~by: Ravi Philemon~
Many Singaporeans, I believe, will agree that Ministers should be free from undue financial distractions and so, in general would not begrudge the fact that Ministers need to maintain a reasonable lifestyle, as Siew Kum Hong puts it, to “comfortably cover mortgage payments for a reasonably-priced landed property in a reasonable location; payments for 2 cars for the family; education for a minister’s children (including overseas education); some retirement savings, and so on’.
But how much do you need for this financial freedom? Anything more than the amount needed to meet this need for a relatively comfortable lifestyle and financial freedom, may be considered wealth accumulation. And it is this perception of wealth accumulation that many Singaporeans loathe.
Mr Alvin Yeo in his speech in Parliament on the Ministerial salary said, “At No. 5 of the Cabinet Rich List is the Prime Minister David Cameron, with a net worth of £4 million”, in trying to explain that the composition of the foreign political leaders must be looked at in comparing their salaries to their Singapore counterparts (see HERE).
But perhaps Mr Yeo had overlooked that Singapore does not have this ‘Cabinet Rich List’. Or if it is available somewhere, it is certainly not easily attainable by the general public. So, many people do not know how much the Ministers have had in the years they have been in office. It is this lack of transparency that Singaporeans generally feel uncomfortable about.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, in addressing the Parliament on the Ministerial pay issue, said that how Singapore remunerates its political office holders should not be compared with other countries. But besides Mr Yeo, the Prime Minister too seemed to not pay heed to this call of his deputy.
The Prime Minister in addressing the Parliament on this issue said, ” The (US) president is paid less than me, yes. But the high level residents in the White House travel in Air Force One, live in the White House and vacation in Camp David” (see HERE).
In comparing the salaries and perks of Singapore Minister’s to their US counterpart, the PM has apparently overlooked that the Air Force One, White House and Camp David are probably necessities for the US President, as he is most likely on many people’s assassination list. And the money spent on the Air Force One, White House and Camp David does not go directly into the pockets of Obama. It is not the ‘cost’ per minister per se, but how much a Minister takes home that irks the people.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his speech on this issue in Parliament said:
“And it’s vital for us to get a pay system which works for us. Because this is not just about how much money ministers will get, but it’s about Singapore’s future. It’s about ensuring that Singapore always has a good government, leaders who care for our people and our country, who have strong abilities to carry out the responsibility of ministers and the character to handle pressure and the mettle to provide steady leadership in a crisis. And if we can get that right, then we can protect what we have achieved and build better lives for all. If not, the little red dot will become the black spot.” (source: asiaone)
Former Minister Mentor, in a letter sent to various mainstream media outlets, said:
“That unless we have a steady stream of high quality men and women to serve as PM and ministers, Singapore as a little red dot will become a little black spot.” (source: Today)
It is quotes like these, which some consider to be ‘fear-mongering’, that Singaporeans find tiresome.
I think most Singaporeans appreciate the fact that the Government has finally realised that the amount they have paid themselves in the past is exorbitant. They welcome the salary reductions. But are still concerned that it is elitist.
Most would surely disagree with MP Indranee Rajah that “the issue is not one of logic, economics or formulas, as the salaries being debated are beyond the reach of the majority of Singaporeans” (see HERE). Just because the salaries of Ministers are beyond the reach of many Singaporeans, does not mean that it should not be logical to them.
The amount that is paid is important – most Singaporeans would agree; as we too are mindful that salaries must be set at competitive levels for the right people to consider a career in politics. But what’s more important is the principles used to derive at these amounts.
Most Singaporeans may not understand the difference between pegging the salaries of Ministers to the ‘median of the top 1000 Singaporean wage earners’ (see HERE) or to the ‘MX9’ (see HERE), but they are still very uncomfortable about pegging the salaries of Ministers to an elite core of individuals.
Now that Parliament has adopted the Ministerial Review Committee’s report with a majority from the ruling Pary voting in favour of the motion tabled by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, most Singaporeans will perhaps echo MP Denise Phua, that the system be further refined ‘to further fill up the glass’. I believe they would also appreciate Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for indicating that he does not expect his Speech (see HERE), “to be the last word on ministerial salaries”.
As Workers’ Party MP Chen Show Mao so rightly said, the new Government must surely be appreciated for acknowledging that the salaries of political office holders need fixing and for “leading the dance”.