Lavish ministerial parties as Putrajaya, Malaysians tighten belts

Ketika rakyat diminta berjimat, menteri buat parti hari jadi mewah

Several ministers are still living up the good life although Putrajaya is trimming its budget after asking Malaysians to tighten their belts and be thrifty in the face of rising living costs and subsidy cuts this year.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi hosted a “lavish” birthday bash at a five-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur yesterday which his guests claimed was a New Year’s party.

Another minister had thrown a two-day wedding celebration for his child at another five-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur last month, graced by royalty and VIPs who were entertained by a top Indonesian songstress.

Several pro-Umno bloggers have also questioned the Prime Minister's
Department over the need for two VIP jets after it was revealed that Putrajaya spent some RM180 million to maintain and operate government jets for official trips in 2012.

But yesterday's luncheon came after Putrajaya announced 11 measures to trim public spending, involving cuts to entertainment and transport allowances for ministers and top civil servants apart from freezing office renovation requests.

Receiving a tip-off about the luncheon, The Malaysian Insider visited the top hotel where guests and the birthday boy followed the party theme and were dressed in red.

Ahmad Zahid’s guests feasted on a buffet spread in the hotel’s grand ballroom while he mingled with them, including several civil servants who were invited through an email sighted by The Malaysian Insider.

The Umno vice-president smiled and shook hands with well-wishers after the party, while luxury cars with chauffeurs were lined up in front of the hotel, causing traffic to halt as Porsche Cayennes and Toyota Alphards parked by the roadside.

The Malaysian Insider tried to speak to Ahmad Zahid but was stopped by his bodyguards and told to leave or be escorted out.

It is not known who picked up the tab for Ahmad Zahid’s party, nor the reason for the red theme, but his guests were dressed in their finest with designer handbags and totes in their hands.

A guest told The Malaysian Insider that the party had celebrated two birthdays, Ahmad Zahid's and his grandchild which fell on the same day but also insisted that it was a New Year’s party as emblazoned on the stage backdrop.

Invitations were also sent out via email on Friday to selected employees from the Home Ministry. The email, titled “Celebration of home minister’s birthday”, also included a note to extend the invitation to cabinet and Umno Supreme Council members.

The lavish birthday party and opulent wedding of a minister's daughter and even Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng's new government limousine come at a time when most Malaysians are grumbling about price hikes for electricity, food, fuel and even schooling costs.

Prices of fuel, sugar and electricity tariffs rose after Putrajaya cut back on its subsidies while public transport fares would be increased this year. The goods and services tax would also be introduced in 2015.

Government spending ballooned with this year’s budget up to RM264.2 billion from last year’s RM251.6 billion amid concerns that Putrajaya was not cutting back on expenses despite asking the public to do so.

A number of Malaysians had also poured scorn over Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's announcement on December 30 that Putrajaya would implement 11 austerity measures to cut spending in 2014.

Najib's economic czar, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar had even advised consumers to spend wisely and look for alternatives.

The former banker said that Malaysians have to be thrifty and live within their means.

"I go to the market every week. I know that the prices of basic necessities are high, but consumers have a choice in what they spend their money on," he was quoted as saying in a news report. – January 6, 2014.