A National Economic Crisis Consultative Council (NECCC) representing a cross-section of Malaysians, such as political parties, academicians, professions, NGOs should be formed to provide the government with public feedbacks on the national economic crisis


Speech
- GAA National Conference
by Lim Kit Siang

(Ipoh, Sunday): The Government Austerity Audit (GAA) National Conference on government austerity, accountability and transparency is an important initiative of the people to reassert some control over their own destiny.

The GAA sets out to be the eyes, ears and the voice of the people to ensure that all avoidable government waste, extravagance, inefficiency, red-tape, abuse of power, malpractices and corruption are exposed and rooted out so that Malaysian will have a lean, dynamic, productive and committed public service.

In the recent issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, the executive director of the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) Tun Daim Zainuddin said Malaysia was facing "the worst crisis since the Second World War" and that the "primary task of the NEAC is to restore confidence".

Daim’s comments are significant for two reasons:Discerning Malaysians would have noticed that the words "economic crisis" have not appeared in the local mass media in the past few months, having become the new "sensitive" words in the country. In their stead, government leaders and the local mass media use the anodyne term "economic problems", and this is why MCA organise seminars not on the nation’s "economic crisis" but "economic problems".

Secondly, it is a sad commentary that eight months into the national economic crisis, we are still talking about restoration of confidence as the "first primary task" although the Prime Minister is already talking about national economic recovery in six months – which is of course bested by his Transport Minister, the MCA President, who forecast economic recovery in three months.

In actual fact, it is no more six months or three months, but four-and-a-half months or one-and-a-half months for economic recovery, as it was six weeks ago that the Prime Minister first talked about a six-month economic recovery in his TV3 Malaysia Hari Ini live telecast on January 9.

The latest issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review (February 26, 1998), in its Asian Executives Poll, asked "Is the worst over in Asia’s economic crisis" and the majority of 60.5% of business leaders polled across the region answered in the negative.

This is the country breakdown of the poll to the question: "Is the worst over in Asia’s economic crisis?"

Yes (%)

No (%)

Taiwain

64.7

35.3

Malaysia

53.8

46.2

Hong Kong

50

50

Japan

41.7

58.3

Singapore

35.5

64.5

Thailand

35.3

64.7

Australia

33.3

66.7

Philippines

32

68

South Korea

22.2

77.8

Indonesia

20

80

Overall, the majority of the Asian executives polled (79.2%) believe that the early February bounce in the region’s bourses was the result of misplaced optimism.

The result of the poll to the question "Have Asian governments carried out enough economic reforms to justify the optimism displayed by the region’s stockmarkets in early February?" were as follows:

Yes (%)

No (%)

Malaysia

42.3

57.7

Taiwan

33.3

66.77

Indonesi

26.7

73.33

Philippines

19.2

80.88

Australia

16.7

83.3

Thailand

16.7

83.3

Singapore

16.1

83.9

Japan

13

87

Hong Kong

12.5

87.5

South Korea

5.6

94.4

To the third question, "Which country – Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia or South Korea – has gone farthest in reforming its economy in recent months", overall, 51.6% pick South Korea, 23.4% Thailand, 22.3% Malaysia and just 2.7% Indonesia. Malaysia scored well in the fourth question, "Which country – Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia or South Korea – is now most attractive for investment?", as overall, 41.9% of business leaders polled across the region pick Malaysia, 29.6% Thailand, 22.6% South Korea and only 5.9% Indonesia – but this does not mean that 41.9 per cent of international investments in Asia is coming to Malaysia!

One important reason why confidence remains an unresolved problem is because of the information deficit in the country, where Malaysians discount what they read in the local mass media, preferring to believe what is carried in the foreign press, even when they are wrong or superificial.

Although the government has established the NEAC to spearhead the national economic recovery efforts, Malaysians know very little about the NEAC. In fact, the people do not know who constitutes the five-men NEAC Executive Council, which is the most powerful economic decision-making council in the country, even more powerful than the full NEAC or even the Cabinet. All that has been reported is that the NEAC Executive Council comprises the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, and Daim as NEAC Executive Director, as well as two members to be appointed by the Prime Minister.

It does not speak well for openness, accountability and transparency that it remains a national mystery who are the two other members of the NEAC Executive Council.

What is the people’s role in the face of the national economic crisis. What the people read in the press is that they should be patriotic by supporting and responding to the government’s calls, like the sale of properties overseas and bring back the proceeds to put in the local banks in Malaysia or to donate their jewelleries to the government to strengthen the country’s foreign reserves.

If the strengthening of the country’s external reserves is the central concern of the national economic strategy, what is the target which the government is aiming to achieve from Malaysians selling off their foreign properties or converting their jewelleries?

From July to January, Malaysia’s foreign reserves fell by some RM14 billion. Is the government seeking to ask Malaysians to raise RM14 billion to restore the country’s external reserves to the position before the economic turmoils in July last year, and if so, let the government declare such an objective publicly.

The political leadership and the top 300 corporate bosses in Malaysia should take the lead to raise RM14 billion to recoup the losses suffered by the country’s external reserves during the economic crisis

Furthermore, let the political leaders and the top 300 corporate bosses in the country take the lead to raise the RM14 billion, whether through sale of their overseas properties or conversion of their valuable holdings, whether gold, jewellery and other precious stones and metals, to recoup the losses suffered by the country’s external reserves during the economic crisis.

In next month’s Parliament, I will ask who are the Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries who have sold their properties overseas or their gold and jewelleries to strengthen the country’s external reserves.

It is time that the government take the people fully into its confidence as well as seeking their views to work out a national economic recovery strategy which will also give greater meaning to the process of participatory democracy in Malaysia.

I had suggested the formation of a National Economic Crisis Consultative Council where all sectors of Malaysian society are represented to provide a nationally-unifying solution to the national economic crisis. It is unfortunate that the government has not acted on this proposal.

The civil society should form such a National Economic Crisis Consultative Council representing a cross-section of Malaysians, such as political parties, academicians, professions, NGOs which could provide the government with regular public feedbacks on the national economic crisis.

(22/2/98)


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong