INTERVIEW WITH THE STRAITS TIMES (SINGAPORE) ON 5 JANUARY 2012
I was asked what I thought about the benchmark of pegging ministerial salaries to the top 1000 earners in Singapore. Some of these remarks were published in The Straits Times on 6 January 2012.
It is really a “no-choice” benchmark.
The Prime Minister had to deliver on a promise made in the heat of the general election: an announcement to cut political salaries. His announcement caught many by surprise, including those within his own party.
The Committee reviewing ministerial salaries was limited by its terms of reference. This was due in part to what the Prime Minister would be able to push through within his own political party.
Look at how the whole announcement on the review of ministerial salaries was carefully managed. The Prime Minister went to his own party MPs to prepare them before the committee responsible for the review was able to make public its recommendations.
The Prime Minister would have faced a lot of trouble selling the changes within his own party if the cuts had been deeper. It could have thrown the party into chaos, with possibly some ministers resigning.
As it is, we are already seeing warning signs within the party ranks. Consider what Grace Fu said recently and Lim Wee Kiak said last year.
Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State: "When I made the decision to join politics in 2006, pay was not a key factor. Loss of privacy, public scrutiny on myself and my family and loss of personal time were. The disruption to my career was also an important consideration. I had some ground to believe that my family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though I experienced a drop in my income. So it is with this recent pay cut. If the balance is tilted further in the future, it will make it harder for any one considering political office."
Lim Wee Kiak, Member of Parliament: "If the annual salary of the Minister of Information, Communication and Arts is only $500,000, it may pose some problems when he discuss policies with media CEOs who earn millions of dollars because they need not listen to the minister's ideas and proposals. Hence, a reasonable payout will help to maintain a bit of dignity."
It’s really the kind of people the PAP has attracted. When the party asked all these people to join politics, they said that we are going to pay you a competitive salary, come and contribute. Now you’re turning the story around and telling them, it’s public service so you have to take a discount. Any benchmark that would have been too far away from this principle of paying a competitive salary would have been unpalatable.
If you want another benchmark, it is not going to happen with the PAP at this juncture.
Maybe, if the PAP starts attracting a different talent pool - those driven by public service rather than money - we could see further cuts in future, or even a different benchmark. But it is not going to happen now.
Plus, the PAP Government is not going to adopt any other benchmark now because that is what the opposition parties are advocating. And the PAP has never been known as a party that looks to the opposition for solutions.
If you are unhappy with the changes and want another benchmark adopted, you will need to vote in a different government because, like it or not, it is not going to happen with the PAP.
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