Of elected reps, junkets and belly dancing

MGG Pillai

Modified 29 Jan 2008, 10:21 am

Some state assemblymen and officials decided on a holiday at the public's expense. They thought of Morocco but in the end settled for Egypt. Of the13 eligible, three opted out of the tour. So no one would have qualms, it was dressed as a study tour.

The eight days of the tour, including the "official" but touristy visit to Parliament and Malaysian students in Cairo, were a holiday: visiting Egypt's ancient monuments and sites, and a practical investigation into belly dancing, no doubt with ideas to spruce Malaysia's tired tourism policies. The group was set to depart when the penny dropped.

This, in a nutshell, is what the Selangor Public Accounts Committee, a constitutional body to check waste and pilferage of public funds in state, did. They planned it in secret. The state government approved it. It is after all an acceptable perk of elected officials and their families to go on holidays at the public's expense. The Malacca state government was in Hawaii on just such a study tour, the chief minister rushing home because the prime minister was visiting, and then returning to continue with the junket.

This is not unique to Malaysia: it happens even in Singapore which wears its priggish uprighteousness proudly on its shirt sleeves. It has come to be accepted as a perk. But in Malaysia there is, as always, that special twist: these trips are planned in secret: those who elected them should not know of it. To prevent leaks and unnecessary questions of elected representatives and officials caught with their hands in the cookie jar, the group is told of the itinerary at the last possible minute so that the public learns of it only after they have left.

There is a reason why: the long-suffering public has had enough of being shortchanged in its name, and react with a ferocity that puts the elected parliamentarian and state assemblyman on notice.

The DAP man who blew the whistle was not born yesterday: he knew the score when he agreed to be on the junket. His horrified moral outrage was for political gain. He knew that once the mainstream newspapers who will manufacture pseudo crises if it sells newspapers got this particular bone gnashed in their teeth, he could bask in the surrounding glory.

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