Frankly Speaking: March 2, 2009

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Life is to be lived, not enduredIt is time that the private sector increased the retirement age for its employees from the current 55 to 58, in line with that of the civil service.Most people are still quite fit to work at 55, and the mandatory retirement age that was adopted by the colonial government is not in sync with these times at all.

In the current economic climate, even those with jobs are often financially stressed, so what more retirees without an income. Although employers may be inclined to save costs by replacing higher earning senior employees with younger people, this instinct should be balanced against the welfare of its long-serving workers.

At present, employers in the private sector are at liberty to set new terms once an employee retires, and the retiree is usually unable to negotiate for a better deal. Typically, the worker is put on an annual contract, and has to endure uncertainty every time it is due for renewal.One saving the employer can make is to stop its contribution to the Employees Provident Fund, which is more often than not the only savings an employee has when he retires.

Some may argue that older staff members no longer have the stamina or the will to give their best to their company, but that does not do justice to the value that experienced employees bring to the job.

While strong profits are the aim of every company, there is a certain responsibility to one’s employees — to treat them well and to ensure their welfare is taken care of.

It does not seem right that an employee, who has given the best years of his/her life for the enrichment of a company, is left to pasture after reaching 55, while still having many good years of service to contribute.

It is all right for companies to be profit-centric, but this quality should be tempered by justice. If the government can push through corporate social responsibility initiatives, perhaps a more simple requirement, that of ensuring the welfare of workers, could be looked into as well.

Besraya a benchmark The construction cost for the Besraya Elevated Expressway (BEE) should serve as a benchmark for future highway development projects.

Awarded at RM650 million to Besraya (M) Sdn Bhd, the concessionaire of the Sungai Besi Highway, the cost per kilometre of the 12.3km stretch works out to about RM53 million. This is much lower than the estimated RM90 million incurred in the construction of the 26-km KL-Putrajaya Expressway where some 18km was elevated.

The government awarded the KL-Putrajaya job to the Maju Group, which incidentally is not known as builders of highways, on a direct negotiated basis. The other notable elevated highway is the Ampang-KL Elevated Highway that was constructed at the cost of some RM102.9 million per km. The owner of the 7.9km highway is Permodalan Nasional Bhd.

Another elevated highway that is said to be costly is the Eastern Dispersal Link in Johor, which is yet another job awarded by the government.Generally, elevated highways are accepted as more expensive than conventional highway structures. But how is it that Besraya, which is owned by IJM Corp Bhd, is able to undertake the job at such a competitive price? How then was the KL-Putrajaya job awarded at such a high cost?Perhaps IJM, with its expertise in the construction sector, is able to handle the BEE job. Alternatively, when times are bad, jobs can be undertaken at lower prices. But the point is, if the BEE can be done at RM53 million per km, surely other elevated highways cannot be much more costly. This just goes to show how much “fat” there was and probably is in government projects.Proud to be Malaysian?It is distressing that Bukit Gelugor MP Karpal Singh, who is also the DAP chairman, was the target of an aggressive mob of Umno Youth leaders outside Parliament last week. As a people who aspire to developed nation status, we cannot claim that achievement anytime soon if the threat of violence against an elected representative is allowed to take place under any circumstances whatsoever.

Opinions are bound to be polarised over the incident and how it came to pass, but it is more important to recognise that the roots of the problem lie in the race-based political culture that has dominated public life since Independence. Today, five decades after we became a nation, the language of national identity is still mired in communalism.

Although the signs are clear that a large segment of the Malaysian polity is now united by economic circumstances and a 21st century outlook, some sections of the political establishment may be unwilling to embrace this national renewal for reasons best known to themselves. They should be reminded that their anachronistic racial posturing is damaging the country’s future prospects in many regrettable ways. The sooner they can redirect their energies to more constructive purposes, the better it will be for every one of us.

At the other end of the scale, a veteran politician like Karpal should have more decorum than to use swear words in Parliament and to accuse Umno Youth of making a death threat without being able to provide the proof.

In the days ahead, it is hoped that leaders of national standing will find the voice to discourage in no uncertain terms any irresponsible and inflammatory statements that could be aired. Let us conduct ourselves in ways that can make us proud to be Malaysians, instead of descending to a level of thuggish behaviour that would damage our international branding for a long time to come.This article appeared in The Edge Malaysia, Issue 744, March 2-8, 2009.