(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): In the past two days, the Malaysian mass media, both printed and electronic, have been giving top headline coverage for news about the 10 per cent salary cut for Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Chief Ministers and Mentri-Mentri Besar and 3 per cent cut for MPs and Assemblymen in response to the national economic crisis.
Such mass media publicity and coverage had been overdone, completely out of proportion and perspective, giving the mistaken impression that such salary cuts by Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Chief Ministers, Mentri-Mentri Besar, MPs and Assemblymen would be a major step to resolve the national economic crisis, when it actual fact, the savings would be a mere "drop in the ocean".
While such voluntary cuts of their salaries and allowances by political leaders are welcome in their psychological impact on the people that the economic crisis would get worse before it could get better, they must be seen in the right perspective. There are in fact people who believe Cabinet Ministers should bear a greater cut of their salaries to accept responsibility for allowing the national economic crisis to reach such a magnitude.
It has been calculated that the savings from the salary and allowance cuts by Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Chief Ministers, Mentri-Mentri Besar, MPs and Assemblymen would work out to some RM2 million a year, which is a totally insignificant figure as compared to the colossal losses which had been suffered by the country and people as a result of the twin currency and stock market crisis. In fact, this figure of RM2 million is not even enough for the renovation of the Selangor Mentri Besar's residence, which required RM5 million!
This morning, the value of the ringgit fell as low as US$1=RM3.6800, which is a drop of over 47 per cent in the ringgit's value. The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed has used a formula in various international conferences to compute the actual losses suffered by Malaysians as a result of the ringgit depreciation. On the basis of a per capita income of US$5,000 in Malaysia, a 47% depreciation would mean a loss of US2,350. Multiplied by the country's 20 million population, the loss to the country due to the depreciation of the ringgit would be US$47 billion or RM172.96 billion.
The Kuala Lumpur stock exchange has suffered even greater losses in the stock market crisis, as the KLSE Composite Index had fallen by 60 per cent. In his Ministerial statement in Parliament on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said that the market capitalisation of the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange had been reduced by RM414 billion, i.e. from RM806.8 billion at the end of 1996 to RM392.8 billion as at Dec. 4, 1997.
In the context of RM172.96 billion loss as a result of the currency crisis and the RM414 billion loss as a result of the stock market crisis, totalling RM586.96 billion, the RM2 million savings from the salary and allowance cuts of Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Mentri-Mentri Besar, Chief Ministers, MPs and Assemblymen are quite insignificant.
Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Chief Ministers and Mentri-Mentri Besar should set a good example to the public about the belt-tightening and austerity campaign which the whole country must undergo to face the national economic crisis.
When I met the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed in Langkawi last Saturday to exchange views on the national economic crisis, I had raised the issue of holidays overseas and I was assured by Mahathir that the ban on Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries from taking government-paid holidays abroad also cover private holiday plans as well.
Anwar Ibrahim has been calling on Malaysians not to send their children overseas for first-degree university education. Let Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Chief Ministers, Mentri-Mentri Besar and State Exco members set a good example by announcing that with immediate effect, none of their children would be sent overseas for first-degree university education. However, there could be no better example by Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Chief Ministers and Mentri-Mentri Besar to show their seriousness to provide leadership to the people in the face of the national economic crisis than to publicly declare their assets and those of their spouse and children to send a clear signal of the government's commitment to bring about political, financial and economic reforms to overcome the national economic crisis.
Such a public declaration of assets would definitely be a morale booster for all Malaysians, giving the people greater confidence in the government, even if what happened in Thailand is repeated here.
In Thailand, where its new constitution requires Cabinet members to declare their assets and those of their immediate families within 30 days of assuming or leaving power, the National Anti-Corrrruption Council (NAC) had just revealed these asset declarations.
Eyebrows were raised in Thailand when it was revealed that wives of Thailand's top politicians were a lot richer than their breadwinner husbands, with wives dominating the 30 billion baht (RM2.8 billion) in cash and assets of the 49-member Cabinet of the former government.
Former Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh had 16.8 million baht (RM1.58 million) in assets while his wife Phankrua had 141 million baht (RM13.3 million). Thaksin Shinawatra, a business tycoon and former deputy prime minister in Chavalit's government, was the richest, with assets of about 5.93 billion baht (RM559 million), while his wife declared 14.06 billion baht (RM1.32 billion).