When a nation is facing a severe crisis it is crucial for the elites to demonstrate that they are capable of upholding the highest moral standards. The decision by federal ministers and deputy ministers to forego their salaries for three months is an example of a moral principle which will impact upon the nation. It is significant that the civil service has chosen to emulate the government elites. One hopes that state governments will also follow suit. The savings from all these should be channelled to the National Disaster Relief Trust Fund for Covid-19 related expenditures.
Private sector elites should also freeze their salaries for a three-month period and channel them to the same fund. They should show that they are also capable of rising to the occasion especially when we know that some private entities have done rather well in spite of the pandemic and the economic slowdown. This will be the time for both the private and public sectors to work together for a larger cause.
The government should also seize the moment to do a comprehensive review of all aspects of public sector expenditure with the aim of creating a trimmer, more dynamic service. Recurring leakages recorded in the reports of the auditor-general over the decades could serve as guidelines in this exercise. In this regard, government-linked companies should also become more professional and more efficient.
As part of this endeavour to rationalise public expenditure, the government should ensure that the self-employed, and those who operate micro and mini businesses, are given priority. They, rather than the regular wage-earners, are in desperate straits and need a helping hand. It is the duty of the government to reach out to them.
Finally, now more than ever, all of us should work together to accelerate Malaysia’s recovery. We should forge stronger links transcending our political and ethnic divisions. An overwhelming sense of common purpose should bind us together. The people’s well-being – and not individual ambitions – should take precedence over everything else.
To achieve such a goal at a time like this, I had proposed in an interview with a regional newspaper just two weeks ago, a national unity government which would bring together the government, the opposition and independent individuals connected to the health sector. It would set the right tone for national cohesion – the missing vaccine.
Chandra Muzaffar is president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.