With the monumental debt weighing down on our country, the current government has embarked on a plan to reduce its operating expenditure by at least 5%, the savings of which would be channelled to fund financial and material assistance that is supposed to benefit the people, particularly the poor.
As a result, the government has swung into action by cutting expenses normally incurred by senior civil servants, such as by flying economy class, booking hotels at the lowest rate possible, and avoiding holding meetings and seminars at local hotels.
Indeed, executing austerity measures should be the top priority for a government that is also facing a struggling economy, shrinking revenue and inflation.
And yet, the government’s desire to tighten the belt does not go far enough to instil confidence in the people that it would leave no stone unturned in achieving this objective.
For one thing, it befuddles the rakyat that the ministers seemed not obliged to tighten their own belts.
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When asked to downsize the bloated federal cabinet, Special Functions Minister Abdul Latiff Ahmad argued that the number of ministers in the administration was “optimum” in terms of their capacity to handle current challenges and carry out their responsibilities.
But many Malaysians remember that the cabinet had acquired the inflated size soon after Perikatan Nasional managed to form a government, following the toppling of the democratically elected Pakatan Harapan administration. The cabinet was not this big in previous administrations.
It was in this context that certain ministerial positions were created largely as rewards to those who lent political support to the government of the day, and not necessarily with the aim of getting top-notch politicians to lead the ministries concerned.
In other words, certain ministerial positions can be dispensed with as part of a larger cost-cutting scheme, particularly those filled by ruling politicians said to have performed poorly.
This also concerns the posts of so-called special envoys, which up till now make some people wonder what is so ‘special’ about these individuals that they deserve handsome salaries and allowances.
Mindful of the cost-cutting regime, critics also trained their sight on the so-called special advisers in various ministries.
Furthermore, ministers should reduce their overseas travels to cut costs. Wherever possible, they should opt for online meetings with their foreign counterparts.
If downsizing is too outrageous a suggestion for the government, it is hoped that the ministers would at least consider taking a pay and allowances cut. This proposal, unfortunately, appeared to have received a lukewarm response.
Such a symbolic gesture of concern and compassion would have gone down well with the general public, particularly the downtrodden who are well-versed with what it means to tighten their belt.
Although the pay and allowances cut may not effectively solve the government’s financial problems, it could, to some extent, make some difference given the quantum of the pay and allowances that each minister gets.
That is why what Sabah’s ruling party reportedly did recently smacks of the unkindest cut of all. The state assembly passed a bill to increase the salaries of the chief minister, the state ministers and state assembly members by 40%, even though certain politicians in the state acknowledged that such a move would irk the poor in Sabah particularly and the country in general.
For instance, the chief minister’s salary is expected to increase from RM23,595 to RM33,033; the deputy chief ministers’ salaries from RM20,872.50 to RM29,221.50; and the ministers’ and speaker’s salaries from RM16,335 to RM22,869.
Indeed, it is unconscionable as it is tantamount to thumbing your nose at the bottom 40% category of people amid their economic plight.
As part of austerity measures, certain critics also said the government ought to consider shutting down loss-making or incompetent government-linked companies.
Aside from such measures, the government has also rightfully decided to postpone or cancel projects that have not yet started.
This brings us to the federal government’s reported plan to fully launch the Malaysian Space Board early next year, which would seem out of place in a situation where the government should have been more down-to-earth, especially if it involves further bleeding of the national coffers.
It is also in this context that some people wondered whether it would be financially prudent for the Selangor government to undertake a project to upgrade the Shah Alam sports complex that is budgeted for RM787m.
Politicians who swear by the book that they represent the interests and concerns of the ordinary people should tighten their belts. – The Malaysian Insight