The incomes that long-serving MPs and ministers have been enjoying all these years, as recently divulged by Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, seem incompatible with the general idea that ordinary Malaysians have of salaries, gratuities, pensions and fringe benefits.
It is rather disturbing that this is an elephant in the room that has been around for a long time and left unchecked, while the financial benefits are savoured by these MPs and ministers.
That is why it makes sense for the Muar MP to suggest that a special committee be formed to review what looks like anomalous remunerations for MPs who profess to work for the people.
After all, these remunerations are derived from national coffers, mainly contributed by ordinary Malaysians who dutifully pay their taxes, directly or otherwise. Thus, it is to be expected that they will want to ascertain that their money is judiciously spent.
This concern is well placed, especially when national funds have plunged because of an economic slowdown – and extravagant spending by the government on things like the RM35.8m renovation of the prime minister’s official residence.
For starters, we are told that a cabinet member gets a monthly salary of about RM50,000. He or she is also entitled to a magnificent home in Putrajaya, a car, a driver, a licence plate worth thousands of ringgit, an approved permit to import luxury cars and a plot of land in Putrajaya.
This may explain why most ministers will not resign even when people urge them to step down for having committed, say, abuse of power or for underperforming to a ridiculous level. They will not resign even if they are dragged kicking and screaming as they are also mindful of other fringe benefits, such as meal and holiday allowances.
Syed Saddiq claimed that a married minister is entitled to holiday allowances of between RM100,000 and RM200,000. This may explain why some cabinet members prefer to fly to faraway lands to let their hair down.
Given the fat salaries they receive, surely the ministers can afford to pay for their meals and holidays – and not expect it to be at the taxpayers’ expense.
The extra goodies they receive can also be put to better use for the benefit of the needy in society. At the very least, these politicians should think of the vulnerable who have to struggle every day just to put food on their table. Financial aid is vital here.
Or, they should take note of those poor children who cannot afford to buy laptops, which are essential for online learning. Some of them are still waiting for the devices promised by the government a long time ago.
Gratuities for ministers who step down are another bone of contention. It will cost taxpayers heavily if gratuities are paid every time they step down.
Syed Saddiq rightly asked whether a minister gets a hefty gratuity more than once if he or she gets reappointed to a ministerial position. Multiple gratuities will burn a big hole in the public purse.
Then, there is the question of pensions. It appears that anyone who has served for a long time as an state assembly member, state executive councillor, MP, minister or senator will enjoy pensions for each of these positions. These multiple pensions could exceed RM100,000 a month, which is definitely more handsome than the sole meagre pension received by, say, a lowly paid clerk in a government department.
On this note, we welcome the government’s announcement that it would look into the pensions of civil servants to keep them above the poverty line.
However, this development will not necessarily placate the deep concern of Malaysians over the lopsided financial benefits enjoyed by elected representatives, particularly by ruling politicians.
Such financial discrepancies do a disservice to the idea of shared prosperity among the people, especially when the socioeconomic gap in the country has spread wider since Covid arrived on our shores. It is obviously unjust.
There is no better place than Parliament, where a sense of justice and propriety should prevail, to propose a review of the terms of elected representatives’ incomes. – The Malaysian Insight