“Not the forum to answer anything.” That was the response Human Resources Minister Richard Riot gave when a reporter recently asked a question about the 60,000 Bangladeshi workers in the country who are categorised as expatriates.
An “expatriate” in Malaysia is defined as a foreign worker serving in a managerial position or a job requiring technical skills.
The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) has alleged that many of these Bangladeshis were brought into the country as expatriates but are not paid the minimum RM5,000 salary for expatriates as required by law.
This “expatriate loophole”, the MTUC says, has been exploited by those seeking to get around the labour shortage without having to pay fair wages to Malaysians.
Riot’s response, or rather the lack of it, was not surprising. He was being a typical minister.
Having questions brushed aside by ministers and deputy ministers is a common and frustrating experience for many journalists in this country. Statements like “Today I will only be speaking on a certain issue” or “Please ask questions related only to this event” are almost routine. There are a few exceptions, of course, and one of them is Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz, who seems always ready to answer questions from the media.
It is understandable when ministers or deputy ministers decline to answer questions pertaining to their personal lives, or perhaps even pertaining to embarrassing issues concerning the political parties they belong to.
However, they have no excuse to evade questions on issues of governance and administration. Anytime a journalist poses such questions, it is always a suitable forum because the media’s job is to inform the public, and members of the public include taxpayers.
The public needs to know that ministers and deputy ministers are doing their jobs with responsibility. They must be prepared to answer tough questions and address issues of concern to the public.
If they cannot see this, then perhaps their parties should be told that voters of today are more demanding than those of decades ago and they get more demanding with every election. They want transparency and accountability, and when they cannot get these from one party, they might look elsewhere.
The powers that be should realise that ministers and deputy ministers who are seen as not doing their jobs are liabilities. -FMT