I vehemently disagree with Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s broad brush generalisation of equating levels of competence with salary amounts. He asserts that if ministers are not well paid, we would end up with “very very mediocre” ministers in the future. So is he suggesting that lawyers are more competent than social workers or that bankers are cleverer than teachers? How elitist and nonsensical is that?
You cannot use salary levels as a benchmark for efficacy. What about people who choose various professions due to passion or interests or career fulfillment? Not to mention that different skill sets do not equate to intelligence. Money in itself can never be an accurate measure. Respectfully, I think that ESM Goh is misguided and misinformed on this point.
In making his point, ESM Goh referenced Member of Parliament (MP) Edwin Tong (Tong), a lawyer who allegedly took a 75 per cent pay cut to become senior minister of state for Law and Health. Mr Tong had allegedly previously earned more than $2 million a year as senior counsel. In any case, Mr Tong will earn at least $935,000 a year as a Senior Minister according to the ministry pay scale. So saying that Mr Tong took a 75 per cent pay cut might be a far stretch from reality.
According to ESM Goh, Tong had concerns with having to give up his high paying job to become a minister because “at this stage of his life, he has got a house, he has got a mother-in-law to support, a father-in-law to support, his own parents and so on, what should he do?”
While no one likes a pay cut, I am sorry but I am saving my sympathy for the old people who need to work at hawker centres cleaning tables and washing plates. No matter how much Tong may have had to give up in terms of a salary, whatever he gets paid a a minister is well above the vast majority of Singaporeans who have to support all of those things he apparently cited with a much smaller income and have managed.
If Tong struggles with managing a household on his annual ministerial salary which is close to a million , how can he manage state budgets and policies? Surely good money management is prerequisite to managing affairs of the state?
Cutting ministerial salaries is not “populist” as ESM Goh asserts. It is called “leading by example”. Genuine competence is found in people who can make things work despite difficult circumstances. Besides, ESM Goh is only looking at one side of the coin. Being a minister is not just about salaries. It opens the door to so much more in terms of networking and contacts.
Being a minister will ensure that one has a network of powerful friends and associates. This will put anyone in good stead post retirement from politics. Looking at things from that point of view, shouldn’t the perks outweigh the need for a high salary?
Singaporeans worry about the country becoming too unequal but if someone like ESM Goh can equate salaries with competence, is it such a surprise that elitism is on the rise?