Daim: Cut Top Bosses’ Pay at GLCs

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Government-linked companies (GLCs) should cut the hefty salaries of their top bosses, said former finance minister Daim Zainuddin, especially at a time when spending is down and layoffs are ongoing in the private sector.

Daim said this is one way GLCs, which manage billions in public funds, can help with the nation’s economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

This was among proposals Daim made in an interview recently on the current state of the economy and what it would take to revive it after being battered by the pandemic.

Although the Perikatan Nasional government has announced several programmes to help small and micro-businesses under its Prihatin and Penjana stimulus packages, the take-up rate for them is still low.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

Daim: It is time all GLCs relook the salaries of their top management. As yet, we have not heard how GLCs are assisting in economic recovery.

TNB (Tenaga Nasional Bhd) and TM (Telekom Malaysia) have announced some initiatives under the Prihatin package, but these are temporary.

GLCs, and this includes banks, should be looking at how they can reduce their operational costs at this time instead of just accepting that profits will be lower or even non-existent.

As far as I have read, many private companies have been forced to implement pay cuts from the highest management to administrative staff just to stay afloat.

So far, except for Malaysia Airlines, I have not read of any GLC talking about pay cuts for its top management. Some have mentioned cutting benefits for board members, but how much does this amount to?

There was a recent letter in The Malaysian Insight about the ridiculously high salaries of GLCs’ CEOs and board members, with some earning more than half a million per month. This is madness.

At a time when people – ordinary workers – are struggling to keep their heads above water, shouldn’t GLCs also be doing their part?

More so now, when so many of them are being headed by politicians. So, in addition to their MP salaries, their private business salaries, this group of MPsare also now earning huge, fat salaries from the GLCs.

When you think that GLCs are essentially public entities, is it fair that so much income is being concentrated in the hands of so few, especially politicians? Let professionals with highest level of integrity and competency manage these companies.

How do you see the economic future of Malaysia changing with the Covid-19 pandemic?

Daim: Post-Covid-19 will become the new normal for people and businesses as things like social distancing could become a permanent feature.

This, in turn, will give rise to remote offices, work-from-home concepts and contactless, commercial platforms will be the new look, more so with the advent of 5G wireless technology.

Are we ready for this new normal? Do we have the right infrastructure, the right training, the right mindset, the right education?

We are talking about a total revamp from the bottom up – for the country, this is an opportunity. From education to training to employment to infrastructure, etc; we cannot and must not continue in the current path we are on.

While the government talks about having to move to online teaching, what are their preparations to level the playing field between urban and rural areas as far as connectivity is concerned?

Are they using this opportunity to look at curriculum, to prepare pupils for a future impacted by climate change, environmental concerns, replacement of the workforce by automation, robotics and AI etc?

Working from home will become a more sought-after alternative for many workers. Can our systems cope with this extra demand?

Already, there were so many complaints of slow connectivity during the MCO. If we expect people to work from home, we have to ensure they have good connectivity and at an affordable cost as well.

What are your recommendations to tide Malaysia through the current economic challenges and deal with future ones?

Daim: Let’s get our priorities right. What we need urgently now is a comprehensive social safety and social protection policy to protect the vulnerable.

Our social protection and social assistance system (are) inadequate and this crisis presents an opportunity to fix it. We need to go back to the building blocks and prioritise.

How do we get people back into jobs, and create jobs for young people? How do we put money into people’s pockets? How do we keep alive small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which are the biggest employers?

I have read the latest short-term economic recovery plan. As have been said elsewhere, it is underwhelming.

The assistance to the self-employed and those currently unemployed should be given serious attention, as they are among the hardest hit from this crisis. A simpler and more focused stimulus would have been more helpful.

While there are various incentives and financing for SMEs, we must monitor its implementation.

The latest Laksana report from Finance Ministry reveals that the coverage, or the execution, remains slow.

The number of SMEs that obtained the SME soft loan funds is less than 2% of the number of SMEs in the country, and same goes for the microcredit loan programme, less than 3% of total micro enterprises received the loan.

The number of SMEs that obtained government loans is less than 2% of the total number of SMEs in the country. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, June 18, 2020.

I also think that we need more confidence-building measures, although political instability makes it hard to build confidence.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that countries with high levels of digitisation and technology were able to respond more swiftly and effectively to the crisis in terms of minimising disruption to businesses.

While Malaysia did not fare too badly, we need to multiply and accelerate efforts, especially and particularly so in terms of digitalising education and ensuring a level playing field for pupils in rural areas and the interior.

If we fail to do so, we will see an even greater widening of income and development gaps between those in urban and rural areas.

The government should also learn lessons from how food security was a big worry during the MCO, and still remains a big worry now.

The agricultural industry – food production – needs to be looked at more closely. How do we secure our food production and supply? How do we increase food production to reduce dependency on imports?

How to we make food production a worthwhile career for young people? How do we merge a traditional industry like agriculture with a new age industry like robotics and smart technology? This government has a lot to think about. – TMI