The approach used by the prime minister does not show any wholesome regard for the wellbeing of the recipients, writes AH Ponniah.
The prime minister rolled out goodies on 4 April 2018 at a specially called gathering of civil servants grouped with retirees in Putrajaya.
He told civil servants they would receive an extra salary increment, equivalent to one annual raise effective 1 July, ie after the general election.
For serving civil servants in higher categories, that increment would be a large amount depending on the salary scale that they are in. This would double their salary increment for the year and be included in the calculation of their pension.
For lower-income employees, it is the same formula. But the amount is much lower. It would provide no help to the high cost of living created by the hugely unwelcome GST, which adds to the burden of the high cost of living, especially on those who can who cannot afford it.
While the civil servants would be receiving an equivalent amount in the second increment effective 1 July, pensioners would receive from July only a 1% raise in their pensions.
These are direct monetary goodies promised before the coming general election. Of course, if the prime minister’s party is voted in, he can be the next prime minister, and if some other party gains the majority, someone else would be the prime minister.
The pay rise for pensioners works out like this. For a pensioner drawing, say, RM1,500 per month, the 1% would be RM15 for the month. Now, he might be able to use this RM15… Oh! Not yet! Wait for July.
Pensions for the lower-income group are 60% or lower of their last drawn salary. The amount would not even be 30% of the salary of their counterparts currently in service – leaving aside any future widening disparity.
Remember that serving civil servants are given a total take-home pay enough to cope with the current cost of living. In contrast, pensioners are shabbily looked after and left to sink even lower down the poverty scale.
What a tragedy. The neediest ones are the old-age pensioners. As if having to cope with rising cost of living is not enough, they have to say thank you for these goodies?
In the past, though they may have been in poorer strata of society, at least they had the right to free medical treatment. But now they also helplessly face poor conditions: they are forced to cough up cash advances for required special medicine and appliances or forgo them and suffer in silence. This is the category who borrow and give their ATM cards to the ah longs as a guarantee for high-interest loans.
The prime minister’s goodies include four other matters including a special RM1 million infusion to Cuepacs.
One other relates to the fixing of a pensioners’ quota for the Haj to ensure they are able to go on pilgrimage.
This would involve a large expenditure by the lower-income group. It needs to be properly addressed. Otherwise, they would become dependants seeking help from their struggling children or some Good Samaritan. Or they may resort to borrow because they only have their monthly pensions.
The goodies was rolled out were actually selective in nature, like a personal gift – but financed out of public funds. Handing out personal choice of goodies on the eve of a general election is bad and can easily be characterised as an abuse, because it is to be paid from public funds, which are basically derived from taxes imposed on the Raykat, among other sources of funding.
So any payout should be responsibly done. By right it should have been part of the 2018 budget speech presented to Parliament. As Parliament represents the Rakyat, that would have represented recognition of the Rakyat and appreciation for loyal and dedicated service of civil servants. A “penayang” bonding would have taken place, spurring them to continued improved performance. Pensions are not just a contractual arrangement with the government, but a deferred payment originating from civil service contribution.
The next big question is, if these goodies are meant to alleviate the suffering of workers especially the lower-income group, why should this alleviation process wait until after the general election? It lends itself to be negatively seen as indirect vote-buying because it carries no cash now but only after the election.
Would one be wrong to categorise this as a bribe? It would have been prudent if this had been presented to Parliament last October and implemented on 1 January 2018.
That would have positively projected the government as committed to the slogan of creating a “masyarakat penayang” (caring society). It would have rewarded civil servants for their caring service rendered to the Rakyat – and it would have been seen as such.
It is expected that whoever governs federal or state governments would be committed to a responsible disbursement of the Raykat’s funds. The beneficiary should be the Rakyat, and the funds should not be used for politicking.
It is often repeated in the press and research findings that civil servants and retirees are ‘fixed deposit’ votes for the ruling party. Is that so? That is expected in a dictatorship where secret voting is denied or where threats of reprisal might intimidate voters.
Another type of abuse is an advance offer to pay before an event while tacitly or aggressively expecting loyalty. It may happen openly in football championships.
A general election is not about reaping personal benefit. Instead, it involves the country’s future. No one should be allowed to entice subject civil servants through undemocratic means just to meet a ‘fixed deposit’ vote target. That would be bad governance; democracy would be abused, and the country would become a failed state.
When civil servants and retirees go to vote, they are citizens who should go and vote with a free mind and not feel indebted or frightened. One should always remember the government, during its term in power, is only acting as the civil servants’ employer, entrusted by the Rakyat. They come and go but the civil servants remain.
The prime minister is in the the frontline for five years as the Rakyat’s chief executive. He should make sure to live up to that trust responsibly.
The awarding of goodies to civil servants should follow proper procedure, preceded by claims and negotiations. It should result in a wholesome goodies package for the mutual benefit of serving civil servants, pensioners, the government and the Rakyat. The Rakyat, in turn, receive good service; the government gets the require performance and benefits from the productivity; and, civil servants and pensioners earn decent goodies with dignity.
The approach used by the prime minister does not show any wholesome regard for the wellbeing of the recipients. Instead, public funds are used to finance goodies as a personal gift in return for personal loyalty. Such conduct should be exposed as unwelcome because it robs civil servants and pensioners of their rights and dignity.
It also undermines Parliament’s control of the executive and the government’s accountability to the Rakyat in the management of public funds.
Despite the obligatory manner the goodies have been delivered, civil servants and retirees should discard their hidden shackles. They should go out and exercise their right to vote as free citizens for whichever party or leader they think is best for our country for the next five years, without fear or favour.
[This article would not be complete without a discussion of the previous procedure on awarding goodies and financing workers organisations is not dealt with. Look out for a follow-up article.]
AH Ponniah is a former secretary general of Cuepacs, the civil servants union.