NST Leader: Reining in pensions

IN the frenzy over the new no-pension, contract-based civil service hiring scheme, populists might get their demand that the government first end the retirement stipend of politicians.

After the initial Public Services Department circular announcing the Feb 1 scheme for new civil service hires and affirmed by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim followed up with the assurance that the scheme would extend to all "new political appointees". Then he made a proposal that met populists' wish list: elected representatives earning multiple pensions, regardless if they are ministers or mentris besar, should opt for only one pension as part of their "moral responsibility".

That sounds fair. The idea that a retired minister or a menteri besar, who is also a retired member of parliament, who was once an assemblyman, lets go of pensions worth in excess of hundreds of thousands of ringgit a month was something the public had long asked for.

But Anwar reminded everyone that his proposal required a parliamentary debate. Moreover, the constitution disallows retrospective withdrawal of pensions. But the fact that the prime minister suggested a move clamoured by so many for such a long time is a strong signal to the wakil rakyat: forego all pensions, except one, perhaps the highest of the lot, before the government is compelled to mandate it.

This is nevertheless firm: the no-pension scheme will exclude the current 1.7 million government employees and 900,000 pensioners, including former political leaders. But how does it work for new elected representatives who won't earn a pension after they retire or lose an election in the future?

From what we understand, the idea for the future is that a "first-time" prime minister, minister, menteri besar, executive councillor, member of parliament and assemblyman may not be entitled to a pension, as is the current practice. That would mean that while they carry out their responsibilities and serve their constituents, their monthly wages and allowances are complemented by EPF contributions and supplemented by perks.

It makes sense though: if the idea is to phase out pensions to ensure the health of government finances a generation from now, then this new scheme is sound.

Who knows, if this new scheme kicks in, the competition to run for political office might wane because the current breed of person eyeing these posts would be disinclined for the simple reason that the job is arduous, thankless and financially unrewarding.

This on top of a reform they loath: development allocations disbursed according to a key performance indicator, just what they do in the civil service. Since politicians stopped tripping over each other to get onto the candidates' list, parties had to enlist younger, more energetic and idealistic members as their wakil rakyat.

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