Another discussion about minister’s pay

Because Singapore is such a successfully managed country – the opposition doesn’t have many issues to exploit other than the few tired ones they know that tug at the heart strings of humans. The matter of high ministers salary is one of this.

Singapore is a victorious story of nation building. We have achieved all this, not by mimicking what other countries do, but by choosing and modifying tried policies. We did not copy the welfare programs (that have bankrupted so many governments), we did not copy the political structures of Western countries (which turned out to be disaster for other new democracies) and we didn’t copy what is known as a norm for “public housing”. Why should we now copy the salary scale of other countries?

Do you really believe that politicians from the United States to Hong Kong actually take home what is declared as “base pay”? Does our frugal government really have nothing better to do than to anger the public, when there are easily “creative” ways to do so? And honestly: What is the point of having so much money when you can’t really flaunt it or enjoy it?

Our founding fathers have run the country with real honesty and the heart to make lives better for Singaporeans. And they have done so with results. Can we guarantee that we will always be attracting people like this? Corruption is very convenient. The world is corrupting in morality – how can we trust that the politician of the future is not motivated by “black money”, money that is paid for favors?

The message is also very clear to the Ministers: This money will be a jarring spotlight on your careers. A safety mechanism for when the old guards are not around. if you don’t want trouble, you have better do a good job – there is absolutely no excuse or the electorate will hound you 24 hrs a day, not once every 4 years. As Mr. Lee said in a public rally once “…this is not a game of cards, this is YOUR life and MINE. Whoever runs this country, must have that iron in him!”

Personally – I don’t care if they take home $10m (which they are not), what’s important is that the country can afford it. This is a country! If a corporate CEO can be paid hundreds of millions for selfish reasons, why shouldn’t a cabinet of ministers (whose work impacts more people) be paid similar? If Singapore was poorly run, then yes, I’d be pretty pissed off…. but it’s not!

To end off, here are several letters that the public have written in lately about this matter. Read them, think about it… then ask yourself if you were offered such salaries at work, what would you do?

Excerpts from The Straits Times:


THE opposition should think carefully and get a reality check if it plans to use the issue of ministers’ salaries to score an election point.

The arguments can go like this: that if one wants to serve the nation, one must be prepared to sacrifice and forgo one’s income worth.

If one were to use this line of logic, does it mean we should also not compensate our national servicemen during their in-camp training? After all, they should be prepared to sacrifice for their country and it’s only income and not their lives they are sacrificing. This would save lots of taxpayer money.

If this suggestion sounds absurd, then I guess I have made my point. We need to recognise that income is not only meant to deter corruption but also to communicate appreciation and the value of the person in the employer’s eyes (the employer in this case being the nation).

Most of us would feel sore and unappreciated if we realise we are not paid market value. We would leave the company. This is human nature. I would expect that someone looking to lead the nation would understand this basic management principle?

Gideon Lee

THE Prime Minister’s press secretary’s reiteration of the role of the President (‘Why the President’s salary is pegged higher’; March 18) is common knowledge and well-accepted.

Previously, when salaries of political appointees were less beyond the imagination of ordinary Singaporeans, the President’s salary, even when pegged above the Prime Minister’s, was not as jarring to the public. Now that salaries of political appointees are pegged to ‘market rates’, a salary of $4,267,500 for the current job scope of the President does appear to warrant discussion.

The Government has stated repeatedly that the presidency, though elected, is not an executive office. The President’s duties, though important, are custodial and ceremonial, not executive. In corporate parlance, this is more akin to a non-executive chairmanship, while the Prime Minister functions like a chief executive officer; the ministers as chief operating officers, chief financial or marketing officers and so on.

A non-executive chairman, though accorded the highest respect with top perks and protocol in the corporation, is not paid more than his chief executive officer.

It is time to divorce the respect for and prestige of the presidency from its salary. The status of the presidency as the highest office of the land is enshrined in the Constitution and does not depend on it being paid more than the Prime Minister and ministers.

In the corporate world, apart from the example of the non-executive chairman and CEO cited above, there are also occasions where, for market and competitive reasons, a position lower in the corporate hierarchy may be paid more than the one above. This has not compromised the organisational structure.

Cheng Shoong Tat



AS THE general election looms, ministerial salaries are once again being discussed with renewed vigour on various Internet platforms.

My view is that the current pay structure is appropriate for Singapore simply because it is the price of honesty.

We have had a government ranked among the highest for being corruption-free. There is certainly no need to grease any wheels in Singapore to get things done: That validates the strategy of pricing ‘honesty’ appropriately.

Of course, this then begs the question why the price of honesty is so much lower in other comparable countries with a relatively honest government. Surely, the price in such countries should not be vastly different compared to Singapore? There are, however, several plausible reasons for this divergence.

First, we are still a young country and we have a long way to go before we create a solid identity and a deep sense of belonging that will act as a counterweight for financial-related benefits. This will come only with time.

Second, the turnover of ministers in comparable countries is relatively much faster compared to Singapore, where a minister can be in the Cabinet for decades with no fixed term limit.

When you stretch the political life of a minister that much longer, the price of honesty via remuneration must be greater to ensure that the government remains, well, honest and incorruptible.

Third, the candidates who enter politics, as is often seen in countries like the United States, may have already made their fortune, as in the case of former US treasury secretary Hank Paulson, who was chief executive officer of premier investment house Goldman Sachs before he joined the White House Cabinet.

Such holders of high office can afford to serve their country out of conviction alone.

Yet others may enter government early with the long-term aim of leveraging on the experience and influence they so gather when they leave to join the private sector.

Singapore does not offer such luxuries because we are a small country with a small pool of talent that can be considered for key government positions.

Lastly, Singapore ministers or prime ministers do not have a lucrative lecture circuit that they can embark on at the end of their political careers like some of their counterparts elsewhere.

Kanagasabai Haridas
Denver, Colorado

If you’d like to have a look at older debates about the issue of money, may I suggest you have a look here: under the section “The Politics of Money”

  1. I enjoyed reading your piece. You represented arguments on both sides and chose to stand by one. I respect your effort to provide a balanced perspective online. Keep up the good work my friend.

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