Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (ESM Goh) set the Internet ablaze with criticism ever since he made some rather ill advised comments in relation to ministerial salaries. Apart from defending the high salaries of our ministers, he also made known his view that our ministers are not paid enough. To add fuel to fire, ESM Goh further stated that lower salaries would only attract mediocre talent. Criticism has come from not just the general public but also from the ranks of the “founding fathers” of Singapore.
Aside from how ill informed those assertions are and the indignation that they have generated, I would like to focus on the mentality behind such statements. It is bad enough that a minister could view high sky salaries as an entitlement. What is worst, is that a minister feels entitled to defend his salary and in fact imply that he isn’t paid enough in a climate whereby Singaporeans are already feeling the strain of inflation and price hikes on necessities.
If one of the most senior politicians within the PAP is unable to see how such statements could fan the flames of discontent, then the problem of “ivory towers” is far worst than I thought. ESM Goh came from humble beginnings. Of all people, he should understand the struggles of the common man. However, perhaps, many years of high salaries has set him apart from the day to day lives of people. If you only surround yourself with people who earn like you, you tend to forget how the other half live. Has this happened within our political establishment? Are they so out of touch that they can’t even see the problem with making statements like that?
As the myth goes, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France at the time of the French Revolution was so ignorant of the suffering of the French people that when she was told they had no bread to eat declared: “Let them eat cake instead”. She was so far removed from their daily lives that she could not conceive a concept whereby people had no food at all. Are our politicians getting to this stage of ignorance?
It is bad enough for our politicians to feel they deserve extremely high salaries. It is however one disturbing step further if they feel no irony in getting paid one of their highest salaries in the world with no apparent justification.
It is this mentality of ignorant entitlement that is most worrying. Just as how streaming in schools has allegedly led to inequality within our education system, could the minsters have streamed themselves out of the average Singaporean’s reality with their exorbitant salaries?