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Election Watch

We Should Pay Them Better

The Malaysian Insider,
The Star,
April 13, 2015

As a former senior civil servant and an ordinary citizen, I am saddened to learn that 800,000 of our approximately 1.4 million civil servants earn salaries that are now under the national poverty line of RM880 per month.

How do these civil servants make ends meet? How can we expect much from them for this poor treatment by the Government?

Over the years, the plight of the low income civil servants has deteriorated with rising inflation, higher costs of urban living and the comparisons they make with their private sector counterparts.

Civil service frustration

I am sure there is dissatisfaction and frustration as they struggle daily to survive on low incomes averaging between RM805 and RM820 per month in basic pay. This is even below the poverty line income of RM880 per month.

This desperate situation drives many of them, according to the president of Cuepacs Datuk Azih Muda, to do “night jobs” as taxi drivers, waiters, menial workers and other activities.

It’s no wonder that the morale of these civil servants is obviously low and depressing. Just observe many of them at counter service desks or even when they answer phone calls.

They often sound tired, indifferent and also rude. Many tend to distract themselves from their misery by having long coffee and prayer breaks, chatting away and sometimes even selling products and knitting in offices or schools.

This bad conduct generates poor service to the public. Even if this poor service is provided by a minority of civil servants, it certainly gives a bad impression of the whole Government and of the majority of the more diligent and dedicated members of the civil service who are the tulang belakang or backbone of the administration. Please take care of them, but make them take care of the public too.

Have a salaries commission

The Government therefore has to put things right for those in the civil service, particularly the low income groups, by giving them a fairer deal.

The Government has to explain to Cuepacs and the public why the last salary review was made in 1991 or 13 years ago, when it is supposed to be held every five years. There should have been at least two full salary reviews since 1991.

We should learn from this experience and set up a permanent salary review commission that would review salaries in the civil service every five years.

To the public, particularly the taxpayers, who claim that we should not increase salaries of even the low income civil servants because their productivity is relatively low, please understand that there could be a correlation between low salaries and poor productivity.

So why not increase the minimum salaries across the board of the 800,000 lowly paid civil servants to above the poverty line of RM880 a month to about RM1,200 per month as a living wage?

Raise Productivity

At the same time, I ask the Government to strike a fair deal with our reasonable and patient Cuepacs leaders. Cooperate with them to raise productivity, impose greater discipline and promote deeper dedication so that the civil service will better serve the public, who also deserve better services.

Having been the Treasury representative on wage negotiations with Cuepacs, I know they are fair minded.

So please give them a better deal by paying our lowly paid civil servants well above the poverty line. Give them some dignity (maruah) and they will respond with greater commitment to serve the nation.

After all, the Members of Parliament unanimously voted to pay themselves higher salaries. This happened, although many of them have shown good performances only in politiking and mudslinging, while they also earn from other sources and get away with it.

So how do we think the civil service, especially the lowly paid, will react and respond to what they perceive as a lack of employer and public empathy for their poor quality of life?

In fact, there can be a breakdown in confidence and morale of the civil service that can be very detrimental to our national well being and future progress. All this can negate the efforts of MACC to fight corruption through neglect of the civil service.

We could also reduce income disparity and improve income distribution by raising salaries of the low income civil servants.

Alternatively, we could privatise more public services and insist on higher productivity than from the privatised entities that must compete for contracts. Thus, we can reduce the size of the 1.4 million civil servants workforce.

We have to be innovative as the Government says and think out of the box or carry on with business as usual. But that will not work today.

Finally, I urge the Government and the MPs to “give especially the low income civil servants a fairer deal”, insist on higher productivity and establish a permanent salaries review commission.


Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam is the Chairman of the ASLI Centre for Public Policy Studies.

To view the original articles, click here: The Malaysian InsiderThe Star.

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