KUALA LUMPUR: Heads of ministries and departments should be humane in dealing with civil servants who are in debt, Cuepacs secretary-general Ahmad Shah Mohd Zin said Sunday.
He said this group of workers needed "special attention as they may be vulnerable to corruption and moonlighting."
Almost 450,000 of the civil servants were in debt and their take home salary was less than 40 percent of their monthly pay, he said, adding that the bulk of their salaries was deducted at source as payment for various loans housing, cars, renovations, education and hospitalisation.
Cuepacs' stand was that these officers needed to be "rehabilitated" before any disciplinary action was taken against them, he told Bernama.
"What is happening now is that the heads of department usually find the easy way out by taking disciplinary action, like stopping of increment, denying promotions and suspension from duty, thus aggravating the situation."
Under the General Orders, disciplinary action can be taken against civil servants if their take home salary is less than 40 percent of the gross pay.
Ahmad Shah said there were hundreds of civil servants who were moonlighting as taxi drivers, petty traders, direct sales agents and watchmen to make ends meet.
Although the government was aware of the situation and had taken some positive steps like giving them official permission to work part-time, it was not enough, he said.
"The high cost of living, especially in the urban areas, is eating into their income, thus causing them to be constantly in debt," he added.
Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca) secretary-general Muhammad Shaani Abdullah agreed that the high cost of living was one of the contributory factors for the debts of civil servants.
"It is a myth that civil servants are spendthrifts and don't know how to manage money.
"The truth is that the civil servant's salary has not kept in tandem with the increase in the cost of living," he said."
For example, he said, about 30 years ago one could easily have a good breakfast for RM1.20, but today the same breakfast cost five times more.
However, at the same time, the civil servant's salary had not increased by the same proportion.
Muhammad said that if the government was unable to increase salaries, it could assist these civil servants in many other ways to cope with the rising cost of living.
Some of the areas where it could help were to improve the public transportation system to make it affordable and reliable, provide better medical facilities and more scholarships, open special cooperatives, offer soft loans for housing and other needs and give discounts for utilities. - Bernama