Singapore is not the only country with a ceremonial head of state. A number of countries throughout the world have the concept of an elected President with limited powers. Since our Presidential elections are coming up, it would be worthwhile to have a look at the remuneration of other Presidents.
Like President Nathan, the President of Austria, Heinz Fischer is for the most part a ceremonial figurehead. The President of Austria is directly elected by “universal adult suffrage” once every six years, another similarity to President Nathan.
President Fischer gets an annual salary of USD457, 417.00 (approximately SGD561, 836.17) (http://www.paywizard.org/main/VIPPaycheck/world-leaders-salaries/World-Leaders-Salaries/vip_details?id=heinz-fischer-1).
The President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, is also an elected head of state. He is elected to a four-year term by “universal adult suffrage” and has limited powers. Unlike President Nathan however, President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson is not the head of state. The head of state in Iceland is the Prime Minister.
President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson earns approximately SGD177, 247.12 per year.
In the same manner, President Shimon Peres is an elected head of state. His salary is approximately SGD148, 394.35 per annum. He is number 17 on the list of highest paid political leaders in the world.
In the same vein, President Mary McAleese is an elected ceremonial head. Her yearly salary currently stands at approximately SGD 571,532.34 although it is set to be reduced to approximately SGD 439,695.59 per year. (http://www.thejournal.ie/president-offers-to-take-budget-2011s-biggest-wage-cut-2010-12/)
Portugal’s President, , despite having theoretically wide powers is likewise in a largely ceremonial position. President Anibal Cavaco Silva does not have a salary. This is because under Portuguese law, a civil servant is not permitted to draw both a pension and a salary at the same time. President Anibal Cavaco therefore only has an annual pension of approximately SGD 211,936.80. Had he gone with the Presidential salary as opposed to his pension, his annual package would stand at approximately SGD137,676.72.
The above stands in stark contrast against President Nathans annual pay package of SGD4, 267,500.00. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_of_Singapore).
Since all of the above countries have Presidents who serve a similar role to President Nathan, why is he paid so much more than his counterparts? The PAP’s past rationale for high salaries has been to prevent corruption but since President Nathan wields no real political power, where is the danger of him falling prey to corruption?
It is noteworthy to add that both President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and President Mary McAleese have accepted pay cuts in line with their respective country’s financial woes. President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson even went as far as to request for a decrease in his salary. In his letter to the Finance Minister, he argued that the measure was necessary, “Because of the difficulties facing the nation.” (http://www.nanews.net/MAIN.asp?ID=2172&PageID=193)
In so doing, President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson truly exemplifies what it means to be a peoples’ President. By requesting a pay cut, he was showing solidarity with his countrymen in a time of economic crisis, standing shoulder to shoulder with the citizens of Iceland. This is despite the fact that President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson’s salary is not high to begin with (and certainly not high in comparison to President Nathan’s salary).
Granted, Iceland is bankrupt but be that as it may, I cannot help but question if our political leaders would voluntarily do the same should (God forbid) Singapore ever go the same way?