At the People’s Action Party (PAP) convention held yesterday (10 Nov), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said PAP must not allow the disconnect between the masses and the elite seen in other countries to take root in Singapore.
“The PAP must always remain the party of the people,” he told his party members. “Every party member – you may be a leader, you may be an ordinary member – you must identify with the people, we must serve the people.”
He noted that in other societies, the masses no longer trust the elites leading to the rise of populist movements. This split between masses and elite cannot happen in Singapore, he stressed.
“We must make sure that our system works for ordinary Singaporeans, so that they will embrace it as their system.” He mentioned the Pioneer and Merdeka Generation Packages which help the elderly Singaporeans.
In his speech, he also talked about giving people hope for the future by creating opportunities for every Singaporean to take part in the country’s growth, conceiving and delivering on “bold plans for the future”.
He cited as examples infrastructural developments such as the Greater Southern Waterfront and Jewel at Changi Airport, although it’s not known how these developments can create opportunities for Singaporeans or give them “hope”.
Referring to demonstrations in places like Hong Kong and Chile, he said, “Thankfully, in Singapore, our domestic politics has been quite different.”
“The anger and frustration that have divided many societies elsewhere have not taken root here,” he commented. “The PAP is humbled to enjoy the people’s trust. Singaporeans believe the PAP will improve their lives and take the country forward.”
Singapore government ministers getting very good pay
Speaking of the “disconnect between the masses and the elite”, it has been noted that according to latest surveys conducted by international recruitment agencies Robert Half and Michael Page this year, the Median Gross Monthly Income in Singapore from work, inclusive of CPF contributions of full-time employed residents is only S$4,437.
Meanwhile, Singapore government ministers are paid in millions, some 20 to 40 times more than an average worker in Singapore. PM Lee’s salary alone is at least S$2.2 million a year and has been highlighted as the highest among world leaders by various international news agencies and blog sites.
In fact, in Aug this year, Bloomberg reported that PM Lee’s wife, Ho Ching, had to publicly defend her husband’s high pay. She said Singapore’s pay system for politicians was not comparable to those of other countries.
She said Singapore’s wage system stands out as it does not have any other perks in kind during office, and no pensions or other benefits after the term ends, she said in a Facebook post. She was responding to an article by local blog site Seedly, which compared her husband’s pay to that of US President Donald Trump, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and others.
“In most, if not all, other countries, they would have many other perks during term of office, like butlers and hairdressers, free flights on national airlines, even family holidays, etc; and quite a number like the USA would include perks after end of term of office,” she wrote.
She added that those in public and social services need to have skills and commitment, on top of other qualities. Having “these qualities of excellence, we must not take advantage of them to underpay, or require them to wear hairsuits for a show of sainthood”, she wrote.
Last year, former Prime Minister and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong who is currently a PAP backbencher MP, also defended the PAP government’s policy of paying their politicians highly. He said that Ministers were already underpaid, and further cutting salaries would be bad for Singapore as it would not allow the government the ability to attract the sort of talent that they would like to have.
“So where do you want to get your Ministers from? From people who earn only $500,000 a year, whose capacity is $500,000 a year? You are going to end up with very very mediocre people, who can’t even earn a million dollars outside to be our Minister. Think about that. Is it good for you, or is it worse for us in the end?”
Mdm Ho and ESM Goh are not alone in supporting high pay for ministers. Back in 2012, Minister Grace Fu said that when she made the decision to join politics in 2006, the loss of privacy and public scrutiny were more important than a pay cut.
“I had some ground to believe that my family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though I experienced a drop in my income. So, it is with this recent pay cut. If the balance is tilted further in the future, it will make it harder for anyone considering political office.”
While the ministers can retire “nicely” with their millions of dollars earned in office, the average Singaporeans have to struggle to work even in their twilight years because their CPF is not enough to permit them retire “nicely”. Singaporean lives have been improved indeed.