IPOH - The Perak state government has bought 16 new Toyota Camrys for its state Cabinet members, spending a total of RM1.744 million (S$570,000), and attracting widespread flak on social media.
Like Malaysia's federal government, Perak state is controlled by the four-party Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance after the May 2018 General Election.
The purchase of the red Camrys was made public even as the federal government has continued to say that it is struggling under a heavy debt burden of over RM1 trillion (S$328 billion) left behind by the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government.
Meanwhile, poor Malaysian university students who cannot afford to buy three square meals a day have to depend on food banks set up by central government on campus, including in at least one Perak university.
Two PH Perak state Cabinet members - officially called executive committee (exco) members - contacted by Malaysian media said they were entitled to new cars every five years, and that the Toyotas would prove to be more reliable.
The previous BN state government bought a fleet of Proton Perdana cars - rebadged Honda Accords - for state exco members in 2014.
"The replacement of the official vehicles was done on the basis of safety and fiscal management, as in the reduction of maintenance costs," Mr Howard Lee, the Perak exco for youth, sports and human capital development, told news site Malaysiakini.
He added that no laws were broken and there were "no policies that were not adhered to".
China Press newspaper reported that the Camrys were sold by Toyota at RM109,000 each, some RM90,000 lower than its usual retail price.
Said Mr Lee: "We bought them in bulk and there are discounts one gets when you are the government."
Mr A. Sivanesan, the Perak exco for health, consumer rights, civil society, national integration and human resources, was quoted by Malaysiakini as saying: "The old cars were not in good condition, they often broke down.
"The cost for repair was one thing but our appointments are being deferred and sometimes we had to go (to functions) late because of the car."
He said the new car was delivered to him last week.
The criticisms came thick and fast.
Said one Rosta Abdullah on the Facebook page Aspirasi Rakyat that showed a picture of the Perak officials in front of their new rides: "Where did they get the money from, I thought the government has no money???"
Below the Malaysiakini story about the new cars, someone from Penang commented: "5 year cars got a lot of problems?? How many people change their 5 year cars??"