In an interview with Channel News Asia on Saturday (12 May), newly appointed Minister of State for National Development & Manpower Zaqy Mohammad said that the demands of being a Member of Parliament was increasing. “It’s really like having two full-time jobs”, the former partner at ‘Big 4’ accounting firm Ernst & Young said.
Since 2006 when he first became MP, he noted that there were “more MPs speaking up and more people putting questions through, which ultimately means having a lot more people making speeches”. He added that it was “important that these matters which impact all Singaporeans are debated vigorously.”
He cited an example on how previous sittings ran from 1.30pm to 7pm but now could start from as early as 10am and run to 8pm. There were also a “few times when a 1-2 day sitting became 4 or 5 days because there were a lot of topics, or something controversial came up”. He added that he had to take so much leave at his previous job that he had to go on no-pay leave.
He managed such a balance by “working through the night” and averages just 4 to 5 hours of sleep during the "peak period" and could be worse when there was a Meet-the-People session on one day and a Parliament sitting the next day. He joked that he honestly could not “remember the last time [he] had a social gathering”.
Did Zaqy get a pay rise after becoming a Minister of State?
According to an earlier Parliamentary debate in March, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said that there would be no change in the ministerial salary level and structure. This means that an entry-level Minister such as Zaqy would be earning at least $1.1 million on top of his MP allowance of approximately $192,500.
While salary details of his previous job is not know, junior partners at Big 4 accounting firms typically make around $300,000 to $500,000 in salary a year. Given that he has been with Ernst & Young only since 2014, it would most likely be the case that he had obtained a pay rise by assuming a political office.
For how difficult he claims the job to be, a million dollar salary may be of some comfort.
PAP MPs most absent from Parliamentary sitting
Back in 2014, there was a delay in passing 2 Bills – the Radiation Protection Act and the Copyright (Amendment) Bill – as then Nominated Member of Parliament, Eugene Tan highlighted to the Speaker that the number of MPs in parliament did not meet the one-quarter quorum as set out in the Constitution.This was despite a “Rule of Prudence” issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after GE 2011 where “MPs are expected to attend all sittings of Parliament”.
Blogger Singapore Armchair Critic later did a comparison on MPs attendance over 2011 to 2014 and found that Worker’s Party MPs have the lowest rate of absenteeism. Besides Ministers Lee Kuan Yew, Mah Bow Tan and Masagos Zulkifli, several backbencher PAP MPs had an absentee rate of over 20%: Raymond Lim (28%), Irene Ng and Fatimah Lateef (both 22%), Cedric Foo, and Inderjit Singh (20%).
The situation has improved 4 years later. The current Parliament which has sat for 71 sessions, had a minimum 73%* for its MPs with Workers' Party maintaining its high attendance with at least 91.5%. The ministers such as Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, K Shanmugam, Teo Chee Hean and Dr Ng Eng Hen have the least attendance probably because they have to be overseas due their ministerial duties.
But despite the high attendance, if you were sitting in the public gallery, you can notice that the parliament is mostly half full and only filled during the part where the bills have to be passed. This is why you can see scenes of the parliament as the one seen below with less than ten MPs visible.
*Mr Murali Pillai and Mdm Halimah Yacob not included as one joined at a later part and Mdm Halimah resigned to stand for President