(Ipoh, Saturday): More than three weeks have passed since the announcement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad after an emergency UMNO Supreme Council meeting on 20th November that the government would set up a National Economic Action Council (NEAC) to deal with the economic crisis and put the Malaysian economy back on track in the wake of the fall in the value of the ringgit and the stock exchange.
Mahathir had then announced that the council, which would be chaired by the Prime Minister, would have emergency powers although a state of emergency had not been declared.
Malaysians must be very surprised that the NEAC has not been set up after the passage of more than three weeks, when the value of the ringgit had fallen from RM3.52 to RM3.8 against the US dollar during this period, with the Kuala Lumpur stock market plunging repeatedly, raising the question of the government's seriousness about the gravity of the national economic crisis.
During my meeting with the the Prime Minister in Langkawi on 6th December on the national economic crisis, I had discussed with Mahathir the issue of NEAC, which would be chaired by him, with Anwar as deputy chairman, and membership comprising the economic ministers and representatives from various sectors of society.
It has still to be fully clarified as to whether the NEAC is to have executive powers or is merely advisory in nature. If the former, it would be superseding or at least co-equal with the Cabinet, which would be most constitutionally improper unless a state of emergency has been declared, suspending the normal functions of the Cabinet. If its role is merely advisory, the NEAC should stand for National Economic Advisory Council and not National Economic Action Council.
As I understand it, the NEAC would be a hybrid Council, having the executive powers of the Cabinet though it would have to report periodically to Cabinet on measures to address the national economic crisis.
Cabinet Ministers have clearly fallen down on their responsibility as national stewards, to the extent that another body has to be appointed to share and even supersede Cabinet responsibilities. The time has clearly come for a major Cabinet reshuffle, for the infusion of new blood into a Cabinet, and the replacement of several Ministers who seem to be quite lost in a fast-changing world brought about by information technology and globalisation.
I call on Mahathir to reconsider the whole concept of NEAC as not to undermine the principles of Cabinet responsibility and parliamentary democracy. I would seriously propose that instead of proceeding with the formation of a hybrid body like the National Economic Action Council, the Prime Minister should carry out a major cabinet reshuffle to remove the deadwoods in the Cabinet, and to form National Economic Crisis Cabinet with technocrats and experts as members of the Cabinet with the expertise and knowledge to deal with the national economic crisis, and most important of all, who can command public confidence about their integrity, competence and dedication.
To form such a National Economic Crisis Cabinet, the Prime Minister must be prepared to tap experts in the private sector who are not MPs, by appointing them as Senators. This will also raise the standards of the Senate, which at present is nothing more than a refuge for political has-beens and political rejects who could not get elected into Parliament through the front door.
Furthermore, the government should form a National Economic Crisis Consultative Council (NECCC) comprising representatives from all political parties, both government and opposition, industry, commerce, trade unions, professional bodies, NGOs, so that it could be a nationally unifying force to unite and mobilise all Malaysians behind a national economic recovery programme to tide the country through the economic crisis in the shortest time possible.
The NECCC should formulate a national economic recovery programme within a fortnight of its formation, and meet weekly to monitor progress of the programme, with powers to make recommendations to the Cabinet, such as whether the Prime Minister or Cabinet Ministers should make certain speeches or pronouncements if they are not conducive to the restoration of confidence or the success of the national economic recovery programme.