On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Our elected reps deserve better

Another Opposition MP said he was asked by the father of a bright student to buy a desktop computer, which was something new to the non-governmental organisation activist.

One Penang MP said he was stunned to find out that there were a few hundred Taoist temples in his constituency. Not only was he expected to turn up for prayers at every temple, but also to make donations.

From buying football jerseys for the school team to giving donations for a school magazine and wedding angpows or gifts, the average Malaysian MP is expected to say yes to all these demands, and more.

During the elections, many Opposition candidates campaigned along the lines that constituency concerns such as clogged drains should be left to the councils and, as legislators, they should be left to focus on the broader issues of the day.

Unrealistic expectations

They are right. Ratepayers should expect the local authorities to do their work and that the complaints should be channelled to these agencies rather than to their elected representatives, especially Members of Parliament.

Ideally, that should be the way but Malaysian voters, in both urban and rural areas, have bigger expectations, sometimes unrealistic, of their elected representatives.

Seasoned DAP MPs like Teresa Kok, Fong Kui Lun and Tan Kok Wai would have by now realised that their supporters require them not only to speak up in Parliament but also carry out mundane tasks like helping the children of their voters to enrol in certain schools deemed as prestigious.

These are unglamorous roles and their energies are often sapped just listening to complaints from residents, who think their MPs can wave the magic wand.

In a real world, however, the roles of our Yang Berhormat are not confined to just making speeches in Parliament, send out press statements and blog on the Internet. Good MPs work terribly hard and they keep long hours.

Many of the new MPs this time are full-time politicians, especially those from the DAP-PAS-PKR coalition, and certainly their budget would be affected in some ways.

It costs money to maintain a decent service centre with a few staff, sometimes paid ones, sometimes volunteers, and there are telephone bills to be paid. Certainly their allowances and claims as an MP, which average around RM13,000, are insufficient. A state assemblyman gets over RM5,000.

These are unrealistic amounts for professionals who want to give up their jobs to devote themselves to their constituencies.

In the DAP, the part-time politicians are also expected to deduct about 25% of their allowances for their party while for full-time politicians, it is around 15%. Recently, PAS reportedly expect their elected representatives to use 30% of their allowances for their constituents.

Our elected representatives, regardless of their parties, deserve a better deal. If they cannot have more allowances, at least the salaries of their workers or research assistants should be paid by the Government.

If our politicians, even those in the Opposition, have to depend on financial contributions from businessmen and interest groups, they would be indebted, in some ways, to these people.

Contributions from ceramah only help these parties in a minor way but not in the daily functions of a good service centre.

There would always be temptations to accept “donations” for party war chests but, as the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. In state governments run by the DAP-PKR-PAS coalition, there will be no shortage of businessmen willing to support their “cause” but Malaysians expect these new leaders to be shining examples.

Top-notch candidates

For that matter, our ministers should be better paid, like those in Singapore and Hong Kong, if we want top-notch candidates to enter politics. By paying them more, we will actually save more but there should be a catch – the price to pay for corruption should be high.

There is no reason why the Anti-Corruption Agency should not be made independent and answerable only to Parliament. What is the point of talking about transparency and integrity if we are unable to allow the ACA to act without fear or favour?

People should not be entering politics to make money. If that happens, political parties would be doomed from the start because the wrong people would be attracted to join them.

But the March 8 elections have brought in a new breed of politicians who are determined to fend off the old demands of voters. Just as voters demand change, they, too, must change in their demands.