH government was crumbling in February.

The department’s warrant of establishment – the Treasury’s document to authorise changes to salary scale and positions in government departments – was also never deactivated and remained valid even after PH’s collapse following Mahathir’s resignation on Feb 24 this year.

The report said the current government under Muhyiddin Yassin had taken advantage of the fact that its predecessors did not give Jasa a “proper burial”.

Several MPs from both sides of the divide questioned the huge allocation for Jasa while debating the 2021 budget this week, saying the money should have been channelled towards battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Checks by MalaysiaNow showed that many MPs disagreed with the allocation for Jasa, as they felt there had been no details on its revival.

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