(Petaling Jaya, Monday): Information Minister, Datuk Seri Mohamed Rahmat said in Johore Bahru on Saturday that the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) would draw up a 12-point action plan 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.
Mohamed Rahmat said the plan would include cost-saving steps, promoting the use of local products, boosting competitiveness of local goods, reducing imports and checking the outflow of the ringgit.
He said some of the points in the plan might not be well-received but they were necessary in view of the current economic situation.
The question is how Mohamed Rahmat knew that the NEAC would draw up a 12-point action plan when the NEAC had not even been formed, and that the action plan to be decided by the NEAC would not be 10-point or 14-point?
Or has the 12-point action plan already been formulated by the government and would be rubber-stamped by the NEAC when it is formed next month? This would not be a good start for the credibility of the NEAC in getting the confidence of the country that the NEAC would be an independent-minded council.
May be, the NEAC's role is not to formulate the 12-point action plan towards national economic recovery which Mohamed Rahmat seems to know, but to implement the 12-point action plan which has already been formulated by the government.
Last Thursday night, after chairing the UMNO Supreme Council meeting and announcing the proposed National Economic Action Council, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Mahathir Mohamad referred to ten directives which are to be carried out immediately to restore confidence in the country’s economic management, overcome currency depreciation and reverse the downtrend in the KLSE.
Are these 10 directives among ten of the 12-point action plan referred to by Mohamed Rahmat? If so, what are the other two points?
In any event, the points referred to by Mohamed Rahmat in Johore Bahru and by the Prime Minister are matters which should have formed the basis of ordinary government economic policies, whether the country is faced with a national economic crisis or otherwise.
The objectives to reduce wastage, increase productivity, increase exports and decrease imports and to improve product quality should not require the establishment of a NEAC at all, unless the Finance Ministry, the Auditor-General's Department and the various individual Ministries have all fallen on their jobs to be efficient - as promised by the government when it was declared that the Malaysian civil service would be the first in the world to aim to go for the ISO 9000 by the year 2,000.
If the NEAC is to be effective in playing a meaningful role in the national economic recovery, then it must be allowed the widest brief to deal with all matters which impede the restoration of investor confidence in the country, whether it be the catastrophic UEM-Renong deal, the government takeover of the Bakun project from Ekran, the question of transparency and accountability or even the larger question of corruption.
For instance, the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. (PERC) said in a weekend report that Asia's economic crisis has highlighted a lack of transparency and the IMF's rescue of troubled countries is an attempt to re-establish credibility.
Malaysia does not have a good "transparency index" according to the PERC survey. On a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being the least transparent, PERC rated Singapore highest in Asia with a score of 4.4. Hong Kong received 5.0, Taiwan 6.1, Malaysia 6.3, Thailand 6.5, the Philipines 6.7, South Korea 7.0, Indonesia 7.4, China 8.2, India 8.5 and Vietnam 9.5 This compared with Australia on 3.0, the US on 3.8 and Britain on 4.0.
Would the NEAC be empowered to get to the root of the problem of the lack of transparency in the financial and economic system in the country?