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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

End The Outrageous "Double Dipping" By Top Public Officials

End The Outrageous “Double Dipping” By Top Public Officials
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

The revelation by Transport Minister Loke that the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) Chairman Abdullah Ahmad earns about RM85K a month, while a shocker, is not a secret. It is a long-held practice, and he is not alone. Far from it! 

This practice proliferated under Najib, one of the many manifestations of his cash-is-king schemes to buy the loyalty of senior public officials. He of course received much more in return through their loyalty and cooperation, as evidenced by the loot hauled from his private residences after he was booted out.  

            Prime Minister Mahathir, who earns less than a quarter of what that Mavcom Chairman gets, has ordered Chief Secretary Ali Hamsa to review the remunerations of top public officials as well as heads of GLCs and statutory bodies. 

            There is no need for such a review. Instead, Mahathir should just ban them from having extra income beyond their salaries. They are being paid to devote their time and effort exclusively to their current positions. Theirs is not a 9-5 job; they have no business assuming added responsibilities except in an ex officio(by virtue of their positions) capacity. For that they already have generous allowances to cover the expenses incurred, as with travelling and lodging.

Ali Hamsa is also the wrong person to undertake such an important review. Foremost is the issue of conflict of interest. He is as guilty as that Mavcom Chairman. Hamsa should begin by declaring how much extra compensation he was paid in addition to his regular salary as Chief Secretary by virtue of appointing himself to be on the various boards. The recently-disgraced Treasury Secretary Irwan Serigar was on Khazanah’s and Bank Negara’s Boards, as well as others not yet revealed. He must have raked in substantial additional income from director’s fees.

Ali Hamsa, Irwan Serigar, Abdullah Ahmad and countless others are guilty of double dipping into the public purse. The poor rakyat bears the burden of such rampant lucrative practices. 

Ali Hamsa is also ill-qualified to undertake such a review. He has spent all his career in the civil service. He knows nothing of the culture or value of talent in the competitive private sector. He has been receivingnot giving out paychecks all his life; he has no appreciation of the challenges in having to meet a payroll.

Scrutinize the corporate structures of many GLCs and statutory bodies. They have myriads of subsidiaries and associated companies. The reason is simple – management greed; more corporate entities, more board of director’s positions! Ever wonder why those GLCs and statutory bodies lose money?

If companies like Petronas need outside directors, the Professor of Petroleum Engineering from the University of Malaya would be a far superior choice than a recently retired Chief Secretary to the government. All the latter would do is graft the stultifying civil service culture onto the company.

Appointing that professor as director would also be a way to augment his otherwise meager academic pay. That might just be the inducement for him to stay on campus instead of joining the private sector, to the loss of his students who would be the country’s future petroleum engineers. The professor would also gain real world experience, again to the benefit of his students. Likewise with Tabung Haji. Why not appoint the local Professor of Economics or Accounting to its board? That would be far superior than having that mamakwith a PhD or MBA from Preston University!

Another common and lucrative double-dipping scheme occurs when retired civil servants or former public officials are appointed to statutory bodies or GLCs. The number one culprit in the news today is Isa Samad. He is notorious for other reasons. For this discussion, while he is drawing a substantial pay as the head of SPAD (the Malay initials for the federal public transportation agency), he is still getting his pension as a former MP and a Federal Minister, as well as that of a State (Negri Sembilan) Chief Minister, and as a state legislator (ADUN). Beyond that he is also getting one for being the former head of FELDA. These entities may have different names but their paymaster is the same – the rakyat.

Such “double dipping” should be banned. If a retired civil servant or public official is appointed to a GLC or statutory body and he is getting a regular salary, then he should not be allowed to draw on the pension of his previous job. Instead he should be considered as continuing to work for the same paymaster but in a different capacity. Of course if he were to start his own business or be employed by a private company, that would be a different matter. In that case he should be entitled to the government pension of his old job.

If such a policy were to be instituted, then all those soon-to-retire civil servants would remain busy in their jobs instead of preoccupying themselves lobbying for a post-retirement position in a GLC or statutory body. 

There would two immediate positive effects of such a policy. One, those civil servants would now be less likely to be seduced by their political masters as is the current culture. They would now be more likely to be independent if not outspoken in disagreeing with their political superiors. That could only be good for the country’s administration. 

The other positive effect would be to encourage more Malays (most civil servants are Malays) to enter the private sector either as employees, directors, or to create their own businesses. That would increase the rate of Malay participation in the private sector far more effectively and efficiently than starting expensive and often money-losing GLCs. They would then be more like Rafidah Aziz with Air Asia, or set up their own professional practices as Aziz Abdul Rahman, former Managing Director of Malaysia Airlines, with his own law firm. 

In the 1960s Tun Razak lowered the retirement age (it was 55 then) so enterprising young civil servants could retire to start their own businesses. That initiative spawned many Malay-owned businesses. This was also the practice of the Italian government and resulted in the blossoming of entrepreneurial activities spurred by young retired civil servants who had the safety net of their retirement income. 

            This double dipping by senior civil servants and public officials costs the nation a hefty bundle. With Malaysia’s debt now exceeding a trillion ringgit, the nation can ill afford such outrageous wastages. Time to ban double dipping outright. There is no need for further unnecessary studies.

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