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Wednesday, 03 November 2021 09:01

The Creative Industry Needs to Look at Things Differently Post Budget 2022

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On 29 October 2021, the Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz tabled Budget 2022 in the Malaysian parliament. RM50 million has been allocated for the arts and culture industry. This comes after a year and a half after the entire industry came to an absolute standstill.

With all the complaints, quibbles and arguments that are being put forward, there is one that hasn’t been analysed until now: things may not be as hopeless as it is made out. It starts with the basic premise that we already have frameworks in place to help artistes thrive, but none of the them are being properly implemented.

Furthermore, the problem isn’t just that artistes and the industry players don’t have the money. Even if they do, Malaysians are not interested in the arts. They would rather spend RM49.00 on fast food than RM30.00 for a cultural show. So, how are we going to get people back into the theatres, cinemas and auditoriums for cultural shows and, thereby, help industry players in the creative and performing arts?

For a start, the Government of Malaysia already has an initiative called ‘Shared Vision Prosperity Vision 2030’ (SPV2030). It is ‘a commitment to make Malaysia a nation that achieves sustainable growth along with fair and equitable distribution, across income groups, ethnicities, regions and supply chains. The commitment is aimed at strengthening political stability, enhancing the nation's prosperity and ensuring that the rakyat is united whilst celebrating ethnic and cultural diversity as the foundation of the nation-state.’

Where is the Money Going?

Even though there is money, throughout the pandemic, the conundrum facing the industry players was highlighted. It has, one again, been highlighted in the wake of Budget 2022. For instance, in 2020, the Government of Malaysia allocated the sum of RM225 million to support and energise the creative industry, (New Straits Times, 2020).

Soon after this, CENDANA hoped ‘to increase the government and society’s awareness of the challenges and changes that the creative economy is likely to face in the coming months. We want to be able to supply the sector with aid to cope, and opportunities to continue working,’ (Sallehudin, 2020). CENDANA introduced a new programme to ‘cultivate and support artistic development and the presentation of ideas in imaginative ways via immediate response grants of up to RM1,500 per individual artist/cultural worker, and RM3,500 per collective/arts organisation,’ (Sallehudin, 2020).

Hardly was this news announced before Puan Sri Tiara Jacquelina was reported to have said that it may be a little early to understand how the said funds would be distributed (New Straits Times, 2020), and added, ‘…I wonder who the ‘private sector’ refers to, because … there isn’t any official representation for the performing arts. … 

In fact, in an interview with Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, he said: “Say you sustain an artistic organisation because of the infrastructure and administrative costs to such an extent that eventually there is no content. You are paying for the administrator, but there is no culture that you are fighting for or creativity involved in it.”

What all these point to is the fact that the trust has severely eroded among industry players and the public alike. Everyone has a simple question: Where is the money going?

Suggestions For a Way Forward That Is More Transparent

1. The first step to achieve transparency is to stop dolling out money. Instead, use the systems we already have in place to optimise transparency. As such, provide a tax relief for production houses, theaters, auditoriums and cinemas to run their businesses until 2030. This ties in with what industry players have clearly stated: ‘What the performing arts practitioners need is funding the development of on-going work as well as new work. Tax relief for producers and venue owners, subsidies for arts workers as well as active production companies are needed, among others,’ (New Straits Times, 2020).

2. Second, to encourage Malaysians to read, the government provided a deduction for those who bought books, magazine subscriptions and newspapers. Sales skyrocketed and publishers/writers were delighted. This came under ‘Lifestyle – Purchase for self, spouse or child. Similarly, either introduce a tax deduction for purchase of tickets for cinema, theatre or cultural shows, or extend the current deduction for ‘Lifestyle’ to include this provision.

3. Third, our current tax system allows for an Education fund. This is up to RM3,000 a year. As such, include/extend a deduction for fees for school-going students to study courses in the creative and performing arts, etc.

4. Fourth, our current tax system allows for a deduction for Education fees (self) which amounts to RM7,000 a year and covers the following:

  • other than a degree at Masters or Doctorate level - for acquiring law, accounting, Islamic financing, technical, vocational, industrial, scientific or technological skills or qualifications
  • degree at Masters or Doctorate level - for acquiring any skill or qualification

 So, include/extend a deduction for fees for graduate and post-graduate students studying courses in the creative and performing arts, etc

5. Finally, Cejudo, R. & Rodrıguez-Gutierrez, P. (2016) suggested that there should be a subset within the term CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) called ‘Corporate Cultural Responsibility’. They added that: ‘…by the term culture we mean the different kinds of fine arts and literature, but also drama, music dance, and even humanities, culinary art, heritage and crafts. We use the expression cultural activity to cover not only the production of works and artefacts but also performances, events or educational programs connected with culture.’

Similarly, our corporate companies must run CSR programmes that include a ‘cultural’ element or implement a further relief for CCR work.

Conclusion

All in all, there is no necessity to create a new body-corporate, reboot the system or even fundamentally change what we have. The operative words for our tax experts should be to optimise the provisions that we already have in place to revive our once thriving arts and culture scene. They are simple tweaks on the current system which will have an enormous impact on the industry players among the creative and performing arts.

*** 

References:

  • Prime Minister’s Office of Malaysia. (2019, October 7). Shared Prosperity Vision 2030. Retrieved 2020, May 27, from https://www.pmo.gov.my/2019/10/shared-prosperity-vision-2030-2/
  • Sallehudin, I. S. M. (2020, May 14). The Arts During This Pandemic. The Star, Views 14.
  • Getting Creative Industry Back On Its Feet. (2020, June 6). New Straits Times, p. 12.
  • Rafael Cejudo, R. and Rodrıguez-Gutierrez, P. (2016). An Assessment Model for Business Commitment to Culture and Fine Arts: Application to Spanish IBEX 35 Listed Companies. In M Schwartz, H. Harris & D. Comer (Eds.). Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations (Book 16) (pp. 181-205). Emerald Publishing Group.
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