Frankly Speaking: March 16, 2009

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Wipe out rent-seeking and corruption

It is inconceivable that anyone is in doubt today about the gravity of the economic crisis that has gripped the world, including its impact on Malaysia. The RM60 billion economic stimulus package that Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak tabled in Parliament last week — double the expected amount — underscores the scale and severity of the problem that is upon us.

The mission that the government needs to accomplish is indeed enormous: the hardship of citizens and corporations that are deprived of their income because of the looming recession must be mitigated; the domestic economy must be strongly stimulated to counter the collapse of global consumption demand; public spending must be increased to create a counter-cyclical effect on economic growth; and productive capacity must be invested in to prepare the economy for the next upturn, whenever that will come.

With such an onerous responsibility on their shoulders, it is imperative that the stewards of the nation’s economy exercise the utmost res-ponsibility in channelling the country’s economic reserves to the most productive uses. It is not surprising therefore that the stock market’s response to the stimulus package, despite its obvious size, has been less than exuberant.This is because the availability of financing and the undertaking of development projects alone cannot ensure that the economic crisis can be successfully overcome. The essential ingredient needed is that the money is put to productive use — every single ringgit of it, and this the investment community is absolutely clear about.

Perhaps it is the scale and severity of the current economic collapse that has induced an unprecedented bout of clarity about the roots of the global economic problem. And this is reinforced by an instinctive recognition of the fact that integrity is a vital quality needed today to manage the current crisis.

In this context, it is crucial that we scrutinise our efforts to avert economic disaster to ensure that the massive resources that are being made available to rescue the country are not swallowed up by self-interested elements.This is because, with so much money to be spent, the rent-seekers and the corrupt will surely be rubbing their hands in glee.Now is the time for all good, honest men and women to make a stand to stop the leakages caused by the inefficiency and corruption that have become a cancer in our midst.

The country needs people of integrity to rise to the occasion. The vigilance should start with those who are tasked with the job of disbursing and spending the money. All good and honest persons should also blow the whistle on the corrupt. Stopping the economy from slipping into recession requires not only speedy and efficient spending of the money allotted but also making sure that every ringgit works and does not go into the pockets of rent-seekers and the corrupt. This article appeared in The Edge Malaysia, Issue 746, March 16-22, 2009.