The state cabinet may want to consider taking a pay cut to show their solidarity with the less fortunate in Sarawak instead of dishing out bonuses to civil servants, who still have job security, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
Priorities are obviously crucial when it comes to crafting policies that are meant to assist stakeholders in the wake of an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
It is especially so when available resources are limited and the survival of the economically vulnerable hinges on the government’s financial and other forms of assistance.
For certain groups, such assistance can prevent malnutrition and hunger, if not death.
That is why there are concerned Malaysians and the vulnerable in Sarawak who expressed unhappiness over the recent announcement that bonuses, dubbed “Covid-19 bonus”, would be given to civil servants.
Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg announced the payment of one-and-a-half months of basic salary or a minimum of RM2,000 for state civil servants and a one-off RM500 to those in the federal service.
To be sure, the economic downturn adversely affects all levels of society in varying degrees, which provides justification for the grouses expressed by the vulnerable.
Those who lost their jobs, businesses or had their pay cut, the affected groups argue, are worse off than the civil servants who maintain their jobs and pay – and hence, some degree of financial security.
Workers in the tourism industry, for instance, have lost their means of livelihood owing to the lockdown imposed on interstate travel and border control. Tour guides and hotel workers, among others, are badly hit and require financial assistance from the government.
Similarly, small businesses need to be salvaged by the government as it would go a long way towards resuscitating the local economy.
There are those who have been driven into poverty, arising from the sluggish economy.
To be fair, civil servants, like many other citizens, too, have to endure the rising cost of living that makes a given amount of money a bit smaller in value and other inconveniences, such as loans to service. But, as said earlier, they still have job security.
That said, it would leave a bad taste in the mouth if these bonuses are aimed to please the “vote bank” of the ruling pact in Sarawak, ie the civil service, if the allegation of certain groups is true. The next state election is around the corner.
Political expediency at the expense of the vulnerable is indeed most unfortunate.
If the civil servants truly deserve appreciation, bonuses should be limited only to frontline personnel, particularly health workers who work tirelessly and police personnel who man the roads and elsewhere irrespective of time.
While the quantum of money involved in the issuance of bonuses may not be considered enormous in relation to other allocations in the state budget, such discriminatory practice is jarring to the needy as it suggests misguided priorities.
The state cabinet may, instead, want to consider taking a pay cut to show their solidarity with the less fortunate in Sarawak, which would be a significant gesture. At the very least, this initiative would make the tired slogan of yore – ie leadership by example – come alive.
If anything, they can take the cue from New Zealand ministers, among others, who have taken a 20% pay cut that would last six months to show “leadership and solidarity” with workers on the front lines and those who have lost their livelihoods.
To take a pay cut would be a bonus point for the Sarawak ministers at a time when true leadership is desired.