The following is copied from the Straits Times, 6 February 2009:
THE salary estimates for political office-holders in the Budget Book are not up to date.
This is why they do not square with those given late last month by Mr Teo Chee Hean, the Minister in charge of the civil service.
Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday explained a discrepancy in the Budget Book that opposition MP Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) raised during the debate.
The Budget Book lists the budgeted sum for each ministry.
In a speech on Tuesday, Mr Low asked why the estimated expenditure on political office-holders in the coming fiscal year in the Budget Book showed only a 1 per cent dip.
Mr Low recalled that Mr Teo had told Parliament earlier that senior permanent secretaries and entry-grade ministers at the MR4 grade would get 20 per cent less this year, compared to last year.
Mr Tharman said yesterday that Mr Teo’s figures were correct.
‘Let me assure members that the payouts for salaries of political appointees would be determined by the government policy as announced by Minister Teo,’ he said.
‘The estimates in the Budget Book for expenditures on political appointments within each ministry were unfortunately not updated in time.
‘The actual expenditures will of course be reflected in the revised budgetary estimates in the course of the year.’
The explanation prompted Mr Low to ask whether other estimates were also out of date.
Mr Tharman said that the difference in cost arising from the ‘mis-estimate’ of the budget for political appointees was not very large.
Indeed, all estimates in the Budget Book are simply that – estimates, he said. And the Government was likely to get some wrong.
He cited the example of the estimates for stamp duties in 2007. The final sum of $3.8 billion was $2.3 billion higher than what was originally expected.
‘We got stamp duties completely wrong two years ago because no one expected the property markets and the stock markets to boom the way they did so suddenly. That was a large error.
‘And there are lots of smaller errors we make each year because it’s not possible to forecast in advance how each item, our revenues, will turn out – which depends on what’s happening in the economy, what’s happening in the markets, depends on lots of factors.’
In the case of the estimates for political appointees, Mr Tharman said it was ‘a case of not having updated the relevant estimates in each of the ministry’s budgets as distinct from coming out with a wrong forecast’.