How to stop condemnation of Singapore’s absurdly high ministerial salaries and win votes for the PAP

by Peter Yeo Toon Joo

The late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, was grievously flawed in his reasoning and arithmetic when he pegged his and his PAP ministers’ salaries to the earnings of our island republic’s top ten businessmen, professionals and corporate leaders.

Firstly, none - at best only one - of his ministers had ever earned anything close to those high flyers in Singapore, until the People's Action Party elevated them to that pinnacle. Nothing they have done since convinces dissident Singaporeans that they could have on their own made that kind of money.

The other fundamental fallacy was LKY’s mistake of equating apples with pears. Someone should have taught him, as they do in secondary school, that you should only, i.e. except in theological debate, compare apples with apples. Many disgruntled Singaporeans might even insist some in the PAP’s barrel of apples are neither ripe nor delectable.

LKY (and this is my proposal) should have used instead a patently more sensible benchmark: the average pay of the world’s top ten political leaders. This, of course, presumes the PAP‘s current brood of leaders, not just the prime minister, dare claim to measure up to the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Obama, Angela Merkel or even Donald Trump. President Trump said he would receive only US$1 a month as remuneration; he was already a billionaire and could well afford to sacrifice to fulfil his political ambitions, and serve his nation.

If the PAP government genuinely wants to correct LKY’s epic error and white-wash his legacy of not being able to count, it could also relate its ministers’ pay to the size of those countries’ GDPs. Oh no! Then, the PAP ministers would suffer pay cuts of 90 per cent and more! For our Gross Domestic Product, however much we prate our First World status, is miniscule in comparison.

The use of such a benchmark, and the consequent pay cuts, could cause some ministers to quit; some might even seek alternative employment as mediocre officials of Goh Chok Tong’s Marine Parade GRC (group representation constituency).

There are so many other ways than LKY’s over generous (to himself and his PAP colleagues) one to attract and keep someone who has the wherewithal to serve our nation. Why nobody has ever offered any alternative suggestions is most befuddling and disturbing. Surely, with our many great minds in Singapore, one would have proffered something more sensible, equitable – and acceptable. Alas, they chose to remain dumb, are comatose or already dead.

Of course, if some bright spark, decides now to suggest an alternative, he might be forced to recant, branded ungrateful and subversive. LKY’s son, Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s current prime minister, and his PAP ministers would probably object most vigorously as they would have to forego their luxury limousines and palatial private properties.

Still, if we consider other options, we could, with good accounting advice and input from human resource experts, devise a satisfactory ministerial pay package that could attract and keep good potential leaders, not just mediocre ones.

Any alternative formula would definitely be less offensive than LKY’s. We could even persuade the disillusioned citizens of Singapore to cease their scurrilous ranting on the so-called ‘obscenely high’ PAP ministers’ salaries and bonuses.

It could even help the PAP to regain many lost votes at the next general election. But then our PAP leaders might have to downgrade to an HDB flat, and join the hoi polloi in travelling on public transport – at the risk of turning up late for their snooze in parliament!

If the late LKY had been as brilliant or economically-politically savvy as the sycophantic mainstream media make him out to be, he would not have been so remiss in devising his scheme to attract potential leaders, or above average aspirants.

I suppose we can forgive him this failing of statesmanship and counting. He was, after all, not a mathematician, only a lawyer and prime minister. His son, Lee Hsien Loong, might do a better counting job as his discipline was mathematics. Perhaps, he might want to take time off from contriving to ‘fix’ his political opponents and critics, to work on this as a matter of priority for his ruling political party.

I must, however, remind all patriotic Singaporeans that we should not take away the fact that LKY and his first generation leaders (and some of their successors) had transformed our fabled fishing village into one of the world’s most successful and unhappiest nations of people, who remain largely and temporarily Singaporeans…still.

In defence of LKY, he would not have blundered so badly had he the benefit of instruction from such top economic brains as Singapore’s early economic advisor Winsemius and our one-time deputy prime minister and first minister of finance, the late Goh Keng Swee. For sure he would not have saddled his successors with this political and financial (particularly for Singaporeans) albatross. Even I could have advised him if he had been prepared to listen and had not peremptorily dismissed me as a ‘Simplistic Pressman’!

Singapore would also not have to endure the incoherent utterances of Mr Goh Chok Tong, his hand-picked first successor as prime minister. NOTE: we can now forgive LKY for so scandalously – and thoughtlessly – revealing to the public his intent to ask GCT to be counselled by a psychiatrist.

If we had continued to have such committed leaders as Goh Keng Swee, Lim Kim San, Lim Chin Siong, E W Barker, and C V Devan Nair, our Singapore government and parliament could have ended up with some of the finest leaders our Singapore society had sought vainly to throw up; instead, not a few of our budding leaders were consigned by LKY to solitary in prison or exile in a foreign land. We would then not have to fork out such big bucks, and witness now the many bored PAP leaders catching their forty winks during parliament sittings, or going AWOL altogether.

NOTE: in my mythical advice to LKY on computation of ministerial salaries, I would have also told him that only the prime minister’s pay be related to that of the #1 leaders of the top economies of the world. As many people might agree, the other cabinet ministers are mere managers or heads of department in Singapore Inc, and not CEOs. Hence they should not demand CEO remuneration.

We, as thinking and patriotic citizens of Singapore, should not unquestioningly accept only one proposal from just one mortal man, alas no longer with us, on something so damningly divisive and fraught with self-interest. As they say in post-LKY Singlish, we cannot ‘own self reward own self’. Kee Chiu if you agree.