About that other comment, Dr Lim

Dear Dr Lim Wee Kiak,

It must have been a difficult time for you now, especially with all the furor over your recent comment to the Chinese press. I think everything that needs to be said has been said, and I have nothing more to add.

I am writing to you regarding something else you said in the same article that disturbs me more. As it is in Chinese, I shall attempt a rough translation:

“Although he understood the public’s criticisms of the ministerial pay, he also felt that people must understand that ministers need to look after their own families

‘We may say that it is about service to the people, to the country, so let’s not talk about money issues, but this is a practical world we live in. A minister must also take care of his family, and his future.’

Dr Lim also pointed to the recent General Elections that showed that a minister’s position is not an ‘iron rice bowl’. Once he lost the elections, he cannot stay on in his job.”

Frankly, I do not know where this great paranoia, that the public really wants ministers (and MPs) to earn so little as to not to be able to take care his/her family and future, comes from. If you have been practising what the Prime Minister had been preaching, you know, about listening to the ground and stuff, you would know that the public merely wants less indecent wages for ministers. It would be a real loss of dignity to everyone if visiting dignitaries were to discover that our ministers live in HDB flats… without lift upgrading.

I mean, I do not remember any ministers or MPs who retired, or were voted out before 1994 – the year that the ministers’ pay was ‘adjusted’ – falling into poverty. (Ok, so a few were bankrupted, but those were the result of defamation suits.) Or is it that you do not trust us the members of the public to know what is fair remuneration for the daily sacrifice public servants like you make? Us, the very people you profess to serve?

I also do not understand where you got that idea that a minister’s job is supposed to be an ‘iron rice bowl’. A minister, like anyone else, deserves to lose his job if he is not doing well. Well, you can argue that George Yeo isn’t a lousy minister – and I would agree with you – and I guess the recent GE really does make it look as if a good performance is no guarantee of job security. Which make the whole situation a little bit like retrenchment. Yes, in the corporate world, there is such a thing as retrenchment, and it can happen to anyone regardless of performance. In fact, I believe as an MP you must have helped and consoled a few of your constituents who lost their jobs during the recession. But you never hear anyone in the corporate world asking for a higher pay because of the possibility that they may be retrenched in future, do you?

And honestly, if you believe it isn’t fair that a good minister like George Yeo lost his job, you may really want to look into the root of the problem – the GRC system. Seriously. It is enlightened self-interest. You’ll never know when is it your turn to be booted out through no fault of yours.

Which brings me to a comment you made in an episode of Talking Point in 2009. On the topic of risk factors in politics, you said: “When you’re an MP, you’re an MP for life. Even when you step down, your liability-hood continues with you.” I do not know how you can continue being an MP for life after you step down. Last I checked, the title of ‘Emeritus MP’ has yet to be invented. Might I also suggest that you check with retired Member of Parliament Dr Tan Cheng Bock if he feels this liability-hood everyday?

Having said that, I agree with you that this is a practical world. I understand your concerns about job security and worrying about the future and all. But the good thing is, the government already has a lot of measures in place to ensure that those who lost their jobs do not stay unemployed for long. It has schemes such as E2i and Workfare. These schemes work, trust me.

As long as you are willing to upgrade yourself, scrimp and save a bit,  push back your retirement age (who knows, you may really become an MP for life!), and switch to energy saving lightbulbs in your home (as recommended by your colleague Tin Pei Ling) you have nothing to fear.

Yours sincerely,

Joshua Chiang

26 May 2011

(PS: You really don’t have to take my suggestions seriously as I earn far less than you do. I am, of course, just joking.)