(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): DAP is prepared to serve on the proposed National Economic Action Council (NEAC) if invited provided it is nationally productive and constitutionally legitimate, as all Malaysians regardless of party differences must unite as one to tide the country through the present grave economic crisis.
Up to now, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has not clarified the powers, responsibilities and scope of the National Economic Action Council, as what he had said about the NEAC after the UMNO Supreme Council meeting on Thursday night and the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council meeting on Friday have been rather vague and confusing.
On one hand, Mahathir said that the NEAC would be given powers by the Cabinet to make decisions pertaining to the national economy, and yet, in the same breath, he said the council would function as an advisory body of the Government.
Mahathir said "there would not be duplication between the council and the Cabinet but would co-operate with and complement each other".
The Prime Minister said the NEAC would be a committee which would be governed by the Cabinet even though it would be chaired by him and would have certain Cabinet members.
After chairing the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council meeting on Friday, Mahathir told the press:"There will be no duplication as we had a similar body before. Even during the National Operations Council, the Cabinet had a function even if it appeared that it had no role".
He said several ministers involved in economic matters like International Trade and Industry, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, Human Resources and Primary Industries would sit in the council, which would report to the Cabinet from time to time and "advise actions to be taken".
There is a need for a full and proper clarification as to the legal and constitutional status of the proposed NEAC, as to which one of the following two categories it falls into:
It is not clear whether Mahathir has in mind a NEAC which is purely advisory in function or whether it is to have executive powers superseding those of the Cabinet in the area of national economic recovery action plan.
After the UMNO Supreme Council meeting on Thursday night, Mahathir said that the NEAC "would have emergency powers although a state of emergency has not been declared".
The next day, he stressed there would no duplication between the NEAC and the Cabinet, which would "co-operate with and complement each other" and said that Malaysia had a "similar body before" and that "Even during the National Operations Council, the Cabinet had a function even if it appeared that it had no role".
No council can "co-operate and complement" with the Cabinet without acquiring or sharing in the executive powers of the Cabinet, or put it in another way, diluting the executive powers of the Cabinet.
I do not know whether Mahathir had been correctly reported when he tried to liken the NEAC to the National Operations Council (NOC) in 1969, which ran the country when a Proclamation of Emergency was declared after the May 13 riots, as it would be most shocking if the NEAC is going to have equivalent powers as the NOC in the 1969 Emergency.
After the 1969 general elections May 13 riots, parliamentary government was suspended, and the then Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Razak was appointed Director of Operations and became the chief decision-maker of the country, superseding the then Prime Minister, Tengku Abdul Rahman and the Cabinet.
Is the NEAC being proposed by Mahathir going to be another NOC, with powers superseding that of the Cabinet and Parliament?
Eyebrows have been raised that the Prime Minister has omitted the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister when referring to several Cabinet Ministers involved in economic matters who would be in the NEAC, like International Trade and Industry, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, Human Resources and Primary Industries. Is this an inadvertent omission?