Nothing wrong with ministers, MPs to be highly paid, but…


Nothing wrong with ministers, MPs to be highly paid, but…
By Zan Azlee

It looks like the issue of cabinet ministers and MPs is back in the spotlight thanks to Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman. He revealed the assortment of allowances and compensations of Malaysian ministers. He would know, seeing that he was a minister once. He also questioned the eligibility of some of the compensations.

It would seem that ministers, and even ex-ministers, have been making a big amount of money that many people would consider unearned. The basic salary itself is already on the high side. According to Syed Saddiq, it is around RM50,000. Then there are all kinds of allowances, including family holiday allowances. Then there are the compensations and gratuities.

“(Putrajaya must explain) is gratuity paid only once, or each time they step down they get paid RM1 million, then when they get reappointed and step down again, get another RM1 million, and when Parliament is dissolved, they get it (RM1 million) again?” he says.

Okay, let’s back up a little bit. Over the years, I have built the belief that MPs, ministers, and basically any elected official or leader that holds a position of authority needs to be compensated fairly, and in fact, handsomely. This is for several reasons. The first is that, obviously, it is an important job that requires skill. The second is to avoid corruption.

Being a minister or an MP is no walk in the park. The job requires the skill and abilities that are similar, or even more than, any high-level corporate executive. Compensation that fits the job is only fair. And we do want to attract the right people for the job. If you pay peanuts, then you get monkeys, right? Kindly wipe that smirk off your face, please.

Also, the position opens up a lot of opportunities for abuse if the person filling it does not have a strong set of ethics and integrity. But hey, everyone is human and temptation should really be one of the seven cardinal sins. So, what better way to prevent it than to compensate someone in that position so that temptation will not arise.

Across the causeway

For many years and until today even, Singapore has always ranked very high on the low-corruption list of countries in the world. Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index ranks Singapore fourth out of 180 countries. That’s impressive. Also, for many years, Singapore’s ministers and MPs have been among the highest-paid in the world.

 

The salary of the prime minister of Singapore was at one point as high as S$3.8 million a year (RM11.7 million). Most junior ministers in the cabinet had, at one point, a starting annual salary of around S$900,000 (RM27 million). Of course, over the years, this has been adjusted, going up and down depending on the economic situation, but it remains comparatively high.

There definitely could be a correlation between the corruption rate and the amount of compensation among the elected representatives in Singapore. The more you make, the less you feel you need to find money. And hence, logically, that would mean it is less likely for an MP or minister to have to resort to corruption.

Another example I can give is Afghanistan, but the old Afghanistan and not the recent one where the Taliban has taken over the government. I have been to this old Afghanistan that I speak of. Ten years ago, I spent about a month in the country reporting news, shooting a documentary and writing a book about the place.

They had a democratically elected government at that time led by then president Hamid Karzai. I met up with the spokesperson of the Internal Affairs Ministry, Sediq Sediqqi, who at that time had told me that corruption among those in the Afghan police force was extremely high. He believed that this was because of the low wages they were being paid.

At that time, the government was working hard to increase the pay of police personnel so that they wouldn’t have to resort to corruption. But if we follow the reports that came out of Afghanistan, police wages have always been an issue with them sometimes not even receiving their salaries at all. But the point is that higher wages are supposed to prevent corruption.

So, to be honest, I don’t mind if our ministers and MPs earn the big bucks. But the keyword here is ‘earn’. They must have the responsibility to carry out their duties correctly and efficiently. We need to be getting exactly what we want from them in their job capacity. If we’re not paying peanuts, then we should definitely not get monkeys.

Transparency is also important. Syed Saddiq highlighted the gratuity received by ministers when they step down or when a cabinet is dissolved, and the fact that in the last few months, ministers who have stepped down and then reappointed again, could be receiving these payments multiple times. The government needs to address this and if it is true, action needs to be taken so the system cannot be abused like that.

Maybe this is why we have MPs and ministers who are so hard up for their positions and want to hold on to it as long as they can, many even well into their twilight years. So much for integrity and responsibility, huh? Even the Singapore government had implemented a pay cut for their ministers and MPs during economic adversities.

Also, we are in a global pandemic that has affected us terribly. Human lives have been lost and the economy is ravaged with people losing jobs, income and ways of putting food on the table. How distasteful is it to hear how our leaders are being paid so much when we are suffering? What happened to ‘thinking about the rakyat’? What happened to solidarity?

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

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