Making ringgit and sense of Malaysian lawmakers

Mustafa K. Anuar

The writer is of the view that improved living standards of the ordinary people, enhanced democracy, reinforced justice, and the nation’s progress and prosperity, should be an invaluable reward for the elected representatives. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 23, 2023.

Commentary by Mustafa K. Anuar

THE issue of ministers and lawmakers’ remunerations has emerged once again, which has received a few responses from the politicians concerned.

Economist Muhammed Abdul Khalid recently called for a stop to offering pensions to MPs, suggesting instead that they should be placed under the Employees’ Provident Fund scheme.

The former Khazanah Research Institute director said it was unfair to grant pension for life to lawmakers who have only served four to five years. 

A few parliamentarians voiced their objections to Muhammed’s proposal, saying MPs dedicate their lives attending to the needs of their constituents and, hence, they deserve to be rewarded with pensions.

Former Sungai Benut MP Tawfik Ismail, on the other hand, argued that the lawmakers’ pension scheme needed to be reformed, adding that money should not be the main attraction when entering politics as the lawmakers’ priority is to serve the people.

Muhammed’s criticism echoed similar concerns expressed by Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who broached the subject about a year ago.

The Muar MP questioned, among other things, the rationale behind granting pensions to lawmakers, especially those who have served only briefly. He proposed that the lawmakers’ pension system be scrapped.

In addition, he also criticised the high salaries, gratuities and other perks, such as travel and telephone allowances, enjoyed by ministers.

The Council of Former Elected Representatives, predictably, opposed Muda’s call to discard pensions for elected representatives.

Its president Aziz Abd Rahman said elected representatives deserved a pension as they spent so much time serving the public.

But based on what Syed Saddiq revealed, the pension scheme is not as straightforward as it seems.

What troubled Syed Saddiq is that the pension can be a lucrative scheme for the lawmakers, highlighting that an elected politician who has served in multiple posts in the past could possibly gain a pension of more than RM100,000 a month. That looks like a hefty sum of money elicited from the national coffers. 

Syed Saddiq said there are separate pension schemes for being an MP, assemblyman, executive councillor, senator, Dewan Rakyat speaker, deputy minister and prime minister. A politician stands to gain more with more positions held.

Not to forget, there are MPs who also hold important positions in government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies, which provide princely pay packets.

That’s not all. Syed Saddiq claimed a lawmaker will also receive more in pension if he serves a constituency longer.

This largely explains why certain MPs refuse to retire even after serving for decades. The longer you serve, the higher your pension will be.

Some may argue that generous remunerations are meant to attract individuals of high calibre and competency into government in particular and politics in general.

But this assertion does not stand scrutiny if we look at some of the ministers who had been appointed over the years and the ghastly behaviour and noisy rambling among certain lawmakers during parliamentary proceedings.

As if this is not enough to irritate voters and taxpayers alike, certain lawmakers were appointed to high positions with fat salaries, such as special envoys, only to do very little, if any.

If attractive remunerations are aimed at discouraging MPs and ministers from getting involved in corruption, the country’s experience has shown this strategy did not quite work. Money is too seductive for some.

To be sure, no one has so far suggested that our ministers and MPs emulate, for instance, their Swedish counterparts who do not have the luxury or privilege of having official cars or private drivers, which necessitates them to travel in crowded buses and trains, just like the people they represent.

The concern here is whether salaries and pensions allotted to the lawmakers are excessive, the excess of which could have been used for the people’s welfare and the country’s development.

Improved living standards of the ordinary people, enhanced democracy, reinforced justice, and the nation’s progress and prosperity, should be an invaluable reward for the elected representatives. – September 23, 2023.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.