(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The Federal Government should express its stern disapproval of the RM6.3 million renovation for the new Selangor Mentri Besar's residence and office and demand a full public accounting by the Selangor State Government as to why RM5 million renovation for the Mentri Besar's residence and RM1.3 million for the Mentri Besar's office had to be spent before Datuk Abu Hassan Omar could use them to discharge his duties as Mentri Besar.
The expenditure of RM6.3 million just for the renovation of the Selangor Mentri Besar's residence and office have sent out a completely wrong signal to Malaysians at a time when the Government is urging the people to support a national austerity campaign as one of the responses to the national economic crisis, as if the belt-tightening required is meant for the people only but not for the national and state leaders.
The Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said in Langkawi yesterday that Datuk Abu Hassan Omar had told him that he did not move into the official residence soon after his appointment as Selangor Mentri Besar in June 1997 as "the whole thing was a shambles".
Is it possible that the Selangor Mentri Besar's residence was "a shambles" and was it necessary to spend RM5 million to renovate it? The people of Selangor and Malaysia are entitled to know the state of condition of the residence at that time as to justify it to be described as "a shambles", making it unlivable for the Mentri Besar without renovation.
Although Mahathir said that the decision on the renovation of the residence was made before all the national economic problems, Abu Hassan must justify the decision to spend RM5 million for the renovation - as it is such decisions on extravagant expenditures which is one reason for landing the country in the serious economic crisis today!
The country is entitled to a full report, whether by the Auditor-General's office or by a special investigations team, on the RM5 million renovation for the residence and the RM1.3 million for the office, the items of expenditures which were extravagant and unjustifiable, what should have been spent for the renovation - to serve as a lesson to all Federal and state governments and agencies that they must try to save every single ringgit in every decision involving expenditure of public funds.
It is most disappointing that the message about the need for austerity and belt-tightening at this period of national economic crisis has not successfully permeated to all levels of government.
The Malacca state government announced yesterday that the Malacca Historic City Council (MPMBB) had cancelled a working visit to Europe for its councillors and that they would instead visit Labuan to "gain management experience from their counterparts". The Malacca state housing and local government committee chairman, Datuk Mo'min Abdul Aziz said the decision was taken as part of the state government's cost-saving measures.
If the Malacca State Government is serious about cost-saving measures, it should not only cancel the junket for councillors to Europe, it should also cancel the substitute trip for councillors to Labuan.
The original trip to Europe was clearly no "working visit", as like all such overseas junkets for councillors at taxpayers' expense, local councillors learnt absolutely nothing apart from having free holidays overseas. The substitute trip to Labuan is also no "working visit", as there is no "management experience" for the Malacca councillors to learn from their counterparts in Labuan.
I have never heard of the Labuan local authority as a model for local government management in Malaysia and this must be a surprise to all Malaysians except the Malacca state government. However, if the Labuan local government is such a national authority on local council "management", it would be cheaper for it to send a representative to Malacca to give a series of lectures to the Malacca councillors, then for the whole team of Malacca councillors to visit Labuan - although the councillors would be able to enjoy duty-free shopping in Labuan!
The Finance Ministry and the Ministry for Local Government should send out a no-nonsense directive to all Municipal and district councils that with the country facing a national economic crisis, all trips by local councillors, whether overseas or to other parts of Malaysia, regardless of what disguises and excuses are given for them, are henceforth banned, and councillors who go on such trips must reimburse every sen spent from the public purse.