Paying more to Ministers so that they become too big to fall?

by Tan Wah Piow

The scalp of Khaw Boon Wan, the Singapore’s accident-prone Minister for Transport, is demanded by the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, and many netizens.

This call was made following a train collision* on 15 November that injured 29 people, followed by three unrelated train breakdowns on the same day. Earlier this year Minister Khaw was criticised when train tunnels were flooded.

Judging by those eye bags, Minister Khaw’s job as a transport minister could not be an easy one. It’s written all over his face.

But who says being a transport minister is an easy job? My study of the eyes of another transport minister, Miss Claire Perry, the Minister of Rail in the UK (2016) confirms that she too carried the burden of office under those eyes.

This is where their similarities end. While Minister Khaw is responsible for 3 million daily journeys on public rails, Miss Perry was responsible for slightly over three times more, 10 million daily trips, and much longer journeys.

For his trouble, Minister Khaw is handsomely rewarded with s$1.76 million a year (plus an enormous pension). That remuneration for far less ministerial burden is 800% more than the meagre s$220,000 Miss Perry earned.

Another difference is that when the shit hit the fan with the rail system, as in 2016 in the UK following rail chaos, Miss Perry resigned, admitted defeat, and publicly declared that she was “often ashamed as a rail minister”.

Whatever she meant, she did not blame others unlike our Singapore Minister who had, a day before the fateful collision, coincidentally pointed his finger at a small group of workers for putting the rail transport system into disrepute

By the standard of Singapore, Minister Khaw would survive to earn another day of meaty daily dumpling. Miss Perry did not.

It makes me wonder, on matters of ministerial resignation, whether salary matters? In the case of Miss Perry, is it fair to say that it is 800% easier for her to accept failure, and to resign. Losing s$1.76 million a year’s salary must be a life-changing experience, and everyone would fight tooth and nail to avoid.

That being the case, am I wrong to suggest that paying more to Ministers actually means getting less in public good? They become too big to fall.

*I notice in some Singapore news reports on the incident, the word “collision” was studiously avoided. They clumsily refer to one train making “contact” with another.