MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Thursday, March 31, 2022

Houses for ex-PMs - are they homeless?


There was a time when Lee Kuan Yew, prime minister of Singapore, (not known to be a particularly generous man) was forced to bend backwards.

Soon after he came to realise that his cabinet did not comprise the best brains of Singapore because politics was not an attractive profession as ministers and elected representatives were poorly paid, he took swift remedial action.

Today, at the benchmark level, the monthly salary of a Singapore minister is S$55,000 (RM176,000) a month, which works out to an annual salary of S$1,100,000 (RM3,520,000).

We can recall that Lee also stated then that ministers and elected representatives who were paid well were unlikely to be involved in corrupt practices. Lee was right. Politicians in Singapore, by and large, are not known to be corrupt.

With an annual remuneration of S$1,100,000 and if you serve one five-year term, you would have earned S$5,500,000 (RM17,600,000). That amount, plus a generous pension, is more than enough to set a minister and his dependents for life.

Most importantly, when ministers and legislators in Singapore are paid well, which in turn gives them a sense of security for the future, the temptation of corruption is practically non-existent.

Back home, the reverse is true, sadly. This is not a fleeting statement. In general, it seems that the more our ministers and lawmakers are paid, the more we hear of corrupt practices.

Worse, corruption could get out of control when it permeates through the corridors of power down to the civil service and its ruptured chain of command. When the minister and his department head are corrupt, how do you expect the ministry to function effectively and professionally?

So, what do our Malaysian ministers make? Our former minister, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, should know. I like to believe that his figures are correct.

According to the Muar MP, a cabinet member is paid RM50,000 a month. This is normal but what Syed Saddiq revealed next is insanely ‘abnormal’.

A minister also gets a lavish home in Putrajaya, a car, a driver, a licence plate that is worth hundreds of thousands, an approved permit (AP) to bring in luxury cars, and a plot of land in Putrajaya, among others.

The former youth and sports minister said ministers can also claim for meal expenses and holiday allowances.

Those who are married can get between RM100,000 and RM200,000 for holidays per year, he added.

Syed Saddiq further revealed that when a minister steps down, they get gratuity pay which is based on the minister's term as an MP.

"If an MP has served four to five terms, even if they served as a minister for one day, their gratuity payout exceeds RM1 million," he said.

When you hear of all these allowances, perks, pensions, etc, we would have thought that our ministers and lawmakers, like their counterparts in Singapore, would be set for life too.

And surely, there should be little or no corruption too in high places but instead, we have to bow our heads in shame now with the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal.

No roof over their heads?

In connection with the remuneration for ex-cabinet members, we have another cause for worry as revealed by Dr Mahathir Mohamad on March 7 which went largely unnoticed because of the Johor election.

The former prime minister charged that the current government has been doing as they please with no respect for the rule of law.

An example, he claimed, was properties “gifted” to former prime ministers Najib Abdul Razak and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi worth RM100 million and RM70 million respectively.

Mahathir also admitted there are no laws governing gifts for ex-prime ministers. Is this why the government could do as it pleases without referring the matter to the cabinet or parliament?

But the most crucial question we must ask is: Why must ex-prime ministers be gifted with multi-million-ringgit homes. Are they homeless? They couldn’t afford a roof over their heads? We are anxious to entangle the mystery behind this extravagant gift.

All our former prime ministers can be considered wealthy with more than enough for a life of comfort. With their million-ringgit gratuity payment and pension, they could have everything they desire.

Why the need for the government to further reward them with palatial homes? Yeah, I am tempted to ask again (no intention to be cheeky) – which one of our former premiers is homeless and living on the street?

I am glad that following his tit-for-tat with Najib, Mahathir has sought to set the record straight.

“Najib tried to blame me because I amended the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Act 1980 in 2003. The amendment was for the government to consider giving former prime ministers a small reward to appreciate their contributions.

“The usual reward was an existing government house. It was not intended to give former prime ministers any luxury or wealth.

“Prime ministers do not need much reward after they retire because the pension, gratuities and allowances they get is more than enough to build a comfortable home for themselves. And that is what I did,” he added.

Rightly said, Mahathir. We should worry if this practice is not halted here and now. Why? Within the last two years, we already have two new prime ministers - Muhyiddin Yassin and Ismail Sabri Yaakob. Maybe yet another new one over the next few months after GE15.

How much do we need to fork out for our ‘seat warmer’ prime ministers? Another RM100 million each for Muhyiddin and Ismail Sabri? That will be the day.

Seriously, we need to relook the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Act 1980 and be more specific about what “gift” and its value to be presented to a retired PM. I hope that Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law), could attend to this matter urgently.

Lee Kuan Yew managed to get the best brains to work in his government and curb corruption at the same time. Malaysia could not. Why? Simply because there is no Lee Kuan Yew in Malaysia.

Here, our former PMs expect the government to give them housing. In Singapore, Lee gave his family home to the government. - Mkini

FRANCIS PAUL SIAH is a veteran Sarawak editor and heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS). He can be reached at sirsiah@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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