Lee Kuan Yew On Leaders

Today, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew made an appearance in mainstream media, commenting on the selection process for political leaders.

“I hope that successive leaders will bring in carefully selected people who have got the potential to do more than something for themselves. They’re not paid very much to do that. It must be a bit of a sacrifice, because the people with the potential to be ministers can easily earn bigger figures outside in the public sector”

This statement once again refreshes the voting public about the touchy subject of salary vs passion.

Here are my personal thoughts on the matter:

a.) Do political leaders of other bigger nations with larger economies suffer an even greater injustice (by being paid less)?

Do you consider your life as any less important as one in a larger economy?

Do you consider Singapore any less important than a larger country?

Another question to ask: Do you really believe that all politicians in larger economies are honestly taking home what they declare? I won’t make accusations here, but it is something to think about.

b.) Is money the only way we can attract talent?

Many have been comparing volunteer work to political work. I believe this to be a naive point of view. These are two very different roles. It is difficult enough to stand for political office: to be spat, cursed, ridiculed and harassed as a public figure. You lose personal time, you lose family time, you spend your weekends with your constituents, your holidays interacting with people and your weekdays battling your everyday job. Yes, passion is needed but passion does not pay bills as effectively as money. Ask any woman: few want to be married to a politician.

When we vote, we are choosing the people who make laws to govern our lives. Laws that will affect each and every individual in this 5 million strong population. Laws that could put you in prison. We want good, rational laws thoroughly debated by a team of experts.

Think of yourself as an employer and money wasn’t a problem. You want to recruit a Member of Parliament. How much are you willing to pay for hiring the person to fit this role?

c.) Would this only be attracting people who are in it for the money?

My friend is a commercial diver and works on an oil rig. He says, no doubt – the money is good. But he goes to work everyday knowing that there is a high chance that he will lose his life, not even a billion dollars will not be enough. He needed real passion and love for the job to take him through.

If you think that a political office is not a high-risk job, consider this: how many US presidents have been murdered? How many Taiwanese politicians have been shot, maimed and killed? How many Japanese and Korean politicians have reportedly “took their lives”? In Singapore where the political environment is relatively stable, we also have MPs that have been physically attacked, doused in hot water (or was it petrol?) and threatened with knives.

Sure there is good money, but without a love of the job and a desire for service, no amount of money is going to get people interested in governing a country where this governance is likely to be unappreciated.

d.) Is this form of leadership renewal considered “elitist”?

When your employer decided to hire you and not the previous candidate, did you consider that an elitist way of selection?

It depends on how you look at it. Last night, another friend was asking “How does one selected to be an MP”? He then immediately followed up with, “What sort of paper qualifications do you need”? To my knowledge, there is no defined qualification you need. Prove that you have gotten far ahead in your career, have track records of managing large teams of people and be successful in your family – you can almost expect a phone call for “tea”. It is merely a simple, normal headhunt/ interview process, one that is equal opportunity and open to any citizen of Singapore worthy of it’s position.

e.) The vast majority of a country are middle to low wage earners: would this present a form of resentment to leaders?

Now this, is the crux of the problem. Money is a very touchy subject. Discussing it can bring about feelings of repulsiveness, fear, envy, disgust, joy…sometimes all at one go. From my experiences, it is never a good idea to talk about monetary value in everyday talk and even in business, this subject must be handled carefully. By paying yourself more, you lose moral high ground. You put yourself in a position to justify this money (…and to justify it to several million voters is an impossible task).

If you’re from the other camp, perhaps you do not agree that politicians should be paid such high salaries anyway. Well – in an ideal world, we’d be able to find highly capable individuals (possibly multinational CEO types), a person that would risk his/her family’s life, create inconvenience to his/her family’s privacy, sacrifice monetary rewards, personal time, health and get into the physically demanding job (of political canvasing) for the sake of his/her country. Can you find such a person? Try it out as a private project, look out for such a person yourself and prove me wrong.

Not satisfied?

Well, try this other experiment: I’m sure you consider yourself an expert at what you do, so, will you be satisfied with an “average” salary, one where the boss sells you passion more than bread?

We now have a dilemma. If it is important to pay well, the public doesn’t accept. If you don’t pay well, looking for talents become a challenge. What is the other alternative now? Does one think it is a better idea to remunerate politicians away from the public eye?

Do you have any thoughts about this? Do you have constructive ideas that could work out?

Please do share in the comments section!

About the author

Benjamin Chiang

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes also at www.rangosteen.com and occasionally on Yahoo!

The views expressed are his own.

View all posts

1 Comment

Share your thoughts!