On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Trim excesses but do be realistic

One speaker, in giving a broad  picture of the economic scenario, summed up the events leading to  the currency and stock market situation in two words  Soros dan boros, referring to the attacks against the ringgit by American financier George Soros. Boros is the Bahasa Malaysia term for wastage and extravagance. Apparently, the speaker was talking about the lack of prudent management among some decision makers, both in the public and private sectors. Although our fundamentals have been strong, we cannot deny the  fact that excessive credit growth, uncontrolled consumerism and insufficient food production were among our economic excessiveness. Too much of anything is bad. Malaysians will certainly back the leadership's call to reduce the salaries of top executives in the public and private sectors. The move will trim away the fat and make us sharper and more competitive. The decision to cut the salaries of ministers, their deputies and parliamentary secretaries by 3% to 10% may not be much but it is an important gesture. It is a signal to other sectors that financial sacrifice is necessary in order to deal with the problems realistically. The move has led to state governments taking a similar cut. The private sector, too, has been told to reduce unreasonable salaries paid to top and middle-rung executives as part of its contribution  to the country's austerity drive.

Malaysians would have by now realised the magnitude of our economic problems. The trickle-down effect has been felt; our cost of living has gone up. There is, however, no necessity for some of our leaders to make  statements which may be news grabbing but have no impact nor relevance in solving our situation. Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk  Abu Hassan Omar ordered a stop to snacks, presumably goreng pisang, and drinks during meetings  and  no more lunches and dinners at official functions. Penang state executive councillor Datuk Dr Kang Chin Seng has made a similar statement, saying  Penang exco members may no longer buy lunch for their guests. His intentions may be good but  few Malaysians will buy that. Malaysians want to see a realistic, consistent and transparent approach in the handling of our economy. They do not want to hear questionable proposals. State governments can earn more goodwill and respect if they  postpone the renovation or construction of official residences of senior state leaders, which runs  into millions of ringgit. Terengganu assemblymen, in an obvious artificial display of press publicity, decided to have nasi bungkus for lunch last week. Earlier, the Tampin district council, in a bizarre move, decided  to switch off its street lamps from  1am to 5am to cut costs, disregarding road safety and other consequences. Such statements, unfortunately,  present themselves as comic relief  in our tough times. We should not send wrong signals to foreign investors, who have  already lumped South-East Asian countries (having different financial situations) into one basket. Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim have repeatedly said we do not need a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. The last thing we want is to give an impression to foreigners that we are on  the verge of bankruptcy.

There is a need to be thrifty, to cut down on our consumption and,  perhaps, even our sugar intake. But Malaysians can still afford a few cups of coffee, lunch at a restaurant and, certainly, street lights. As the participants at the workshop ended their meeting, they adjourned to the hotel's restaurant for a buffet lunch. Despite its huge spread of food, almost all the dishes contained chicken, a controlled item which costs more now but is still the cheapest meat. One company executive said, in between mouthfuls of food, he had  decided to postpone the renovation to his house because there would not be any increment and bonus. Let's all not be penny wise, pound foolish. The man-in-the-street who  has been told to eat less can only stomach so much.