(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad announced yesterday that the National Economic Action Council would hold its inaugural meeting tomorrow and will study all aspects of the current economic problems.
He said the meeting would be attended by fewer than 30 members. They will include certain Ministers, representatives from various national bodies, including the Malaysian Trades Union Congress, Cuepacs, the various chambers of commerce and financial experts.
All Mentris Besar and Chief Ministers would be invited to attend the meeting although they are not members of the council.
It is most regrettable that the Prime Minister has decided not to include Opposition members in the NEAC, which shows the government has still to act as it preaches when all Malaysians were called upon to set aside their political differences and defend the countryís economic freedom.
In expressing the DAPís support for Mahathirís call on Malaysians to unite irrespective of their political stand, I had stressed that it is not only the Opposition parties putting aside their political differences and being prepared to work with the Barisan Nasional government in the national economic crisis, the Barisan Nasional government and its constituent parties must also be prepared to put aside their political differences and work with the Opposition in the larger national good.
It has taken more than two months for the NEAC to be formed and to have its inaugural meeting after the first decision was taken on Nov. 20 at the emergency UMNO Supreme Council meeting to set up such a body which would have emergency powers to deal with the national economic crisis without the proclamation of a state of emergency. Such a long delay is not a healthy beginning for a body which is supposed to mandated with emergency powers to deal with the economic emergency.
In inviting the Mentris Besar and Chief Ministers to the inaugural meeting of the NEAC, the confusion about the nature, role and function of the state NEACS, should be clarified.
Are the State NEACS, which are headed by the respective Chief Minister or Mentri Besar, an "advisory" council merely to advise and make proposals to the State Exco or an "action" council patterned after the NEAC, i.e. have an executive director like Tun Daim Zainuddin at the national level who assumes the role of an Economic Czar superseding or sharing powers with the Cabinet in all areas affected by the economic crisis? Be that as it may, NEACís first task when it holds its inaugural meeting tomorrow should give confidence-restoration top priority and decide that a third 1998 budget should be presented to an emergency Parliament by middle of next month.
The NEAC should set up a Confidence-Restoration Commission, whose main term of reference is to scrutinise and assess as to whether any government policy, measure or action has the negative effect to undermine confidence, like the recent Foreign Investment Committee reinstatement of the waiver to the United Engineers Malaysia (UEM) from having to make a mandatory general offer to Renong shares it does not own, and to make recommendations for corrective measures to be taken to modify such confidence-destroying government policy, measure or action.
To restore the badly-battered confidence, the NEAC should decide that there is an urgent need for the government to present a third 1998 Budget in an emergency Parliamentary meeting by the middle of next month, especially as the International Monetary Fund managing director, Michel Camdessus, said last Friday that while Malaysia, unlike Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea did not need an International Monetary Fund rescue package to help its economy recover, the country still needed measures to strengthen its fiscal and monetary policies, and to address "structural weaknesses."
Camdessus said there was a need for a "better policy mix" in Malaysia and offered the help of an IMF team to help draw up a "a comprehensive economic programme for structural policy and financial sector reforms" for Malaysia.
The emergency meeting of Parliament on the third 1998 Budget should decide whether there is a need for the country to seek the help of an IMF team to draw up "a comprehensive economic programme for structural policy and financial sector reforms".
An emergency meeting of Parliament by the middle of next month is urgently needed for Parliament would reconvene only on 23rd March when the new Parliamentary session would be officially opened by the Yang di Pertuan Agong - which is too long a date, as MPs could rightly be accused of being indifferent to the plight of the people and nation if MPs could go into recess for more than three months when the country was facing a worsening economic crisis.
As the Government has not acted on the DAP proposal for the establishment of a National Economic Crisis Consultative Council (NECCC), comprising representatives from all political parties, both government and opposition, academicians, industry, commerce, trade unions, professional bodies, NGOs, which could serve as a platform to convey the peopleís views, concerns and sufferings in the economic crisis, the Malaysian Parliament should meet at least monthly to monitor the economic crisis and its effects on the people.
Malaysians have high expectations of the NEAC and it should live up to these expectations by adopting and making public an action plan to convince the people that it could be an effective instrument to address the national economic crisis.
The NEAC should announce such an action plan after its inaugural meeting tomorrow, and its action plan should include at least the following three measures: