Monday 16 December 2013

Politicians and our money

with thanks to : 

CT Ali
 | December 16, 2013
The problem with politicians is that they are spending somebody else’s money on somebody else.
I enjoy sitting alone in my living room in the early hours of the morning as the day breaks. The trams have not started running and the streets are quiet. It is always cold at that time of the morning, cold but invigorating.
You know the day is still to start and everything is possible if you will it so. It is as if you have somehow been able to steal time from somewhere to do what you want with it.
I like this time of the day. Nothing disturbs my solitude and my mind is free to go where it wants, thinks what it wants, and if I put my mind to it, it will allow me to write what my heart feels with a clarity that even surprises me.
How many of you have made time to do this? Challenge yourself to talk with yourself and answer truthfully to questions you never want others to ask of you?
Questions you yourself will not want to answer because you know your answers will reveal that part of yourself that you do not want others to know?
It is enough that you yourself know that you have erred in presenting a false façade to others that makes them think that you are better than the person that you are – why tell others?
You would rather let it be than be thought to be a person without honor, integrity or credibility. For you and me these are things we can safely navigate through life because we allow others to come into our life when it suits us to do so.
We have many doors to our life we can close to others and by the same token others will do the same to us. To whom we do so and for what reason we chose to do so is for us to decide just as long as what you choose to keep from others concerns only yourself and does not intrude into the life of other people.
But no such choices are open to those who choose to go into public service – especially those who choose to go into politics. Politicians are people like us. Some are good decent people who do their work well and some are incompetent.
It is the incompetent ones that we seem to have many of in Malaysia – too many for my liking.
Hence the catch cry that reverberates across our nation today: Change!
But change to what? We have heard the cries of no more corruption, no more cronyism, no more nepotism and stop the arrogance. We want an open and transparent government in Putrajaya.
Over half a century in government and Umno does not know this? Umno leaders from Dr Mahathir Mohamad on have been calling for change much more often than the boy who cried wolf.
No doors to close
Before we go into the many tedious details of the changes that we want and the changes that these politicians are prepared to consider (consider not do!), I think we need to look at things in perspective.
As I have said before, politicians are people like us but unlike us, politicians have no doors to close. All that they do are open to public scrutiny – especially in these times when social media can put all their good work or bad into the public domain.
And the bad is always about the money spent by politicians. The problem with politicians is that they are spending somebody else’s money on somebody else. And often that somebody else’s money is spent on the politicians themselves!
Milton Friedman in a 2004 interview with Fox News explained it better than I can write it – so this is what he had to say about spending money:
“There are four ways to spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why you really watch out for what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well then, I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it costs, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government.”
Our politicians should understand the value of money that they are spending. Our national debt is RM500 billion and counting and yet this BN government has spent RM7.2 billion for private consultants since 2009.
This BN government has also spent RM57.7 billion on election related incentives (approximately RM4,363 per voter!) such as:
  • RM11.0 billion on 1Malaysia programmes.
  • RM5.6 billion on Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia. (BRIM).
  • PMO spent RM36.1 million on Najib’s government image-rebranding exercises.
And do not let me go into the use by the Prime Minister’s wife of the government jet for fashion shows in Monaco, shopping in Milan and a ‘syiok sendiri’ trip to Dubai.
If Najib does not seem to understand the difference between what constitutes government business and what is pandering to his wife’s need for a “syiok sendiri” adrenalin rush, then how can we trust him with decisions that affects national issues?
This BN government should not be able to spend our money however they like. The caveat on this “public spending” by this BN government is simply this: transparency.
Yes politics can be and is a brutal vocation and ask much of politicians, but when all is said and done the average politicians are amoral, dishonest or just plain incompetent.
But politics the Umno way makes millionaires (and even the odd billionaires) of them. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
CT Ali is a reformist who believes in Pakatan Rakyat’s ideologies. He is a FMT columnist.

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