Council must hear all views

  • Letters
  • Friday, 08 Aug 2008

THE country’s economy in a shambles through no fault of ours and, on the political front, the nation in turmoil with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim facing criminal charges in court.

No, that’s not a description of what is happening today, but what happened 10 years ago, at the height of the 1998 financial crisis.

Nevertheless, it would seem quite a coincidence, and history seems to be repeating itself.

Then, it was the Asian Financial Crisis brought on by currency speculators that affected our economy. Now the commodities speculators have driven oil and food prices beyond everyone’s means.

And, yes, Anwar is again charged with committing sodomy just as he was 10 years ago.

At the darkest hour, the Government took various radical decisions which at that time seemed ridiculous, like the fixing of the ringgit exchange rate and freezing the outflow of foreign funds.

Many of those moves had only recently been removed and many other countries affected then concede now that we were right in taking the steps we did.

Among the best decisions by the Government then was the setting up of the National Economic Action Council or the NEAC, on Jan 7, 1998, as a consultative body to deal with the immediate issues and to tackle the Asian Financial Crisis.

The NEAC launched the National Economic Recovery Plan six months later, presenting six strategic areas of action to address the crisis as well as the negative effects on the Malaysian economy brought about by the ringgit’s depreciation and the collapse of the stock market.

Then in 2001, the NEAC proposed stimulus initiatives which included a RM4.3bil fiscal package with wide distribution of rural/small projects, especially among Bumiputra Class F contractors, special emplacement and training programme for unemployed graduates, and funds for the retraining of retrenched workers.

The NEAC, which still exists till today as a division within the Prime Minister’s Department, is a success story. It is probably why the Government announced three days ago the setting up of the Economic Council to replace the Anti-Inflation Cabinet Committee and the National Anti-Inflation Council.

Besides coming up with plans to tackle inflation and ensure a steady supply of goods, the new council’s role include monitoring and analysing domestic and international economic trends and developments.

The 42-member council is also tasked with formulating a comprehensive social safety net to reduce the impact of inflationary pressure and economic slowdown on the low- and middle-income groups.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who will chair the Economic Council, is joined by his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and 10 other ministers, senior civil servants, captains of industry, academicians and some non-governmental organisation heads.

Representatives from the private sector and government-linked companies include Public Bank chairman Tan Sri Thong Yaw Hong, Lin Associates chairman and chief executive Tan Sri Dr Lin See Yan, Institute of Strategic and International Studies chairman and chief executive Tan Sri Mohamed Jawhar Hassan, Royal Selangor Pewter managing director Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon, Khazanah Nasional Bhd managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar, and RAM Consultancy Services executive chairman Tan Sri C. Rajandram.

Other members include Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz, Economic Planning Unit director-general Tan Sri Dr Sulaiman Mahbob, CIMB chief executive Datuk Nazir Razak, Cuepacs president Omar Osman, Fomca president Datuk N. Marimuthu, Universiti Malaya economic and administration faculty’s Datuk Seri Panglima Andrew L.T. Sheng, and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia vice-chancellor Datuk Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hassan Shahabuddin.

The list looks impressive, and I am sure that everyone on the council will work very hard to come up with strategies to save the nation from the latest threats.

Their immediate task is to meet very soon if they are to quickly ease the pain of the man on the street, because, as prices of goods keep on rising, it gets more painful each day for the ordinary folks.

I would like to suggest that the council members, besides meeting and talking, get to feel the needs and wants of the common people.

No disrespect meant, but most on the list in the private sector are very rich people and may not understand the problems faced by those they are tasked with helping.

Do multi-millionaire bankers know how much a roti canai cost a year ago? Even if they do, do they know how painful it is because the price of that roti canai has increased by 30 sen?

Again, I am sure that Marimuthu and Osman will try to convince their fellow council members on the pain the people are feeling, but then they are just two voices in a high-powered setting.

The council should seek the views of others, like petty traders, as to why they are raising prices, or why people still drive to work despite the fuel price increase.

Short-term as well as long-term solutions must be offered. There is no point formulating strategies that will insulate and assist future generations while the present populace roils in pain.

Yes, short-term solutions may seem to be playing to the gallery, but why not?

The Government must not fear populist decisions, because the present problem is not only economic, but also one of confidence.

Wong Sai Wan, The Star deputy executive editor, is amazed at how little RM100 can buy nowadays at the wet market.

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