By Xavier Kong

AT a time when the country is on an austerity drive and implementing cost-cutting measures, the Kelantan state government had purchased a fleet of over a dozen Mercedes Benz vehicles for the use of its officials, including Menteri Besar Ahmad Yakob.

Pictures of the gleaming black Mercedes with the number plate DV 1 were circulated on social media, and of course, this drew a fair amount of criticism, especially since Kelantan has been marked as one of the poorest states in the country. Deputy Rural Development Minister R Sivarasa was even reported as saying that seven of the 28 poorest districts in the country are in Kelantan in July 2019.

In his defence, Ahmad implored the people to understand that the cars are not a luxury or showing off. He also argued that the issue should not be blown out of proportion, asking if a Perodua Viva would be an appropriate car for a minister.

“If you had money, would you not use a Merc? This is the same, not for luxury. The cars belong to the state government, you must understand,” he said. Say what you will about the cars belonging to the state, are you not the one enjoying the car? (Also, no, a Merc is not that high a priority.)

Ahmad even brought up religion, pointing towards Prophet Muhammad using the best vehicle of the time, a camel, which was considered the “best, most expensive, and fastest” animal then. He even went so far as to point out the story of a governor explaining to a caliph that a display of greatness as a Muslim leader was needed.

Considering the cars are used by the state government, for travel within Malaysia, it stands to reason that the question of just who you are showing off to comes to mind. The only possible answer would be the people, who would probably rather see their ministers going through austerity with them, rather than watch the people tighten their belts from the comfortable, plush seats of a luxury car.

Not to mention the cars came at a suspicious time, considering the state government recently received RM400 mil as a goodwill injection of cash from the federal government, which is supposed to be used to “improve the socio-economy and well-being of the people and strengthen the state’s finances”, according to Ahmad.

Sure, we believe you when you say the RM400 mil was not used towards funding the cars. A reminder that the country is still reeling from the 1MDB scandal and people are more inclined to believe the opposite, that is to say, that the RM400 mil did go towards the cars, seems to be called for here.

The timing of this could not come at a worse time either, considering it was the leaders of PAS (your party, Ahmad) that called out the federal government on its proposal to purchase Toyota Vellfire vehicles for ministers and senior government officials.

Stating that government vehicles are not taxed, thus getting a 50% discount for the fleet does not really stand up as a reason either, considering the money should not be spent in the first place on such luxuries.

Whatever the cost of those vehicles, that same amount is still money and legal tender, which can be used to pay the salaries of Kelantan’s civil servants, considering there is proof that the state government had to ask for an advance loan from the federal government to pay its staff.

But hey, looking good has to be a good enough reason to court criticism and calls of hypocrisy from your constituents, right? – Jan 23, 2020

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