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Can we continue to guess at Ho Ching’s salary as Temasek CEO or will POFMA put an end to that?

Questions have been swirling about how much the Prime Minister’s wife Ho Ching is paid as the CEO of Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). Back in June 2018, blogger Phillip Ang speculated that it could be somewhere around $100 million a year. Others were speculating as well, guessing at perhaps $24 million or even $1 billion.

In his blog, Mr Ang said that since Temasek Holdings (Private) Ltd and GLCs are considered to be private sector companies, it’s reasonable to assume that the CEO’s salary would be pegged to top earners in the industry without any discounts.

According to his calculations, the figure of about $S300,000 a day was arrived at by looking at how much other GLC CEO’s were paid per year and even how much must have been offered by Temasek to Charles Goodyear when they approached him to be CEO in 2009. At the time, Mr Goodyear was making a cool $54 million a year at BHP Billiton. Surely Temasek would have offered him more than that.

Taking $54 million as the starting point at the time when Ho Ching was appointed, that would mean she earned about $147,945 a day. That’s 25 times the Prime Minister’s salary already. Over the years, now that Temasek’s portfolio has doubled under her supervision, she must be earning more, said Mr Ang.

He pegged it at about $300,000 a day which makes up to about $100 million a year.

Now, we don’t know for sure if this is true because Temasek Holdings is an exempt private company under the Singapore Companies Act. This means the company is not required to publish its audited statutory consolidated financial statements. It’s even stated on their website.

Screenshot of Group Financial Summary from Temasek’s website.

So really, there’s no way for the public to know for sure how much Temasek’s management makes.

In contrast, a country like Norway does actually disclose the management costs of its sovereign wealth fund. Norway’s SWF manages a portfolio of about S$1.49 trillion. Of that, about 0.05% goes to management costs which includes CEO salaries – that’s about S$750 million.

Temasek, on the other hand, disclosed that its administrative expenses in 2017 was $8.4 billion on a net portfolio value of $275 billion. Of course, Temasek clarified that ‘administrative expenses’ included expenses of subsidiary companies such as Singapore Airlines, PSA and others. Still, that’s a significant chunk of the company’s portfolio value spent on ‘administrative expenses’.

The information remains an unofficial secret which the government vehemently refuses to shed light on. So under the proposed fake news law, would the blogger’s hypothesis over Ho Ching’s salary be considered fake news or misleading given that it is not an opinion so much as it is an estimation based on guesses?

It’s also worth noting that there is no provision in the bill that requires the government to provide evidence to prove an alleged falsehood. So let’s say the blogger is taken to task for publishing ‘misleading’ information about the Temasek CEO’s salary, would the government be required to prove that the blogger was indeed providing fake or misleading information?

The question remains, will the new law create more transparency or will it allow the government to avoid any scrutiny of its secrets?