It has been the talk of the town for years, raised in Parliament multiple times, fueled feverish speculation and government intervention, and now it is set to go before the High Court.
How astonishing that one nation gets so wrapped up over one person’s salary.
There are those who chide the other side, saying aiyah, why bother, why so kapoh, knowing Ho Ching’s salary won’t make you richer or happier.
They might have a point.
Mind our own business?
The salary is her hard-earned money, what does it have to do with the rest of us, shouldn’t we be minding our own business?
Or as Jamaicans love to say: “Yuh too red eye!” You have the disease of envy and jealousy!
But there is the other side of the coin.
Plenty of others insist, I want to know because it’s my right to know, we live in a democracy, where is the transparency and accountability?
They have a point as well.
There is this matter of public money, Ho Ching being the CEO of Temasek, the country’s sovereign fund.
Then there is this question of political affiliation, Ho Ching being the wife of the country’s Prime Minister.
Put two and two together and we understand why she is consistently ranked the country’s most powerful woman by Forbes, and also appears high on their international ranking.
There’s yet another argument: if Ho Ching is indispensable, she’s worth every cent, whether it’s seven figures, or eight or nine figures, it doesn’t matter.
Okay, we get it. These people really, really want to know, in fact they are dying to know.
So when the secret remains a secret for 16 years, it becomes too much for some and they speculate and they ride on the speculation of others, be it from Taiwan or Tajikistan.
The government clarifies, then confounds
Minister Lawrence Wong said last year that “the government maintains an arms-length relationship” with Temasek and “does not interfere in their operational decisions such as remuneration.”
Clear enough. The government does not have a say in salary matters at Temasek, and it isn’t even that close to Temasek.
But then people get flummoxed when Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat instructed four correction directions to be issued because of what it deems false online claims about Ho Ching’s salary.
Huh? The government has no say in Ho Ching’s salary but die die must have a say over online posts on her salary?
It makes no sense.
So the nation keeps going on a frenzied merry go round. From coffee shop talk to boardroom chatter, from Parliament Q&A to online speculation, from government correction orders to the High Court.
Risking reputation for pragmatism
Singapore is often touted for its pragmatic leadership.
We are known the world over for making pragmatism the cornerstone of our decision-making and policy-making.
How pragmatic is it to put the nation through hell and high water, just to keep one person’s salary under wraps?
We are coming across as incredibly parochial and blinkered for making one person out to be bigger than one country.