(Perak Consumers Association, Ipoh, Monday): The announcement today of the formation of Government Austerity Audit (GAA) as a new people’s movement to check on the government at all levels in Perak to ensure that the Federal Government, the Perak State Government and all local governments in Perak set an example of austerity to the people at a time of the national economic crisis is a historic one.
The GAA should be the eyes, ears and the voice of the people to ensure that all avoidable waste, extravagance, inefficiency, red-tape, abuse of power, malpractices and corruption are exposed and rooted out so that Malaysian will have a lean, dynamic and productive public service.
Malaysia urgently needs a nation-wide people’s movement to monitor and audit the government’s economic recovery measures to ensure that every government decision, action and measure complies with the highest standards of austerity, efficiency and accountability.
The economic crisis is only beginning to bite, and the people will feel the real pain in the coming months, and Malaysians must be prepared to face such a crisis, which will become worse, more painful and create more hardships to the people before it could get better.
The question is how is going to be the economic crisis before there could be an economic turnaround and recovery – one, two, three or five years?
This will depend on the ability of the government to unite and galvanise the people as one unit to respond to the national economic crisis to ensure that the people can tide through the economic crisis in the shortest possible time and with the minimum of avoidable pain, sufferings and hardships to the people.
In the economic crisis, someone has rightly said that the biggest problem is not Soros but Boros.
The Government Austerity Audit (GAA) has been formed not to find fault as to who is responsible for the six-month-long economic and financial crisis, but to ensure that the country and people can pull through the economic crisis in the shortest possible time and with the minimum of avoidable pain, sufferings and hardships.
It does not serve much purpose to blame the government for its failures whether in policy or practices in unable to forestall the economic crisis from happening or in ensuring that even if the economic crisis is unavoidable, that Malaysia would be able to weather it in a better shape as Singapore and Hong Kong for instance.
The primary focus for all Malaysians now is how the government could restore the people’s much-battered confidence and inspire all Malaysians with a national economic recovery plan.
While it serves no purpose to point fingers as to who is responsible for the national economic crisis, the people must stand up and demand higher standards of government accountability and performance to ensure that the country can go through the economic crisis in the shortest time possible and the minimum of avoidable pain, hardship and suffering.
The great work of DAP MP for Teluk Intan, M. Kulasegarn, in bringing to public light the mysterious massive earthworks on 26 acres of prime land near the Jalan Tun Dr. Ismail-Jalan Golf junction in Ipoh for, among other things, a residence for the Perak Mentri Besar is one example of the need for greater public vigilance to demand that the government must shake off all its bad old ways and re-invent itself to ensure that all its policies, measures and actions comply with the highest standards of austerity, accountability and efficiency.
The people of Perak are entitled to know why the 26 acres of prime land, which is worth RM50 per sq. ft. – or RM5.7 million for the whole area - should be given given out in 50 lots, varying from a quarter acre to seven acres, when public interest demand that such land should be sold by open bidding with the public becoming the beneficiaries instead of a few privileged individuals.
How can the Perak Mentri Besar, Tan Sri Ramli Ngah expect to command confidence and credibility in his call on the people to tighten their belts and make sacrifices when he is unable to explain to the public for such misallocation of scarce public resources, misuse of power in the alienation of prime state land or even the surreptitious plan to build a new Mentri Besar’s residence!
The public outrage at the Perak State government attempt to avoid public accountability over the 26 acres of prime land is one reason why it is necessary to have a people’s movement like the Government Austerity Audit to place all levels of government under greater public scrutiny.
The Minister for Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, Datuk Seri Megat Junid Megat Ayub yesterday excoriated some sections of the Malaysian community for still shopping and spending lavishly and seemed unable to change their habits despite reminders.
How can the government expect the people to face up to the realities of a worsening economic crisis, when for the past five months, its entire publicity policy and strategy had been one of "denial syndrome", starting with the denial that Malaysia was in an economic crisis, then denying that the government was in any way responsible for the economic crisis, while all this while, the government had not shown that it had stopped all its bad ways of economic good times – wasteful expenditures, misallocation of public resources, inefficiency, abuses of power, malpractices and downright corruption.
There is not only the outrageous RM5 million renovation of the Selangor Mentri Besar’s residence, the Pahang State Government is also proceeding with the building of a new residence of the Pahang Deputy Mentri Besar – although the state government, just like the Perak state government, has refused to give details about the costs and other aspects of the project.
In Sarawak, the Sarawak Chief Minister is appointing six new assistant ministers from Thursday onwards, adding to the public burden, when austerity demands a cut-back in public expenditures!
Megat Junid said yesterday that consumers should be thrifty and spend wisely by cutting back on unnecessary spending, but what is the government doing in setting a good example in this regard?
The Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumers Affairs should not just talk but must produce actions to show that his Ministry is capable of protecting the interests of consumers. For instance, what action has his Ministry taken with regard to the serious complaint by the Penang Consumers Associations that certain brands of packed sugar were found to be 20 gm lighter than the weight stated on the 500 gm packets.
The GAA is being formed at the most opportune time when the Government should prove its commitment to austerity, productivity, accountability and transparency.
One good example is the RM30 billion Kedah land reclamation project. Although the government has announced the postponement of RM65.6 billion worth of mega-projects, like the Bakun dam project, Northern Regional International Airport, the Kuala Lumpur Linear City Project, the Cameron Highlands-Fraser Hill-Genting Highlands Highway Project and the Straits of Malacca, Malaysia - Indonesia Bridge project as among the austerity measures in the face of the worsening economic crisis, the people and investors are still getting mixed messages raising questions about the government’s seriousness and commitment in keeping to an austerity budget.
This was why market reactions to the announcement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed on December 4, 1997 that the government would proceed with the RM10 billion land bridge project linking northern peninsula and southern Thailand despite the ringgit's depreciation was so swift and devastating, resulting in the ringgit's free fall to an all-time low of 3.8650 against the US dollar when all other Asian currencies rallied against US dollar.
This compelled the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, to call an emergency media conference the next day, December 5, at 4 p.m. to announce an emergency financial package, which was the second 1998 Budget which the DAP had suggested a month ago, and which succeeded to stem the crash in market sentiments - as the Malaysian ringgit would have crashed through the US$1=RM4.00 level by 5 p.m. that day, or to an even lower level if not for Anwar’s announcements.
There however continues to be mixed signals as to whether the government is shelving all mega-projects and slashing all extravagant expenditures.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad or the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim should clarify whether the RM30 billion Kedah land reclamation project is proceeding as originally scheduled or whether it is one of the mega-projects being shelved as a result of the economic crisis.
The Kedah Mentri Besar, Tan Sri Sanusi Junid had said hat the RM30 billion Kedah land reclamation project would not be affected by the current economic crisis or the Federal Government’s decision to postpone all mega-projects.
At the recent Kedah State Assembly, Sanusi said the proposed RM30 billion land reclamation project, off the Kuala Muda coast, is expected to be the state’s main source of revenue, and that the environment impact assessment report for the project was on public display for a month till today.
The RM30 billion Kedah land reclamation project has been described as the largest project of its kind in the world. The director-general of the National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia (Nahrim), Prof. Dr. Abdul Aziz Ibrahim said in August that the project, covering 16,300 ha in Kedah, would be unsurpassed by world standards.
Comparatively, he said, reclamation around north Jakarta’s waterfront involved 8,750 ha while it was 2,200 ha for Taiwan’s west coast, 1,790 ha for Singapore’s Jurong Island, 511 ha for Japan’s Kansai International Airport and 200 ha for Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok Airport.
It has been reported that Kuala Lumpur-based Samudera Baru Darul Aman, which is undertaking the first package of the project costing RM6 billion, is awaiting approval of the EIA report to start work.
The Kedah state government had also appointed three other companies - Sayak Beach and Country Resort Sdn. Bhd., SKS Ventures Sdn. Bhd. and Progress Vision Sdn. Bhd - to undertake the three other packages.
A total of 20,390 ha had been proposed for reclamation along Kedah’s 110 km-long coast from Kuala Sanglang to Kuala Muda.
Phase one will involve about 890 ha of strip reclamation coastland along Yan district and the creation of six islands totalling 11,640 ha. The phase two reclamation project is still in the conceptual stage.
Is the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister prepared to be fully accountable to the Malaysian public about the Rm30 billion land reclamation project in Kedah?
The GAA is a people’s movement, which transcends politics, and it is hoped that all Malaysians, regardless of political party affilation, could come together in this movement to demand greater government austerity, accountability and efficiency.