A monumental waste of money

WHAT was the Barisan Nasional government in Selangor thinking of in 2000 when it built an exclusive enclave for state executive councillors in Shah Alam, complete with a clubhouse?

To be sure, this is a rhetorical question not requiring answers. But I shall endeavour to throw some light on this using pure conjecture tinged with a bit of history.

For one, I think the BN genuinely thought the project beneficial in some way, at least by way of providing some measure of comfort to elected representatives burdened by travelling to their offices from their private dwellings.

For another, it never thought that it would be voted out of Selangor and, therefore, could implement projects across the board it thought fit for executive councillors and people on the other end of the spectrum.

But it was critically wrong about the level of disaffection among the people towards it that would see the ruling party dramatically swept out of power eight years later.

What is crystal clear is this: The RM28 million sunk into the project at Section 7, Shah Alam, has turned into a monumental waste of money although this was not obvious at the time of conceptualisation under a state government monopolised by the BN.

Times were good and the incumbent administration did not realise that this would not be so always with most thinking that the gravy train would continue rumbling through the state.

Not only did the state BN not envisage being booted out, it also never thought that in the unlikely chance that the opposition would come into power, its state executive councillors would reject the mansions built for them.

But reject them they did, and in such spectacular fashion (only one PR councillor moved in) that it indubitably sent home the message that the houses should never have been built.

For the record, the Auditor-General's Report for 2013 has revealed that the houses had only been occupied for four months over the last 65 months since April 2008.

To add insult to injury, the PR government has had to spend RM5.89 million on maintenance and utility payments for someone else's folly over the last six years.

And this to boot even after Mentri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim decided to throw caution to the winds by asking his state executive councillors to occupy the mansions – and live it up.

Obviously, the PR bigwigs in the state executive council did not want to touch the structures probably fearing being tarred with the same brush like those before them when the matter came to light in 2005. Astute political thinking at not choosing to enjoy short-term gains at the expense of long-term objectives.

And so the people's hard-earned money has had to be spent on maintaining exclusive houses even as the hoi polloi has been asked to tighten belts, skimp on food and other essentials and generally behave like they have been relegated to the poor house.

While the BN has had to suffer most at the hands, and tongues, of ordinary people at the monumental waste of money, PR is not exempt from similar castigation.

Did it not realise that the mansions were anathema to its stated political stand of being the people's government and that its state executive councillors would be loathe to stay in such luxury?

Why did the state government have to wait six years for the AG's report to be tabled in Parliament to wake up to the fact that good money was being drained by the project that should not have been?

There is a lesson to be learned. It is incumbent on the Selangor and Penang governments to cease and desist where extravagance is concerned. The people will simply not accept fanciful projects any more or good money going after bad money, especially when making ends meet is becoming more difficult for many.

The affluent may not be perturbed by the turn of events in the matter but the man on the street most certainly is.

What then is the PR state government going to do with this white elephant that complacency birthed?

Renting it out to the public has not worked. There have been no takers, even from within BN ranks.

If the state government intends to keep the houses, it should come up with a contingency plan for their use before the next bill for maintenance arrives.

Can NGOs with the interest of the less fortunate or disabled be allowed use of them at a nominal fee like the federal government does with some embassies from small countries that cannot afford their own premises?

Or if financial considerations are uppermost on their agenda, can the mansions be collectively turned into a resort of sorts, what with the clubhouse and swimming pool? Rentals can be used for the poor and needy.

Khalid and team should put their considerable intellectual and entrepreneurial skills together so that the people of Selangor can get out of this money-drainer once and for all.

The time has arrived to staunch the financial bleeding in projects like this and others that could surface in future if care is not taken with financial prudence where public funds are concerned.

Balan Moses, executive editor (news), advises the people to scrutinise government spending, be it by the BN or PR. There can be no let up as the people we elect sometimes need to be reminded of priority projects for the good of all. Let's all remember always that they are there to use public funds for the people. Feedback: bmoses@thesundaily.com