The reported purchase of a RM458,000 Mercedes-Benz S560e by Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow recently is disappointing because his action mirrors that of leaders of such states as Kedah and Kelantan, who also have similar passion.
In fact, it is most disheartening that Chow, like his counterparts in those states, chose to acquire the luxury car at a time when many people in the state are struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
It is immaterial that the approval for the purchase was made in late 2019 and that it was bought at a discount of RM128,000.
This is primarily because, as asserted by many shocked social media users, the Penang government has largely been held all this while in high regard.
It has always appealed to Penangites and outsiders as a state government that is accountable and transparent for the overall benefit of the ordinary people.
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You would expect the Penang state government to provide a good example to other states in the federation and occupy the moral high ground – and not morph into a copycat of those other state leaders.
Such financial indiscretion raises the question of a leader’s priorities and sensitivity towards the plight of the poor and desperate. There are people who have been made jobless and penniless by the pandemic.
It is as if these leaders are living in their comfortable bubbles, disconnected from the rest of society, which concerned Malaysians desperately hope is not the case.
While economic conditions in Penang are far better than, say, those in Kelantan, it, the state government should exercise restraint in spending to fully demonstrate its empathy and concern towards the less fortunate in Penang.
In Kelantan, where the state government spent RM3.5m of taxpayers’ money on 14 Mercedes-Benz cars for its state government leaders last year, seven districts in the state were identified as the poorest areas in the country by the then-deputy rural development minister Sivarasa Rasiah in 2019. This social disparity should prick our collective conscience.
This is, of course, in stark contrast to the simple lifestyle that the late ‘Tok Guru’ Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat led when he was the Kelantan Menteri Besar. The revered leader was indeed a hard act to follow for most of our political leaders.
Nor do we expect them to emulate former Uruguay President Jose Mujica, who was regarded as “the world’s humblest head of state” due to his austere lifestyle and his donation of about 90% of his $12,000 (RM48,400) monthly salary to charities that benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs. By the way, he drives a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle – even when he was occupying the top job in the land.
The point here is that public funds must be prioritised for the benefit of ordinary folk, especially those in dire straits. If anything, their economic woes should remind political leaders that the positions they occupy are meant to serve the people. They should go into high gear to achieve this goal.
Source: The Malaysian Insight
Note: The Penang Chief Minister has since apologised and accepted full responsibility