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Politics is much more than just a contest at earning millions of dollars

If multi-million dollar salaries are motivating and deciding factors for people to come into Singapore politics, we may be getting the wrong type of people from the start

by Simon Lim

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong was quoted in an audio recording as saying that People's Action Party's ministers are not paid enough, and people who earn S$500,000 annually are “mediocre”.

If that was true, it will be such a sad day for our country, and a huge insult to the many people who work hard, put in serious efforts and fend for their families but fall short of his S$500,000 annual income benchmark.

Politics is much, much more than contest at earning millions of dollars. Truly worthy politicians are either thrown up through very challenging circumstances or imbibed with years of high ideals and they yearn to do something worthwhile for their countries at the highest national level. Singapore under the PAP government has mistakenly churned out, at best, outstanding administrators into lousy Ministers.

Our people are paying the prices for it across so many fronts, from high costs of living to depressed wages for our workers to lesser university places to delay and delay CPF withdrawal to more and more elderly citizens eking out a miserable living scavenging for empty drink cans to sell for pittance and selling tissue paper and much, much more.

From what ESM Goh has said, and despite his years in politics, he obviously didn't quite understand that. Truly worthy politicians are a very special breed of people with different values, expectations and contributions. Singaporeans deserve truly worthy politicians and not just only the book smart types who are already earning very high salaries politicians.

Yes, we must not underpay our politicians. But if multi-million dollar salaries are a motivator and a deciding factor for people to venture into the political arena, I say let us be very careful because we are likely to be getting the wrong type of people from the start. Our example of paying politicians by the millions of dollars annually is definitely way out of line and sanity.

Angela Merkel doesn't need to earn $10 million dollars a year in order to be in politics. Neither does Xi Jin Ping, Shinzo Abe, Moon Jae-In, Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Barack Obama, Malcolm Turnbull and other world leaders.

Everybody is gifted differently with different strengths. To use their income as a proxy for their abilities is so obviously flawed. To Goh Chok Tong, I will say this to you. I will consider it at best that you have been living in your ivory tower for far too long until you are now so disconnected with ground realities. At worse, you have demented.

A kangaroo that cannot soar like an eagle is not a stupid kangaroo, neither is a fish that cannot climb trees. People earning less than S$500,000 annually may shock you even at your age and your years of experiences as a politician to be much better sensible and sensitive politicians than your so called people who earn $10 million dollars annually.

The Chinese describe it best about people who may not earn millions of dollars but could still be outstanding politicians benefiting their countries and their peoples.

这不是基因的问题,这是机会的问题

[Translated: This is not a genetic problem, it is a question of opportunity].