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Friday, July 7, 2017

OK for PM to go on holiday, but, please, not using taxpayers’ money

Cheras Umno division leader needs to be more mature and understand that the prime minister is answerable to the rakyat and public money must be used prudently.
COMMENT
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Malaysia is not a private limited company (plc) and its leaders cannot treat its assets as their own. Even directors are answerable to their shareholders and every cent has to be accounted for.
One does not need to own a company, a partnership or even a sole proprietorship, to understand the need to keep a tight rein on finances. A housewife needs to keep a strict check on her housekeeping. Just imagine what would happen if she were to squander the money on empat nombor ekor, handbags, shoes, jewellery, bingo or mahjong sessions.
Whilst we understand the motives of the Cheras Umno division leader, Syed Ali Alhabshee, in defending his leader, he needs to be more mature, and understand that the prime minister is answerable to the rakyat. The treasury is not to be plundered for private gain. The money belongs to the rakyat.
When Syed Ali griped about Prime Minister Najib Razak being a “normal human being” who deserved a break and needed to spend time with his family, no-one questioned Najib’s prerogative. No-one begrudged him his holiday, and no-one stopped him from going.
The average Malaysian taxpayer objects to the use of the government jet for Najib’s personal holiday, because it is the taxpayer who ultimately bears the cost.
What is wrong with Najib using MAS, the national carrier? No-one would begrudge him, if he and his family were to take over the first class and business class cabins, provided he were to pay the air fare, himself. Why should the taxpayer pick up the tab? No-one does it for us.
Perhaps, Syed Ali has not heard the expression, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. In more civilised countries, a leader who is invited to holiday in a rich crony’s villa, or is allowed the use of the crony’s company jet, is hounded and made to explain his position, or resign. What if the crony enjoyed favourable perks elsewhere in the system?
Leaders who abuse the taxpayers’ money are a common phenomenon in banana republics. Most decent and hardworking Malaysians must think that their country has morphed from a democratic, successful Southeast Asian economy into a banana republic.
When I worked for a plc, the use of the company jet had to be fully justified and authorised by at least two senior staff members. This was to stop abuse of the system, and the same rules should also apply to government jets, and other forms of transport.
Each company or organisation has procedures in place, so that people do not abuse the system, take money from the kitty, or use company money for their own personal expenses. In its most basic form, whatever a company makes is ploughed back into the system, for future expansion, or stored as profit.
Even a family firm, or a small to medium-sized company has to keep a check on its expenses, or else it will have to close shop.
I once knew a woman who opened a restaurant, which initially did well. When her relatives frequented the restaurant, and did not pay for their meals, because it was “family”, her restaurant ran out of money, just 15 months into the venture.
Workers who went grocery shopping, were sent on other errands. Their transport costs tripled, as did the cost of the purchases. Some family members took items meant for the restaurant, and so deprived the kitchen of basic items. There was no discipline and little control over the finances. Few dared to question the woman’s children, when they and their friends enjoyed free makan.
Malaysia may well be a wealthy nation, and in the short term it can withstand the financial abuses of its systems, but we do not have a bottomless pot of gold. Eventually, the money will run out and we will leave our children and grandchildren a debt ridden and divided nation.
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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