(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad announced yesterday that the Economic Adviser to the Government, Tun Daim Zainuddin has been appointed executive director to the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) to steer the country out of the current economic doldrums.
Mahathir said Daim would have full powers to implement all decisions taken by the council when it begins operations. He added: "In the meantime, any decision by us, by me or Anwar, will be implemented by Daim".
Is Daim going to be a Super-Minister or will Malaysia have two Finance Ministers with Daimís appointment as executive director of NEAC?
If investors perceive Daimís appointment as creating a most anomalous situation as if the country is having two Finance Ministers, the establishment of NEAC would not be a confidence-enhancement measure but would have the opposite effect.
Mahathir said the setting up of the council was delayed although it was announced exactly a month ago on November 20 after an emergency UMNO Supreme Council meeting because the Government had to study several legal aspects on the form and status of the NEAC, as "We donít want any legal contradictions".
I would seriously urge Mahathir to reconsider the whole idea of an NEAC, which appears to be a very peculiar constitutional creature undermining the principles of Cabinet responsibility and parliamentary government.
As the NEAC is to have executive powers, it would be superseding or at least co-equal with the Cabinet in the vital fields affecting finance and the economy - which would constitutionally be most improper unless a state of emergency has been declared, suspending the normal functions of the Cabinet as happened after the Proclamation of Emergency in 1969, when the Director of Operations and the National Operations Council (NOC) replaced Cabinet and Parliament as the ultimate source of power in the country.
If Mahathir wants the NEAC to be a sort of Super-Cabinet superseding or sharing powers with the Cabinet, then the proper constitutional solution is via a proclamation of national emergency as a result of the economic crisis.
I hope the Attorney-General, Tan Sri Mohtar Abdullah would give the right and proper advice to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to ensure that the Malaysian constitution is not violated in the formation of the NEAC and he should be prepared to justify and defend his advice on this matter to Parliament and the nation.
The best option for Mahathir is to carry out a major Cabinet reshuffle to establish a 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 in their integrity, competence and dedication.
If Mahathir thinks Daim can play a key role in the government strategy to lead the country out of the national economic crisis, Daim can be brought back into the Cabinet and even to head the Cabinet Committee specially formed to deal with the national economic crisis.
In place of the NEAC, the government should form a National Economic Crisis Consultative Council (NECCC) comprising representatives from all political parties, both government and opposition, universities, think-tanks, industry, commerce, trade unions, professional bodies, NGOs, to make recommendations and monitor progress of the national economic recovery programme and to serve as a nationally unifying force to unite and galvanise all Malaysians to tide the country through the economic crisis in the shortest time possible and with the minimum of hardships and social injustice.