PETALING JAYA (The Star/Asia News Network) - A deputy minister's suggestion that Malaysians take on extra jobs to cope with rising costs has drawn widespread indignation and flak.
International Trade and Industry Ministry deputy minister Datuk Ahmad Maslan was quoted by broadcaster Astro Awani as saying on Saturday: "I think it's not wrong (to have additional jobs) though we have regulations, but it is still one way to address the rising cost of living.
"Malaysians could start an online business for extra income," he said at a function with Johor entrepreneurs.
He has been roundly ridiculed for his comments, even by members of the ruling Umno party.
Fellow Umno MP Shahrir Abdul Samad said an overworked population will affect the "welfare of families". Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin said ministers should find solutions to help the people, not suggest measures that might further burden them.
"A minister should be someone who is level-headed, wise and competent in solving the problems of the rakyat (people) and the country," the Islamic scholar wrote on Facebook.
"If a wise mind and competency is not required to become a minister, then what is so special about the post that they receive a salary and various special privileges?" he said without naming anyone.
Last year, average monthly household income in Malaysia was RM4,585 (S$1,505), with mean household expenditure at RM3,578. But the country has the highest household debt in Asia, at 87.9 per cent of the gross domestic product as of December last year.
A new 6-per-cent goods and services tax (GST), declining ringgit and political instability, and fears of higher inflation are also weighing on consumers.
A schoolbus driver who gave her name only as Premala dismissed Datuk Ahmad's suggestion.
"Driving children to school in the morning, taking them home and then doing the rounds for afternoon school besides taking care of my children takes a lot out of me. I am exhausted every day," she said.
"Even when people offered me a second job to drive students to an international school, I said no. I would be rushing around and putting the lives of the children in danger."
N. Gopal Krishnam, secretary general of Malaysian Trades Union Congress, also said the idea of two jobs was not constructive as it would affect personal and family life.
"Research has shown that having two jobs will lead to a negative impact on health and productivity," he said, adding that this could lead to social problems in the long run.
"The Government should rethink its approaches to ensure workers have enough income to support themselves and their families," he said in a statement.
Datuk Ahmad has taken to Twitter to defuse the situation, saying that Astro Awani's headline "Government encourages working two jobs" was inaccurate.
"I said the ministry encourages online businesses as a means to raise income. It is the latest business trend.
"I have three jobs: MP, deputy minister, Umno information chief. Many people in Malaysia have two jobs. Work hard to earn an honest living," he tweeted.
But his explanation prompted a retort from comedian Harith Iskander.
"I'm a comedian, emcee, writer, coach, actor. I don't have five jobs. I do five different things. A job takes up the whole day," Harith wrote on Twitter.