We have been here before; which is why it is disturbing to know that politicians are still inclined to not take the less-trodden path of refraining from acquiring expensive official cars, especially amid economic hardship.
The recent Toyota Vellfire purchases for current ministers are testimony to such an inclination.
These vehicles appear to be status symbols of political power and success of politicians who have reached the height of their careers. That said, it is more form over substance in the case of underperforming ministers.
As a result, old official cars are replaced with new ones in heralding the coming of a new set of government leaders at the expense of taxpayers’ money.
What makes the Vellfire purchases especially catch public attention and concern is that they happened at a time when many Malaysians are suffering under the weight of an economic slowdown, following the pandemic, and national coffers have been almost sucked dry. The contradiction is too vulgar.
Worse, the expensive acquisition occurred when we are told that our national debt level has spiked to RM1.4tn.
However, this does not mean that the government does not need to be financially prudent under normal circumstances, as such purchases still involve taxpayers’ money.
Putrajaya’s justification of choosing a Vellfire over a Proton Perdana – insisting it can save RM2.80 a month in lease costs – only invited chuckles and cynicism among the people. After all, there are other cheaper vehicles to consider if a change is necessary because of, say, the high maintenance costs of old vehicles.
The Perikatan Nasional government is not the only administration that has such a yearning. Pakatan Harapan too pondered a change in official cars during its 22-month administration. It balked at the idea after the public got wind of it and subsequently settled for the Proton Perdana.
However, PH’s Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow got himself a gleaming RM458,000 Mercedes S560e as his new official car – and the public brickbats to go with it. In January, he apologised for his impropriety amid suffering brought about by the pandemic.
About two years ago, poverty-stricken Kelantan witnessed Menteri Besar Ahmad Yakob driving a new RM600,000 Mercedes S450L AMG, while state executive councillors also flaunt their new Benzes. The state has the highest proportion of people in poverty in the country at 11.6%, compared with the national average of 3%. Of the 11.6%, 2% are in absolute poverty.
Getting such expensive cars in the face of people’s poverty is simply immoral.
Kedah also faced a Vellfire controversy last year, which initially implicated Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Noor. However, government-owned Syarikat Air Darul Aman Sdn Bhd (Sada) later clarified it bought the vehicle for its management. Sanusi is Sada chairman.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is hoped that ruling politicians will be more prudent when spending taxpayers’ money in future, especially when money is tight.
Acquiring expensive cars in the face of economic challenges reflects poorly on the sense of priorities of political leaders in governing the country. It is time to change priorities – not cars. – The Malaysian Insight