It was a defining gesture by the man of the moment.
He could have seen his increased annual package of $385,000 as well-earned and well-deserved. Instead, Pritam Singh has decided to contribute half his salary as Leader of the Opposition to charitable causes, low-income residents and Workers’ Party programmes.
For all the talk we have been hearing about leaving no one behind and making sure no one is left to walk his journey alone, Pritam’s deed speaks louder than anything words can muster.
On Monday, we had witnessed the cabinet swearing-in ceremony. It was a solemn occasion. Yet some of us could not help but keep a lookout for who had struck gold. So high are the salaries for political office holders that a promotion to the cabinet means you have joined the premier league of earners, making 30 times and more that of an average wage-earner.
The precise words that came to mind were “hit the jackpot.” To think of our political office holders as hitting the jackpot seems incongruent. But that’s how our system works and it conjures up that sort of imagery.
Former top civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow said it best: “When you raise ministers’ salaries to the point that they’re earning millions of dollars, every minister – no matter how much he wants to turn up and tell Hsien Loong off or whatever – will hesitate when he thinks of his million-dollar salary. Even if he wants to, his wife will stop him.”
Although Pritam is not in the exalted ministers’ million-dollar club of earners, his sacrifice of donating half his salary is equally – if not even more – significant. That it comes with his wife’s support and blessings is the icing on the cake.
We could see Pritam’s gesture as a repudiation of the idea that you can only entice top talents into public service and political leadership by paying top dollar. Or we could simply see him as a very rare breed of Singaporean.
Either way, he restores some of the faith we seem to have put on the backburner, the faith in the spirit of sacrifice, the faith that money is not everything in this country.