Comments and questions in relation to the high salaries that are paid to those within the establishment in Singapore are not new. Indeed, it would be fair to say that this is an issue that is regularly raised by bloggers, alternative media sites, alternative politicians and activists alike.
Yet, the justification for this status quo by those within the establishment is that these high salaries are required to retain and attract “talent” and also to prevent corruption. Despite these repeated claims, there does not appear to have been empirical data provided to back up such claims.
Most recently, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that the Government in Singapore pays the officials “according to what he (or she) is worth), as well as “according to what they are contributing”, in a conversation with American philanthropist and businessman David Rubenstein and American think tank, the Atlantic Council. He also went on to insist that this is a model that works for Singapore.
Is this tired rhetoric still relevant?
At the end of the day, no one is disputing the need for good work to be well remunerated. The questions that remain subjective however are what constitutes good, what amounts to well remunerated and who decides?
For example, would a minister like Josephine Teo (who oversaw the Ministry of Manpower when Covid-19 ravaged our migrant worker community) be judged as a worthy candidate to receive high sky salaries in PM Lee’s opinion?
According to reports, the Taiwanese media (which is viewed as much freer than the mainstream media in Singapore) has published an article highlighting the distorted logic of ministerial salaries in Singapore (‘OPINION: On the Distorted Logic of Ministerial Salaries in Singapore‘. The article compared the salaries of President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan and that of our very own PM Lee.
Among other things, the article pointed out that while Taiwan’s population is four times that of Singapore with a GDP that is circa double that of Singapore’s, President Tsai only earns about US$218,000 a year compared to PM Lee, who earns a base salary of S$2.2 million (US$1.6 million) a year despite overseeing a smaller population and GDP.
Could PM Lee be seen as defending the status quo because he benefits (unwittingly or otherwise) from it?
Recently, it has also been revealed that Singapore has a total of five mayors when far larger cities like New York and London only have one mayor ? Why does Singapore need five mayors?
According to Community Development Council (CDC), “The Office of the Mayors in Singapore serves the residents in the five districts. Each district is helmed by a mayor, each of whom also serves as a Chairman of the Community Development Council (CDC) in a particular district.”
Isn’t this a duplication of the work of a member of parliament who has to look after his or her constituents? And isn’t every mayor already a member of parliament? Bearing in mind that each mayor’s minimum annual salary is $660,000 p.a. ($71,000 monthly), why do we need to create this glorious title of Mayor with no additional duties but at humongous costs?
That is the fallacy of PM Lee’s justifications about “worthy” people who make “contributions” needing to be paid high salaries.
Do we need 5 mayors each earning at least $71, 000 monthly when there might already be job duplication? Are each of these making “contributions”?
Is a minister like Josephine Teo (who has been so roundly criticised for her handling of the coronavirus outbreak) a person “worthy” of such high salaries?
Does this really work for Singapore?