Pay our ministers and gov’t officials higher salaries


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Pay our ministers and gov’t officials higher salaries
By Zan Azlee

The latest Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2016 was announced earlier this week. Where is Malaysia? We’re at 55, one rung down from the previous year. It looks like we’re slowly and steadily declining and becoming even more corrupt.

Does it come as a surprise? Not to many who have read news on corruption in the country, from the scandalous 1MDB controversy that allegedly implicates Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to the comical ‘cash in the shoe cabinet’ Sabah Water Department employees.

We grumble and get angry about it. But what would be the solution to reduce corruption in the country? I think I may have a suggestion. How about we increase the salaries of our cabinet ministers and government officials?

What? They are already swindling millions, even billions, of ringgit and here I am suggesting that they be paid more? Insane, you say? Well, hear me out. I think I have a valid explanation as to why I say so.

Some years ago, I went to Afghanistan on assignment for several news organisations. One of the stories that I reported on, which struck me quite hard, was when I interviewed the Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesperson, Sediq Sediqqi, about the country’s police force.

This was a year before all foreign forces were to withdraw from the country, and, supposedly leaving Afghanistan a completely sovereign nation. And so the government was preparing to be as independent as it could.

Without me even having to ask, Sediqqi said that corruption in the Afghan police force was at a very alarming level. It could even be said that it was at a point where almost every single police personnel was accepting bribes.

The reason why they were corrupt was simple, he said. They were paid a very low monthly salary and it was definitely not enough to survive, especially if you have a family to take care of. So they have to resort to making side income.

And the ministry’s solution to this, says Sediqqi, is to raise the salary for all police personnel in the country. If they made enough money to provide for their families, then they wouldn’t have to rely on bribes.

I don’t know whether the Afghan government actually went through with the idea and increased their monthly salaries. Neither would I know whether it worked if they did it. I haven’t been back there in six years. But I have to say that it is a good idea.

Millionaire ministers

Another good example, where better salary is used to counter corruption, is Singapore. This is a country that has the highest paid national leader in the world. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earns approximately S$2.2 million a year (RM6.8 million).

Lee’s salary may seem like a large sum. But in fact, he had been earning much more. Prior to 2012, his annual salary was S$3.8 million (RM11.8 million). He took a 28 percent pay cut after the public voiced dissatisfaction with his pay.

It’s not just the prime minister that is paid so highly. All cabinet ministers are as well. A junior minister gets a starting annual salary of S$935,000 (RM2.9 million). Being a politician in Singapore is indeed a very lucrative career.

And how do high salaries reduce corruption in Singapore? According to the 2016 CPI, Singapore went up to 7th position from 8th last year. This is out of 176 countries. Not too bad, right?

It looks like if making money isn’t a concern, then ministers can really focus on their jobs fully without having to worry if he or she makes enough to provide for the family. Pay them well and they will do the job efficiently.

Well, how about Afghanistan? As much as I would like to believe that they have increased the average salary for the Afghan national police, it is still quite low at about US$200 (RM900) a month. The latest CPI shows Afghanistan as one of the most corrupt countries, standing at the 169th spot.

So what do you think? Should we increase the salaries of our elected officials and government employees? Seeing that their jobs require a great deal of responsibility, shouldn’t they be paid more?

Maybe some of you would argue that they need to perform well in their job first before being paid highly. But hey, if they’re not performing well, then don’t vote for them the next time around. It’s as simple as that, isn’t it?

[This article was originally written for and published for Malaysiakini.com]

Get Zan Azlee’s latest book ‘JOURNO-DAD: The chronicles of a journalist who just happens to be a dad!‘ today!

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