by Law Kim Hwee
In any country and business, a boss/owner will know — or has the unfettered right to know — the salaries of all his employees. The management who are appointed to manage state resources, invest tax monies, and citizens’ hard earned life savings are therefore, to all intents and purposes, the citizens’ employees.
Like Norwegians or Malaysians, Singaporeans as citizens of a democratic country, collectively own every cent of the country’s commingled reserves, surpluses and CPF monies there are at any time.
Temasek Holdings (Temasek) was incorporated on 25 June 1974 to manage its investments in government-linked companies (GLCs). Temasek is wholly owned by the Minister for Finance.
Ho Ching, wife of Lee Hsien Loong, the current prime minister of Singapore, was appointed the company’s executive director on 1 May 2002, and has served concurrently as chief executive officer since 2004. As of 2019, it manages S$313 billion of funds and assets.
Given that it is a sovereign wealth fund, why do we even have to ask how much Ho is paid for her services? Particularly since it’s a piece of information that poses absolutely no existential threat to the country.
There are two separate but related issues here.
First, there is the issue of the plain vanilla information on her full compensation. Secondly, whether her salary is justified.
On the first point, I repeat, it is our citizens’ right to know the kind of money we are paying our manager-employees. After all it is not her own or her mother’s or mother-in-law‘s money, nor is it her husband’s.
As to the second, I don’t think Ho’s annual salary is S$100mil. If it is, then we are all suckers to pay for her level of talent (not that she hasn’t any) compared to those in similar roles.
But given all the obfuscations through all these many years on the matter, the likelihood of her true remuneration has invariably become a political hot potato. Which may be basically why the People’s Action Party (PAP) administration refuses to come clean with the exact figures.
The Gold Standard of Sovereign Fund Management: Norway Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG)
To compare apples with apples, let’s look at Norway with a population of 5.54 mil and a GDP of USD$417.6 bil (S$589.6 bil) (2019) while Singapore has a population of about 5.8 million and a GDP of USD$362.8 bil (S$512.3 bil).
The GPFG is a Norwegian fund into which the surplus wealth produced by Norwegian petroleum income is deposited and not pension contributions. The Petroleum Fund was established in 1990 after a decision by the country’s legislature to counter the effects of the forthcoming decline in income and to smooth out the disruptive effects of highly fluctuating oil prices.
Here’s the relevant information that any Norwegian or anyone on earth can freely access from the GPFG 2019 Annual Report (AR):
- Total value of fund managed: approx US$1 trillion (10.088 tril kroner at the end of 2019)
- Total returns 2019: US$164 billion (19.9% profit) vs US$47 bil losses (6.12% loss in 2018)
Feel free to read through the very clear and easy-to-understand information in the AR here.
Now, the interesting part that relates to Ho Ching’s very, very state-secret-level salary information. It’s noteworthy that it is not only the CEO’s but all the key managers remuneration details that are published for the whole world to go through with a fine-toothed comb.
On page 93 of the AR under Management Cost, we see this table:
As clearly shown, Mr Yngve Slyngstad, CEO of GPFG, draws an obscenely modest salary of 6,721,094 Norway kroners (S$930,000) per year for his leadership over a 10.088 tril kroner fund (S$1.38 tril).
For the record, Mr Slyngstad holds 4 Masters in Law, Economics, Biz Mgt & Political Science and more than 10 years in investment and equity management prior to his CEO appointment 1 Jan 2008. He is supported by a team with impressive and role/sector-relevant backgrounds. Without exception, ALL the key executives come with sterling academic and real world experience relevant to the portfolios they have been assigned.
So, my fellow Singaporeans, however the PAP government tries to justify hiding the information from us, please ask yourselves why Norway is capable of being upfront and uncovered with her citizens whose money the GPFG manages for their benefit.
Remember this, “Hiding the truth that we are entitled to is no different from openly lying to us.”
We won’t be getting straight answers unless and until we vote more opposition MPs (credible ones) into parliament to end the PAP’s total dominance. Otherwise, they can and will ride roughshod over our legit concerns and questions and treat the parliament like their own private Members Only Club on reality TV for our entertainment — paid for with our insufficient provident funds to retire with.
By the way, Mr Slyngstad has resigned from GPFG effective of end-Aug 2020. Maybe, we should petition that Mr Slyngstad be head-hunted at 3 times his last salary?