(Penang, Friday): The composition, function and powers of the NEAC have caused concern among Malaysians as to whether it is the best mechanism for Malaysia to address and resolve the national economic crisis, capable of rallying and galvanising all Malaysians into a nationally unifying force whereby the government, society and people can respond as one unit to tide the country through the economic crisis in the shortest time possible and to effect an economic turnaround and recovery.
When the membership of the NEAC was announced, its very composition should be a confidence booster even before the NEAC had met by virtue of the undoubted capability, credibility, integrity and authority of the members.
I do not think anyone could say that the announcement of the composition of the NEAC had such a powerful effect in boosting the much-battered confidence in the country, which probably explains why the KLSE plummetted by 15.34 points yesterday to 575.31 and continued to slide by 14.41 points to 560.8 points today, while the ringgit fell to 4.5050 at 5 p.m. yesterday and continued to slide today, reaching 4.60 against the US dollar at one stage.
I agree that the latest nosedives of the stockmarket and the Malaysian ringgit are primarily caused by the renewed Indonesian economic crisis, but our economy should have been in a stronger and more resilient position to avoid the worst spillovers of the Indonesian-effect if not for our own weaknesses and faults.
Malaysians are quite baffled by the composition of the NEAC. There are eleven Cabinet Ministers, including the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, in the 24-member council.
What is the criteria by which Cabinet Ministers have been chosen to be in the NEAC? The country had earlier been told that economic Ministers would be members of the NEAC.
Going strictly by the term "economic Ministers", some of the Cabinet Ministers in the NEAC should not be there, whether Education Minister, Datuk Seri Mohd. Najib Tun Razak, the Transport Minister, Datuk Dr. Ling Liong Sik, the Agriculture Minister, Datuk Dr. Sulaiman Daud or the Land and Co-operative Development Minister, Datuk Osu Haji Sukam.
However, if NEAC membership of Cabinet Ministers is determined by the important role their Ministries would play in the national economic crisis, then I agree the Education, Transport and Agriculture Ministers should be members - but other Ministers should also be included like the Minister for Human Resources, Minister for Housing and Local Government, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Science, Technology and Environment. But I still cannot understand what the Minister for Land and Co-operative Development is doing in the NEAC.
A conspicuous omission in the NEAC is the Information Minister, especially as the country faces the serious problem of information deficit, where the people have ceased to believe in the local mass media, preferring to believe what is in the foreign media although they may be wrong or superficial.
However, I agree that the Information Minister would not be any asset at all, which is why I maintain that a major Cabinet reshuffle is long overdue.
The NEAC should comprise the brightest and the best in Malaysia, who command unquestioned public respect and confidence for their integrity and capability to lead the country out of the economic crisis.
At his press conference after the inaugural meeting of the NEAC yesterday, Mahathir was again asked whether he would step down as Prime Minister as a result of the economic crisis.
Mahathir said he would continue as Prime Minister and the Government would work as a team to revive the economy.
There is an urgent need for new blood, new faces, new thinking and new mindset in the topmost national leadership to steer the country through the national economic crisis as well as prepare the country for the challenges of the new millennium.
This was why on 5th January I had proposed that all Cabinet Ministers set the example of willingness to sacrifice for the country to defend the national sovereignty, independence and dignity by collectively submitting their resignations to the Prime Minister to empower him to carry out a major reshuffle to establish a National Economic Crisis Cabinet of calibre and integrity as the important first step in the new year to restore confidence.
The collective resignation of the Cabinet Ministers to give way to a National Economic Crisis Cabinet would be like a shot of adrenalin to give Malaysians as a whole and investors in particular hope and confidence that the Malaysian government is at last coming to grips with the national economic crisis.
In the meanwhile, the NEAC should comply with the principles of accountability, transparency and good government.
As a first step, Parliament should hold an emergency meeting by before the middle of next month to debate the establishment of the NEAC as well as to approve a third 1998 Budget as the scheduled reconvening of Parliament on March 23 is too long a break for MPs and is unacceptable when the country is going through a national economic crisis.