Amid economic hardships endured by the vulnerable in our society, calls have been made to the federal ministers to take a pay and allowance cut as a symbolic gesture in solidarity with inflation-hit Malaysians.
Former international trade and industry minister Rafidah Aziz had suggested a 20% cut in pay and allowances, and said this was to show empathy to the people now struggling to make ends meet.
But Rural Development Minister Mahdzir Khalid seemed to have missed the point or refused to understand, when he argued that the pay cut would not solve the problem of rising prices in the country.
Of course, the pay-and-perks cut would not effectively address the price hikes that have struck the nation.
What it would do is hopefully compel the ruling politicians to be more sensitive to the plight of ordinary people who have been set back by the shrinking ringgit.
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The empathy that accompanies the pay cut is vital for the suffering people to feel that their leaders are not aloof and instead are keen to find solutions to their economic challenges.
At the very least, some of the money saved from the cut could be put to better use for the benefit of the needy.
Ministers, particularly those who have so far performed poorly, should be relieved that the proposed cut could be considered as a “national service”; they could take pride that a portion of their pay and perks would have gone to where it makes sense.
Anyway, a pay cut taken by ruling politicians is not a novel proposition.
For instance, Pakatan Harapan ministers had their pay cut by 10% to help reduce government expenditure, while the New Zealand cabinet had theirs cut by 20% in solidarity with Covid sufferers.
The pay cut would be to help lessen, although temporarily, the uncomfortable contrast between the living standards of the cabinet members and those of the ordinary people whose survival has become a constant struggle, especially with some subsidies being lifted.
That is why DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang, like many other concerned Malaysians, was appalled by the recent 60% annual allowance increase to RM480,000 for FGV chairman Dzulkifli Abd Wahab and 25% increase to RM150,000 for six directors.
FGV Holdings Bhd is a government-linked company that is 80% owned by the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), which is entrusted with eradicating poverty through the cultivation of oil palm and rubber.
Lim rightly called for a freeze on the pay and perks of high officials in government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies until the economy improves, because the allowance increment is obscene given the economic problems faced by many people.
Even under normal circumstances, these top officials of government-related agencies should consider not having remunerations that are far removed from those lower down in the organisational hierarchy. Perhaps a reasonable cap on pay and allowance increases is needed for the upper echelons so that the gap should not be vulgar.
The pay-and-perks cut should be applied equally to all the top guns of government-related companies, even those who have proven to be highly qualified for their respective positions.
Incidentally, it is in this context that some observers find it offensive that certain leaders have the audacity to flash newly acquired branded clothes – as well as expensive watches and other pricey items – at a time when the poor have to make do with the torn and tattered. The contrast is grossly immoral.
Given the gravity of the socioeconomic situation in the country, will the ministers be bold and concerned enough to take up the challenge of taking a pay cut of 20% – if not more?
Or is that too much to ask? – The Malaysian Insight