An American friend recently remarked that he found it astonishing that Singaporeans so frequently debate and dissect how much money their political leaders get paid. This is a topic that is seldom talked about in his country and almost anywhere else around the world.
But we are in a unique situation where the Prime Minister of our country is paid 500% more than the President of the United States and at least 40 times more than ordinary Singaporeans. Compare this with Australia where they kicked up a big fuss earlier this year about their Prime Minister being paid 10 times that of the average person.
The fact that Singapore’s political leaders are bestowed hands-down the title of world’s highest paid can be both a curse and a blessing.
A blessing when they see it as an entitlement, and obviously when political office becomes a stepping stone to riches.
But for the most part, it is a curse because living up to the title is no joke.
It’s understandable why they are mightily uncomfortable talking about it. And if they have human decency, they ought to feel embarrassed about it too.
The title of world’s highest paid comes with the curse of an almost unbearable price and burden. Singaporeans can hold their leaders to account and the problem is that however they perform, whatever they say, it is impossible to justify the sky-high salaries.
What’s more, the computation of salaries and bonuses seem designed more to cause confusion than provide clarity.
Our politicians, unlike those in so many countries, also cannot take the high road and say they are making sacrifices and dedicating themselves to public service. They will be scoffed at because their salaries do not support the notion that they are are in it for purely altruistic reasons.
But to some foreigners, Singaporeans come across as an envious and complaining lot, as in, why do we begrudge our leaders making that kind of money?
The retort from Singaporeans would be that the performance does not match the salary, and unlike cattle and sheep, a price tag cannot simply be slapped on those in political office. And it gets worse when politicians resort to giving cost saving tips like walking more, eating cheaper meals and using public wi-fi – they assume the role of aristocrats talking down to commoners, and the class divide becomes all too clear.
Singaporeans will most likely continue to bitch about how insanely their leaders get paid for running the country, and for asking them to lower their standard of living.
As long as the leaders hold the title of world’s highest paid, they will always have to bear the heavy burden and the full weight of expectation. Unless, of course, some other country steps up to pay their politicians even more. But then, who is crazy enough to want to claim the title – and the curse – of being the world’s highest paid politicians?