Call For Cuts In Minister’s Allowances

(Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan rakyat on Friday, 4th December 1981 on the 1980/1981 Supplementary Operating and Development Estimates)

Call on the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, to proceed with the reduction in the salaries and allowances of Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries as well as Chief Ministers, Mentri-Mentri Besar, State Executive Concillors, Mps and State Assemblymen

Yesterday, Parliament had just approved the 1982 estimates totaling $31,951 million for both operating and development expenditures.

We are asked today to approve four sets of supplementary estimates, namely:

Fourth 1980 Supplementary Operating estimates: $ 1,975,819,169
Fourth 1980 Supplementary Development estimates: $ 76,705,010
First 1981 Supplementary Operating estimates: $ 863,137,879
Second 1981 Supplementary Development estimates: $ 1,855,227,960
Total $ 4,770,890,018

This is a very big sum of money especially at this period of economic difficulties Malaysia is going through with low prices for our primary export commodities and sluggish economic growth.

The fourth supplementary operating estimates for 1980 to the tune of $1,975 million is particular huge when compared against the original 1980 operating estimates of $10,867 million, which is more than 10% of the original estimates.

Out of this increased estimates, $95 million will go towards paying interests arising from additional National Debt, which were committed because of the shortfall in private investment, in particular private investment; $77 million to meet shortfalls for pensions and gratuities; and $1,800 million transfer to the Development Fund. The first supplementary estimates for operating expenses for 1981, which amounts to $863 million, is also a very big sum, when we consider that this is only the first supplementary vote. Going by pass record, there will by another two or three supplementary votes, each of which would exceed the first supplementary estimates. Unless a tight rein is exercised on operating expenditures, it would appear that the total supplementary operating votes for 1981 would even exceed previous years’, both in terms of absolute figures and their percentage of the original estimates.

This is time for the Government, under the new leadership of Dr. Mahathir and Datuk Musa, to exercise, austerity and economic stringency.

In this connection, the recent announcement by the Prime Minister that he and the Deputy Prime Minister are studying the possibility of reducing the salaries and allowances of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliament Secretaries is most welcome.

There have In fact been too much secrecy about the various allowances and perks drawn by Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, which is against the whole tenor of a more ‘open’ government advocated by the 2-M leadership. In fact, the Prime Minister himself was most evasive in the current meeting of parliament from providing the full details of the Ministerial allowances and perks.

For instance, I had put down an oral question on the very first day of the current parliamentary meeting on Oct. 12 to elicit more specific information on the various Ministerial allowances and perks, and the burden on the public exchequer.

But my question to the Prime Minister to find out what are the allowances and perks which a Minister and his/her family are entitled to when overseas on leave, and the total public money involved in meeting the vacation overseas for all Ministers and their families for 1980 and the first nine months of 1981, was put at the bottom of the questions of the day.

Normally, even if the Prime Minister did not answer the question during the question hour, his answer would be available in written form. But this was not the case.

Again, on 30th Oct. 1981, my colleague, MP for Menglembu, P. Patto, had a question on the same subject when he asked the Prime Minister “to state the allowances and facilities besides the salary and the allowances as indicared in the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Act 1980 for the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries.”

Dr. Mahathir gave the various allowances and perks which Ministers, Deputy Ministers, and Parliamentary Secretaries were entitled to, like Ministers are provided with official houses, servants, official cars, drivers, crockery, free water and electricity, entertainment and appointment allowances, an annual allowances for furniture and an allowances for furnishing and for official ceremonial dress. Dr. Mahathir said Ministers were also given allowances to entertain visitors, their expenses for overseas leave and vacation were met, payment of tips while working overseas reimbursed, and that they got offcial travel expenses for their wives or husbands.

But than asked by Sadri. P. Patton to give the actual amount of the respective Ministerial allowances and peaks, Dr. Mahathir evaded the question and sked for prior notice to be given.

I understand that Ministers and their families are entitled to such king-sized allowances as a tips allowance of $200 a day, which is clearly unjustifiable when we consider that a few million Malaysia are trying to survive on less than $200 a month per household.

I am glad, however, that although Dr. Mahathir had evaded the DAP question about the Ministerial allowances and perks, he has been made uncomfortable and uneasy by such DAP question, as he could evade the question once or twice, but not always.

The DAP will support not only reduction in the salaries and allowances of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, but also in the allowances of Members of Parliament, State Assemblymen, Chief Ministers, Mentri-Mentri Besar and State Executive Councillors.

It is clear that since Dr. Mahathir’s announcement, strong resistance to the proposal had set in, especially among Ministerial and State government ranks. I call on the Prime Minister to proceed with such reductions, which would set a good example to both government and private sectors, and not to bow down to pressures to forgo the idea.

In fact, the Government should also review other aspects of entitlement of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and MPs. For instance, the provision with effect from last year that an MP is entitled to pension after three years’ of service is clearly unfair and unjustifiable, when we consider that government servants have to serve 10 years before becoming pensionable. The DAP will support proposal to revert to the previous pension prevision which confers pensions rights only after nine years of parliamentary service.

Call on the Committee of Privileges to take prompt action on the complaint that the PAC Chairman, Datuk Lee Boon Peng, had committed a breach of privilege through his abysmal ignorance of his duties, powers, functions and responsibilities as PAC Chairman

When the Government comes to the House for such a large sum of supplementary votes for 1980 and 1981 operating and development expenditures, it must convince Parliament and the people that it had exercised responsible financial control and management of public funds.

This, the government has failed to do, especially from the series of Auditor-General’s Reports, whether on the Federal Government Accounts, or State Government Accounts, or on the various statutory bodies and public enterprises, like the Lembage Padi Negara, the Telecoms, the State Development Corporations, etc.

The attitude of the Deputy Finance Minister, Datuk Najib Tun Razak, during question time yesterday, had not increased parliamentary or public confidence in this regard.

When replying to the DAP MP for Bruas, Ting Chek Ming’s question what action the government had taken on the Auditor-General’s Report about the various financial improprieties or irregularities, or as one local paper described it ‘horrors’, the Deputy Finance Minister said the Government’s action would depend on the findings of the Public Accounts Committee of the Dewan Rakyat.

This is a most irresponsible answer and attitude. Firstly, the government has independently and separately to take action on the Auditor-General’s Report where financial irregularities, improprieties and even where fraud or corruption had taken place, immediately on the publication of the report, and not await the and investigations and reports of the PAC.

This is because the Government must have its own internal checks and mechanisms to put right whatever is irregular or improper. The PAC, acting on behalf of Parliament, acts as an external check and mechanism, and when it had to make adverse comments on governmental irregularities and improprieties, it means also the failure of the internal government checks and mechanism.

Secondly, does the Deputy Minister mean that the Government could ignore the Auditor-General’s report on the various irregularities, improprieties, malpractices, fraud or corruption, until the PAC had met and reported? Does this mean that if the PAC is an indolent one, which does not meet or report diligently, being in arrears say for 10 years, as happened in the Malacca Public Accounts Committee, that the Government would also do nothing for ten years?

This attitude is so shocking that I could not believe it being articulated by a responsible Deputy Minister. This is particularly so when the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, for instance, had been so slow in its work, its report on the 1975, 1976 and 1977 accounts still in arrears, not mentioning the other reports of the Auditor-General on the various statutory bodies and public enterprises.

In fact, we have a Chairman of the PAC who does not know his elementary duties, functions, powers and responsibilities. I had referred Datuk Lee Boon Peng to the Privileges Committee for breach of privilege in his capacity as chairman of PAC in disclosing what transpired at the PAC proceedings before a report had been made to Parliament, and I hope the Privileges Committee could act promptly on my reference, as this is a simple, open-and-shut case.

A responsible Government would separately and independently take action on the matters brought up in the Auditor-General’s Report, and when the PAC meets on the Auditor-General’s Report, to report to the PAC that remedial action had already been taken. In such circumstances, there would be no need for the PAC to spend a lot of time on items which had already been rectified or remedied.

In any event, the Deputy Finance Minister’s assurance that the Government would act on the PAC’s recommendations is a hollow one, when we consider the Government’s record vis-à-vis past PAC recommendations and on the Auditor-General’s Report.

In fact, according to the Auditor-General, as of 30th August 1980, there were some 100 items which were outstanding from previous audit reports going all the way back to 1970 Report which the Government had not taken action.

Also, as of 30th August 1980, there are at least 14 recommendations and observations of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee which had not yet been implemented or dealt with by executive action. These dealt with the Public Accounts Committee Report for the 1966-1971 Audit Reports, and not with the 1972-1974 Audit Reports, which if included, will make an even longer list of PAC recommendations ignored by the Government.

The Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir, on his accession to the present office, emphasized the need for greater accountability and responsibility of the government to the people. I suggest that this area of financial accountability, especially with regard to the Auditor-General’s Report and the PAC recommendations, should be the subject of an overall review to make the Treasury and various Ministries more responsive to the Auditor-General’s Report and the PAC recommendations.

The present attitude that the Government and the various Ministries could afford to ignore the Auditor-General’s Report until called up by the PAC must end, so that even before PAC meets, remedial measures are taken. The instance of where the Ministry of Defence set up a board of inquiry into the instant mee scandal, where a packet of mee was contracted at $3.90 and $4.90 in Sarawak and Sabah when it could be contracted at 14 cents a packet, only after the PAC had several futile meetings on the subject, is most ridiculous and shocking.

I cannot end this subject without calling on the PAC to buck up and come out with its 1975, 1976 and 1977 Reports. The PAC Chairman, Datuk Lee Boon Peng, had said sometime in August that these Reports would be tabled in Parliament during the present session. The present Budget meeting has two more days’ sittings left, but we have no sigh of any PAC report yet.

If the PAC Chairman cannot get the PAC reports out promptly and for contemporary relevancy, then he should not hang on to his office just for the name and honcur.

Call on Government to launch an economy drive to slash wasteful and extravagant expenditures, increase productivity and efficiency, and wage war against corruption.

The 2-M leadership advocated a BCL government-berseh, licin and cekap. The new administration a started off with the much-publicised clock-out systems.

At that time, I had pointed out that the mere clocking in and clocking out government servants would not bring about a ‘BCL’ government, if there is no change in the entire attitude, outlook and philosophy of government servants, that they are servants of the people and not their masters!

The regular clocking-in and clocking-out, while ensuring punctuality, would not by itself ensure efficiency, productivity or even public integrity.

The Permatang Tinggi rail/bus disaster, where 18 were killed and 30 injured, is the best example, where but for a modicum of efficiency, competence and responsibility on the part of the Minister of Transport, or the Railway Authorities, gates would have been installed at the crossing after four fatal incidents to prevent the disaster from occurring.

The public are now thoroughly disgusted with the Minister of Transport, the railway authorities and the Penang State Government, who seem to be engaged in a circus of ‘passing the buck’ as to whose responsibility it is to put up railway gates at the crossing, while the public are exposed to danger to life and everyday everytime the rail crossing is used!

Again, the recent complaints and reports about police brutalities against members of the public are jarring notes in an administration which preaches BCL! In this connection, I regret very much the most unworthy statement by the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Haniff Omar, that there are people who wanted to magnify cases of police brutalities for their personal or political interests.

The police forces must be humanized, so that members of the public who go to police stations to reports against police personal for brutality or assaults would not feel as if they are entering the lion’s den , liable to be eaten up anytime.

The police officers should realize that it takes enormous courage, or enormous sense of outrage at being publically humiliated or brutalized when one is innocent, for anyone to pluck up courage to lodge a reports against the police. The present police attitude of regarding such persons with undisguised hostility, treating them virtually as anti-social elements out to besmirch the good name of the police, must be altered.

While I agree that it is only a small group of black sheep in the police forces whose actions bring the police into disrepute, the police forces should not act as if everyone of their members is a certified angel!

I would therefore call on the Government to carry out a campaign to ‘humanise’ the police forces, in fact, the entire civil service.

The government should mount a campaign to impore productivity in the civil service and wipe out corruption. The country will stand to gain, not only economically, but morally and socially, from such a campaign.

Corruption must be tackled at its roots, with the top political and government leaders setting an example of incorruptibility. In this connection, I note that my suggestions during the debate on the Budget about loopholes in the forms dispatched by the Prime Minister to Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, and other top government and political leaders, would be looked into. I would like to know whether such loopholes had been plugged, where the declarant could avoid declaring his or her real assets and income by four expedients:

  1. the declarant need not declare houses and land of children who are of age;
  2. the declarant need not declare the company and corporate shares owned and held overseas;
  3. the declarant need not declare cash and banking accounts, including savings and fixed deposits, in foreign countries;
  4. the declaration does not require retrospective declaration, which allows a declarant to dispose of whatever assets or income on the date making the declaration, without technically committing a false declaration or perjury.

There is another weakness in the declaration, which appears to be a one-shot affair, and not an annual declaration. If it is a one-shot affair, then a declarant could arrange to dispose of his assets before the date of declaration, and to acquire back the assets after he had made the declaration, without committing any false declaration.

However, the most effective way to flight corruption is not by the use of such forms of declaration, but by convincing the public that the government would not discriminate in the prosecution of the corrupt, regardless of his political status or influence.

If we conduct a notional opinion poll, I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Malaysians would state positively that the battle against corruption is a selective one, that the law is only thrown against those in high political leadership. Otherwise, they would be allowed to benefit from their ill-gotten gains.

I am confident that if we can improve on the efficiency, productivity and public integrity of the political and government machinery, either we would not need so much public expenditure, or what we have budgeted would take us very much farther than is the case at present.