On Wednesday (24 Feb), Leader of the Opposition, Pritam Singh of the Workers’ Party (WP) raised questions in relation to the need for mayors and the role of the Community Development Councils (CDCs) run by them.
Speaking in Parliament during the debate on the Emerging Stronger Together Budget, Mr Singh highlighted that many Singaporeans were of the view that the salaries of mayors were “outrageous” and not “commensurate with the mayor’s roles and functions today”.
The bugbear concerning mayors and the CDCs are not new. Indeed, questions have been asked as to whether or not mayors have been paid handsomely just for job duplication with elected members of parliament (MP.) Questions have also been previously raised with regards to the eye-watering salaries that such mayors are paid. This was also an issue that was raised by WP MP, Leon Perera, in the past.
Yet despite there being mounting criticism, Mayor of Central Singapore District and MP for Jalan Besar Group Representative Constituency, Denise Phua has rejected Mr Singh’s questions and accused Singh of politicising the issue. She further labelled Mr Singh’s suggestions that CCCs or grassroots volunteers could run the voucher scheme as “ignorant of or insensitive to the reality on the ground”.
I wonder however if it is Ms Phua that is “ignorant” and “insensitive to the reality on the ground“? The salaries that are being doled out to the mayors are huge when compared to the median wage in Singapore. To add insult to injury, Ms Phua is seemingly justifying such a huge compensation package when her own party, the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) are opposed to a minimum wage!
As lawyer Teo Soh Lung pointed out – “A mayor’s minimum annual salary is $660,000. To this salary, we should add the salary of a member of parliament which is $192,500 per annum. The monthly salary of a mayor is, therefore, a minimum of about $71,000. This is near twice the salary of New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern who earns just $35,800 a month. And New Zealand has a population of 4.886 million. If Singapore’s 5.7 million population is divided by 5, each mayor “takes care” of 1.14 million people.”
In other words, it is OK for mayors to get paid staggering wages but it is not OK for normal workers to be paid a minimum wage of $1300, mooted by the WP.
As an example, Teo Ser Luck who “retired” from politics last year, it has been estimated that he made at least an additional $5 million as Mayor of North East CDC from 2009 to 2017.
Further, can Ms Phua’s opinions really be objective? After all, she is a mayor herself earning the big bucks. Isn’t it a conflict of interest for her to be commenting on this issue in the first place?
It is also rich (pun intended) for her to be rebutting Mr Singh about the politicising of issues when the mayoral positions are not elected ones. Mayors are being appointed by the authorities. With this in mind, will their loyalties be to the public or to the authorities who have appointed them?
Ms Phua herself benefits massively from the mayoral system staying in place. She is rewarded handsomely for it. Her defence of it is therefore completely self-serving. The fact that she deems it appropriate to defend it despite benefitting from it beggars belief. Mr Singh is well within his rights as an elected MP to raise the questions he has. He has no dog in the fight and is simply doing his job as a good and responsible MP.
Ms Phua, on the other hand, has disappointingly seemingly put her unelected role as mayor over her elected one as MP.
The mayoral salaries are paid for by the public. As an MP, she should be welcoming scrutiny on how public funds are utilised. Instead, she has chosen to attack Mr Singh for doing his job. And to label him “ignorant” to boot! That is not only hypocritical but completely disingenuous.