Two months ago, Taiwan-based media The News Lens published an article revealing the distorted logic of ministerial salaries in Singapore (‘OPINION: On the Distorted Logic of Ministerial Salaries in Singapore‘, 29 Jun).
The article started off by comparing the salary of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to that of PM Lee.
“In Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen governs over a country with metropolitan areas like Greater Taipei, which houses 7 million people, as well as major cities like Kaohsiung and Taichung with about 2.7 million people each, and Tainan with 1.9 million people, or a total population of 24 million people for the whole of Taiwan. Moreover, Taiwan’s gross domestic product (GDP) is US$612 billion, or the 13th largest in the world,” the article said.
“Singapore’s population is 5.8 million, and its GDP was US$310 billion in 2016.”
Hence, Taiwan’s population is four times that of Singapore while its GDP is about twice that of Singapore’s. President Tsai herself governs over a much larger population and economy when compared to Singapore but only earns about US$218,000 a year.
PM Lee, on the other hand, earns a base salary of S$2.2 million (US$1.6 million) a year.
“In other words, Singapore’s GDP is only half that of Taiwan, but the Singapore prime minister earns more than seven times that of the Taiwan’s president,” the article noted.
Comparing Singapore with London, New York and Tokyo
When compared to cities, London has an economy twice that of Singapore but the mayor only earns about US$259,000 a year, or less than one-fifth (16% percent) of PM Lee’s salary.
In New York City, the mayor also earns about US$259,000 a year but runs a city with an economy 4.5 times larger than that of Singapore.
And in Tokyo, the governor earns about US$158,000 a year. Tokyo has an economy more than three times that of Singapore but yet the Tokyo governor earns only one-tenth of the salary of PM Lee.
“These three cities have two to five times the GDP of Singapore, yet the Singapore prime minister earns more than six to 12 times that of the London mayor, the New York City mayor and the Tokyo governor,” the article said.
“There is no reason why the Singapore prime minister should earn S$2.2 million. Comparing Singapore’s economy with the other countries and cities, the Singapore prime minister should earn only about one-tenth of his current salary, or S$220,000 (US$160,000) a year.”
Ridiculous to say using high ministerial salaries to prevent corruption
The article thinks that it is ridiculous for PAP to claim that high ministerial salaries can prevent corruption. If this logic holds true, then all Singaporeans should be earning the highest salaries in the world to prevent any form of corruption in Singapore, it added.
“The S$1,100 per month that some security guards and cleaners are earning in Singapore is the lowest wage among advanced countries with a similar level of per capita wealth, but Singapore’s level of corruption, and by extension given the nature of security guards’ jobs, property-related crime, has not gone through the roof, has it?” it asked.
“Or are we saying that these other advanced countries that pay their heads of government much lower salaries are corrupt through and through? But that is not the case either, is it?”
“And if these countries are able to maintain a low level of corruption without paying their ministers such inflated salaries, what does that say about Singapore’s ministers – that they need high salaries to prevent them from being corrupt?”
The article also calculated that in order to justify their salaries, the PAP government then have to ensure Singapore’s economy grow by more than 10 times as fast and its workers should be earning 10 times as much as the other advanced countries in order to be commensurate.
But since Singapore socioeconomic performance isn’t 10 times that of its peers, the article concluded that the PAP government essentially is helping themselves with the country’s money to pay themselves high salaries, while “leaving unaddressed Singapore’s gaping income gap”.
“Why then is Singapore government spending on social protections among the lowest in developed countries, and if taken as a percentage of GDP is less than half of that spent in South Korea and five times less than that allocated in Japan?”