Note: This was not published in The Star due to the fact that the IT department thought it was a dubious email and quarantined it!
Throughout history we have examples of how the excesses of rulers help propel a revolution. Marie Antoinette was perhaps not quite the callous spoilt queen who supposedly uttered those famous words “let them eat cake” when told that the starving people of France had no bread. But it is undeniable that the extravagance of the court in Versailles played a major role in the over turning of the French monarchy and the success of the Revolution.
A bit closer in place and time, we need only look across the South China Sea to observe that the corruption of the Marcos regime was quite wonderfully symbolised by the thousands upon thousands of shoes owned by Imelda. The bleeding of the people of the Philippines by the dictator in Manila was represented by the row upon row of dainty slippers and pumps. In a country where so many were too poor to afford shoes, the imagery was powerful indeed.
And so it is here. The recent plans to build a new Parliament building at the cost of hundreds of millions of ringgit, along with the similarly priced new palace for the King, will quite naturally stick in the craw of the ordinary Malaysian.
Especially in the light of all the sounds made regarding subsidies. The people have been spoilt it appears. We have had it too easy with the cheap petrol and basic food stuff. And it is because of us that the country is going bankrupt. So the subsidies will be taken away, and we have to jolly well tighten our belts and economise.
How can anyone announce with a straight face multi million ringgit projects for new buildings (when there already exists buildings for said purpose) and at the same time bemoan our impending economic collapse. It looks a lot like them making fun of the people.
Yet, I am sure that no matter what you might think of them, the government can't possibly be so clueless. And I can already see the arguments that will be made. It is the same argument made by Mahathir when he had power (and not seeking publicity in poorly attended rallies in Terengganu).
In order to make money, you have to spend money and large government spending is a method with which to give a boost to the economy. The money for our Parliament building and palace will go to contractors and this will start a cascade of spending that will involve a whole host of industries.
Putting aside the obvious question of just who exactly are going to get the contracts, and are they truly the best companies to be awarded this work; one has to question the validity of this argument. It is true that government spending helps the economy and it is largely because of such spending that the growth in this country has appeared to be quite healthy in the past few years. However, it has to be remembered that this shine of health is only skin deep.
This kind of spending is a short term fix and for sustainable growth there has to be investment from the private sector, both internally and internationally. Ideally any public sector spending will encourage private sector investment. I can't see how a new parliament and palace is going to do that. Without private investment eventually you will simply be in a situation where there is no longer any growth and absolutely no money in the nation's coffers to artificially encourage growth.
From what I understand, foreign investment is at an all time low and much money is being taken out of this country to be invested elsewhere. Issues such as corruption, the rule of law, smooth bureaucracy, safe cities, working infrastructure and competent workforce are tough problems that have to be tackled before there can be confidence in this country by those with the money at home and abroad. Surely these are the issues that need to be addressed with certainty and courage and we ought not be looking to the quick fix of building yet even more buildings which are unnecessary and in the current climate look like cruel taunts.