Zero-sum is a situation in game theory in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, so the net change in wealth or benefit is zero. The situation is mentioned in a political context when it is believed that resources are limited, and every decision will produce both winners and losers.

As taxpayers we contribute to the government coffers. We are also beneficiaries of the government development funds. Consciously or unconsciously we are participants in a zero- sum game. Corruption and leakages add another dimension to the game and upset the balance.

As a recap, a government budget is an annual financial statement presenting the government’s proposed revenues and spending for a financial year, passed by Parliament.

We know that demand for development funds are like bottomless pits, and there is not enough money in any given year to satisfy every state. Some states are winners, and some are losers in the zero-sum game.

East Malaysia, which makes up 60.03% of Malaysia’s land mass, has been crying out for more development funds since the formation of Malaysia in 1963. Sabah and Sarawak are far behind in infrastructural development. Piped clean water, electricity and roads, which is taken for granted by Peninsular Malaysians, is still lacking in many rural areas of Sabah and Sarawak.

To please East Malaysian voters before the 14th general election, Najib announced a substantial amount of the 2018 Budget will be channelled towards the building and upgrading of roads in Sabah and Sarawak. This includes basic infrastructure from broadband internet connections to clean water. RM500 million is reserved for rural road projects and another RM300 million is allocated for access to clean water.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan said the RM4.533 billion allocation for Sabah showed the BN Federal government’s belief that all these expenditures would be the catalyst for the state’s economy to further prosper the people.

Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, Bingkor State Assemblyman and a vocal champion of Sabah rights, said the two Bornean states have been neglected again, and remains at least 30 to 40 years behind the Peninsular Malaysia. He added that 50% of the population does not have clean treated water and still relies on gravity-fed riverine or rainwater. He noted how Putrajaya would be spending more than RM100 billion on mass rapid transit projects in Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley, but only RM500 million on rural roads in Sabah and Sarawak.

Sabah produces some 65% of the nation’s crude oil production. At the rate of US$60 (RM254) per barrel, Dr Jeffrey contends the Federal government (through Petronas) earn a gross income of more than RM83.64 billion annually. There is disparity in what Sabah is getting back from the oil revenues for its own development.

All fine and good about the 2018 Budget touted by Najib as the “mother of all budgets”, but how much actually reach the people of Sabah and Sarawak?

In October 2016, MACC announced the biggest ever seizure of RM114 million from the top two officials of the Sabah Water Department – including RM53.7mil in cold hard cash. Also recovered from the homes and offices of the department’s director and his deputy were nine mostly luxury vehicles, expensive watches, jewellery and 94 high-end handbags. The cash was found stashed inside safes, cupboards, drawers and a car boot. Some of the money was used to buy huge tracts of land. Pictures of the loot which appeared in all major newspapers drew surprise and condemnation from the people of Sabah.

What happened to all the ill gotten gains? It was reported early this month RM19.97 million seized in the Sabah Water Department corruption case has been forfeited and handed over back to the government by MACC. The amount is from a sum of around RM21.78 million which MACC has filed for forfeiture. MACC has also filed to forfeit the remaining RM1.8 million in the high court. Roughly only 18% of the loot has been returned to the government. What happened to the rest of the cash?

Before this case can be settled, another one crops up In October 2017. In this new case, more than 60 companies are being investigated in relation to the mishandling of Federal-funded projects to benefit rural folk in Sabah. It had been estimated that RM1.5 billion was mishandled from the RM7.5 billion allocated for projects between 2010 to 2015, according to MACC. This case involves the former Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal when he was in the BN government and holding the position as Vice President of UMNO.

If you add up the RM114 million and the RM1.5 billion from the two cases, you are talking about a staggering sum being misappropriated between 2010 to 2015. This is a huge loss for the people of Sabah.

Whatever the government budgets for 2018, it’s just to make up for money that has been lost through previous corruption and misappropriation. It cannot be considered as new development funds.

What is most disheartening is there is no admittance of guilt or apologies from the people in charge, or even commitments to ensure these incidents are not repeated.

For whatever it’s worth, Dr Mahathir Mohamad has apologised for his past misdeeds. Would our current leaders do the same?

In the zero-sum game, Sabah ends up as losers. The winners of the zero-sum game are cities like KL with their modern infrastructure, and corrupt politicians and their cronies who pocketed the ill-gotten gains without any sense of remorse.

Joe Samad has wide experience working for international companies and government GLC.