KUALA LUMPUR - Former Malaysian prime minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad, who is now an opposition politician, has 21 staff members working at his research foundation and in his home with their salaries paid by the government, the Prime Minister's Department has said.
The utility bills for his office and residence are also picked up by the government, in line with the Members of Parliament (Remuneration) Act, the PM's Department said in a statement on Thursday.
"The cost is fully borne by the government, covering the payment of salaries, allowances and other facilities which a civil servant is entitled to," it said.
The statement revealed what was not widely known to the Malaysian public.
It was issued in response to Dr Mahathir's claim that the contracts for his cook and office assistant were ended last year, and his police bodyguard service was recently withdrawn.
The government has said what was withdrawn was his police outrider service which was not listed out in the parliamentary act.
The PM's Department said former prime ministers are given these privileges under the Act, meaning Dr Mahathir's immediate successor, Tun Abdullah Badawi, also enjoy the same perks.
"The government also foots the bill for meal allowances, and the other costs for the escorts, personal bodyguards, medical officer and special assistant officer, for Dr Mahathir's overseas trips," the statement said.
"Therefore, the government would like to stress once again that none of the perks has been retracted and the same treatment is accorded to all former prime ministers," it added.
But Dr Mahathir on Thursday insisted that his personal bodyguard service and other privileges had been withdrawn, Free Malaysia Today news site quoted him as telling reporters.
Dr Mahathir, 92, was prime minister for 22 years until 2003. He backed the rise of Datuk Seri Najib in 2009 to replace prime minister Mr Abdullah, who was then seen as an ineffectual leader.
But Dr Mahathir last year formed a new opposition party after leaving Umno following a bitter fight with Prime Minister Najib over the financial scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd.
The Mahathir-Najib fallout has become a key political issue in Malaysia.
There are almost weekly claims and counter-claims between the two leaders over alleged past and current scandals, and the political and economic direction of the country.
The claims and counter-claims over the privileges of an ex-premier form part of this battle for the minds of voters.
While now an opposition figure, Dr Mahathir remains quite popular among elderly Malays who remember his leadership that turned Malaysia into Southeast Asia's third biggest economy after Indonesia and Thailand.