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Avoid extravagant spending during these tough times

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Aliran is appalled that RM458,000 in public funds was splurged on a Mercedes-Benz S560e limousine for Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow’s official use.

With the economy battered by the pandemic, the chief minister should have shown more restraint in spending, even if the budget for the purchase had been approved in late 2019 and even if there was a discount.

That much money spent on a limousine – a vehicle which one car reviewer had described as “sheer luxury” – could have been better used to help those struggling during these tough times.

The Penang government should have set an example for other state governments like Kelantan, which last year blew RM3.5m on 14 Mercedes-Benz cars for state government leaders (RM320,000 for the chief minister and RM200,000 each for executive council members).

In 2019, the then-deputy rural development minister had pointed out that, of the 28 poorest districts in the country due to a lack of critical infrastructure, seven are in Kelantan. These areas, among others, do not even have water treatment facilities, he said.

Keeping up with the Joneses by indulging in luxury and extravagance when many others are suffering is not what we would expect of an accountable and transparent government or people-centred politicians.

Political leaders here should take a leaf from their counterparts in certain advanced countries who use public transport to commute to work and perform other duties. Taking public transport would also familiarise leaders here with the shortcomings in our public transport, including poor last-mile connectivity, which many commuters have to put up with every day.

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Respect for political leaders is earned from their humility and empathy for the people’s difficulties. The flashy cars that leaders zip around in are unlikely to impress the public and may only breed resentment.

At a time when many have lost their jobs or suffered pay cuts, leaders should lead by example. They should avoid all forms of extravagance during these tough times, such as the penchant for fine dining in luxury hotels, photos of which have periodically surfaced in social media.

One politician even organised a mass wedding event for thousands of guests. Even if it was privately funded, many felt it was in bad taste, especially when job losses have hit so many people.

When spending involves public funds, the people expect leaders to exercise utmost restraint.

We urge national and state leaders to be more financially prudent, avoid extravagant spending, and use public funds to help those struggling to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Aliran executive committee
8 January 2021
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