Pakatan Harapan should affirm its promise to improve the living standards of the rakyat instead of buying expensive vehicles for its cabinet and officials, says Mustafa K Anuar.The government seemed to have started the new year on a wrong footing when Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng announced recently that it was mulling over a plan to buy 32 Toyota Vellfire vehicles for cabinet members and some 3,000 Honda Accord cars for senior government officials.
If the government goes ahead with this plan (but see footnote), it will be giving the sad impression that it has its priorities all mixed up, especially at a time when the economy is said to be sluggish.
Worse, it is the kind of spending spree that is reminiscent of the bad old days of Barisan Nasional, when the desire for government luxury cars overtook the collective interests of the ordinary people.
This fresh supply of expensive vehicles would cost the taxpayers millions, and it is obviously is not a cost-cutting measure. It certainly mocks the recent proposal to cut the ministers’ allowances.
Besides, this proposal drives ordinary Malaysians, particularly the poor and underprivileged, around the bend to think that ministers would need Toyota Vellfires to discharge their duties effectively, apart from perhaps going for a picnic at some point.
In the western world, if we care to compare, it is not surprising, let alone humiliating, to find government ministers taking public transport to work. These ministers not only gain rapport with ordinary commuters but also get to know the challenges of using public transport and the importance of improving it from time to time.
As for the top government officials, they surely can manage with whatever vehicles they have now to function to the best of their abilities. And for those who are keen on new cars, their handsome salaries would be able to accommodate this want.
It goes without saying that it is not what type of vehicle they drive that is important; it is what work ethics drive them to be better administrators. A performing top civil servant is well-respected and emulated even if he or she drives a ramshackle four-wheeler.
Planning to get a fleet of costly news cars is not the way to show the government is taking note of the people’s unhappiness and has subsequently promised to do better in the new year, as expressed by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on the final day of last year.
As it is, those in the bottom 40% group are finding it hard to stretch their ringgit to put food on the table, with some having to hold down two jobs for the sake of their children’s education. Yet others have been retrenched and left in the lurch.
Additionally, household debt has remained high over the years.
To be sure, the millions of ringgit that will be allocated to maintaining these new luxury cars could be better used, for instance, to repair dilapidated school buildings in the interior of Sarawak and Sabah and the weather-beaten buildings in the University of Malaya, among other institutions of higher learning.
A few million would certainly benefit the thousands of patients at some of our government hospitals and clinics that urgently need better equipment and more medical personnel.
It is hoped that the new year will see an affirmation of the Pakatan Harapan government’s promise to improve the living standards of the ordinary people – and not go off track.
Note: Since the above article was first published on 2 January 2020, the finance minister today announced that ministers would continue to use local Proton Perdana cars. The Toyota Vellfire, he said, was just an “option” given to the supplier, he said. It is not clear what cars senior government officials would now get.