December 2, 2022
KUALA LUMPUR – Here’s a look at the pay and allowances our elected reps get, and it’s a pretty sweet deal.
I AM writing this week’s column on Monday, a public holiday, courtesy of our newest Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
We can thank YAB for it but let this be his last “playing to the gallery” crowd-pleasing act. It was a nice but unnecessary gesture. In fact, it was more disruptive, especially to businesses and schools, than helpful.
Instead, what we need from Anwar and his government is hard evidence that they will be able to effect changes that can finally bring about Malaysia Baru. And it starts with how he assembles his Cabinet which he assures us will be lean and mean. But we also want ministers who are people of calibre, intelligent, efficient and with integrity.
On that, everyone – from politicians, commentators, academics and NGOs to retired civil servants and the public – has his or her take on it. Whether Anwar has had the time to watch or read the deluge of advice, suggestions and even veiled threats is something else. He’s keeping it very close to his chest; we don’t even know who his closest and most trusted advisers are.
Anyway, Aunty here will refrain from joining the “can I advise you something” cluster. Instead, inspired by Anwar’s promise to cut his and his minister’s salaries and allowances, I will take a look at how much our elected representatives are worth in terms of pay and allowances.
This is an issue that’s been close to my heart ever since I wrote a feature article published in The Star on March 31, 1989, in which I compared the rewards given to politicians versus civil servants.
Politicians were not entitled to pensions or gratuities until the passing of the Administration and Members of Parliament (Pensions and Gratuities) Act 1971.
That Act was repealed and replaced by the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Act 1980 [Act 237] which provides for pensions, gratuities, benefits and allowances.
Various people, including MP for Muar and former Youth and Sports minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, have raised the issue of pension entitlements and allowances for assemblymen, MPs and ministers, which Syed Saddiq claimed could exceed RM100,000 per month for some.
Both MPs and state assemblymen (adun) are paid salaries and enjoy many allowances and benefits. There is an even longer list of rewards for the PM, DPM and Cabinet ministers but due to space constraints, I will focus on what serving MPs get.
Now, there is no denying our elected representatives have a lot of work to do and they should be rewarded accordingly. But are they being over-compensated? What are these benefits and allowances?
You can find them in Statute Paper 235 of 1983 on the Official Portal of Parliament of Malaysia (bit.ly/malaysia_mp).
First off, an MP’s monthly salary is RM16,000. He/she also has a phone allowance of RM900 and a fixed travelling allowance of RM1,500 a month without the need to submit any claims.
An MP is also eligible to receive RM400 a day for attending Parliament and RM300 a day for official meetings, workshops, briefings, seminars, etc; a daily subsistence allowance of RM100 while on official duty within the country or RM170 outside Malaysia; food allowance of RM340 for every night spent outside the country; hotel charges of not more than RM400 a night, if the fixed allowance is not enough to cover all these claims.
There is also a “special payment” of RM1,500 a month for MPs who are not a member of the administration as defined under Clause (2) of Article 160 of the Federal Constitution, meaning he is not a minister, deputy minister, parliamentary secretary or political secretary.
If they travel by air on official business, they are entitled to business class seats and every month they get allowances for fuel (RM1, 500), toll (RM300) and entertainment (RM2,500).
They get a driver’s allowance of RM1,500 even if they don’t hire one, so they get paid for driving themselves. Extra benefits include getting a motor vehicle licence or a firearm permit FOC.
There are many other benefits like allowances for medical care, warm clothing, ceremonial and black tie attire; and loans for cars, housing and computers. All in, our MPs are pretty well looked after.
The above salary and allowances, which amount to at least RM25,700, while not really exorbitant, is still a very high income for most Malaysians. What’s more, MPs, after completing 36 months of reckonable service, get a pension after they turn 50.
That’s why it’s important we elect worthy persons to represent us in Parliament and state assemblies because we are their pay masters.
Besides, they are not expected to fork out any of this money to help their constituents. That’s where development funds and grants come in.
However, under both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan governments, whoever was in power discriminated against those in the Opposition in how funds for MPs were allocated.
In 2020, Pakatan government MPs reportedly received RM2mil for development, such as facilities for the community, another RM1.5mil for grants and donations, and RM300,000 to run their service centres. Sabahan and Sarawakian MPs got an extra RM500,000. Opposition MPs got a mere RM100,000 as development funds.
This is patently unfair. Citizens should not be punished for voting for who they want to represent them. Years ago, there were photos of roads being nicely paved in a Barisan constituency that ended right at the border of an Opposition-held seat.
That’s why there have been calls, including from Bersih chief Thomas Fann, that there should be equal constituency development funding. This can be institutionalised by new legislation to ensure the allocation of funds is dispensed by Parliament and not at the discretion of the Prime Minister’s Office.
One of the conditions of Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government’s memorandum of understanding with Pakatan, signed in Sept 2021, was equal funding for all MPs. That should be still honoured and implemented under Anwar’s government.
If that is in place, we can judge how fairly, responsibly and with full accountability our MPs spend these precious funds for the betterment of their constituencies.
They must also show their attendance record, what they have raised or spoken on in the Dewan Rakyat. We can do that by making it mandatory for MPs and assemblymen to publish their report cards just before the annual Budget session in Parliament.
From my years as a journalist covering Parliament meetings, many MPs are seat warmers who hardly ever speak on anything, spend more time in the cafeteria and lounges and even leave before the day’s sitting has ended. That’s why the hall is often very empty, barely making the quorum of 26 MPs from the total of 222.
Fortunately, there are representatives who do take an active part in the Dewan Rakyat; who study new Bills and debate them; raise issues important to their voters and national interest and are really service oriented; they are on the ground and readily available to attend to the needs of their constituents.
These are the kind of dedicated, selfless MPs with integrity we want and we have no qualms about paying them well. Probably the finest example we have is former MP for Bukit Bintang Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye. In the present generation of MPs, the one seen as Lee’s most likely successor is the much loved and admired MP for Segambut Hannah Yeoh.
I started this column by saying I won’t tell Anwar who to appoint. But in the best political tradition of backtracking, I will say I do want to see Yeoh appointed to a meaningful ministerial post in the Cabinet.