Singapore Government Ministerial Salaries: The Debate
- The Government’s Case
- MM Lee Kuan Yew
- PM Lee Hsieng Loong
- The Blogosphere’s Reactions
1. The Government’s Case
“The Case for Higher Salaries for Government Ministers,” MM Lee Kuan Yew, “Ministers who deal with billions of dollars cannot be paid low salaries without risking a system malfunction. Low salaries will not attract able men who are or can be successful in their professions or business. Low salaries will draw in the hypocrites who sweet talk their way into power in the name of public services, but once in charge will show their true colour, and ruin the country. …
In my judgment, the long term consequences of continuing with the old system will be a lowering of the quality of people entering politics and taking office, and gradual but inevitable corruption that will creep in as mediocrities as Ministers exercise immense powers over our resources of $127 billion increasing at 8% every year. …
Time will prove that I am right that Ministers should be paid 2/3 of their private sector counterparts’ salaries of two years ago. This is the way to ensure that our government and system stay clean and honest, with able and dedicated men, who can stay in office for several terms, and develop the judgment that comes with experience. You need Ministers who will work for the public benefit, without having to worry about their families, or worse put aside a private pension for them. …
Please do not forget, we are not an ordinary country. Ordinary men cannot run Singapore. If my old guard colleagues were ordinary men, there would not be today’s Singapore. The key leaders in this present government are not ordinary men. The old guard had spent many years to select, train, test and prepare them for the job. And they have shown their ability to adapt and make the system work under changed conditions.”
“Private, public sectors pay gaps an urgent problem,” PM Lee Hsien Loong, “This is an urgent problem. We have experienced on previous occasions the painful consequences of responding too slowly when the private sector surged ahead,
We took many years to recover from the loss. This must not happen again,
Unless there is a first-class political leadership and judiciary, the civil service, however capable and dedicated, will not be able to function properly”
2. The Blogosphere’s Reply
“Sweet Talking,” Mr Wang Says So, “MM Lee’s age is showing – he spouts little bits of strange nonsense like this:
“Low salaries will draw in the hypocrites who sweet talk their way into power in the name of public service, but once in charge will show their true colour, and ruin the country.”
This is an illogical statement. One may just as well assert: “High salaries will draw in the hypocrites who sweet talk their way into power in the name of public services …” Surely high salaries have greater ability than low salaries to attract hypocrites.”
“Cut The Crap,” Two Steps From Twilight, “It is true that government salaries are just 55% of what they are “supposed” to be, but with a basic salary about three times that of US president George Bush, Singapore ministers hardly bring to mind insolvency. By pegging civil service salaries to top private sector salaries government figures have revealed that prime minister Lee Hsien Loong deserves to be paid only ten times more than Mr Bush, who after all presides over what Jean Baudrillard used to call the world’s only remaining primitive society.”
“Poor Politicians and Civil Servants,” No Fear Singapore, “It is regrettable that the PAP/government is not able to persuade the ablest and best to serve the people on the platform and basis of public service. Instead the only way to secure these loyalties is the time-honored method – Greed and the love of money! There is NO sacrifice unlike what we have been told.
Idealism in any form is dead and buried in Singapore and pragmatism and “looking after oneself” is the name of the game. …
There is much that is good and admirable in our system, but self-serving and selfish policies like this when our own political leaders use the system to reward themselves beyond reasonable limits is not one of them.”
“The ‘Service’ in Civil Service,” Ian onthereddot, “But once you use money to compete for these talents instead of appealing to the desire to serve the nation and what I consider a higher calling, then we forget the ’service’ part in civil service. And that is important. Once the job aspect takes more precedence then the service aspect, then your master becomes different – your master is now your employer (the government) and more immediately, your superiors who appraise you for your promotions ( and salary revisions ) instead of being the people of Singapore.
And I believe once that subtle shift in perception of what it means to be a civil servant changes from a higher calling to just another job (which does some good for the nation but one which you wouldn’t have taken if the pay hadn’t been competitive to the private sector) then your goals as a civil servant changes. Instead of doing what is best for Singapore, the aim becomes to please your employers and further your own career. And Singapore as a whole loses out.
Finally, I think the people in civil service and government should be people whose morality cannot be affected by money. We shouldn’t give more money to ensure people don’t be corrupt.”
“It’s a Rich Man’s World,” 1 More Sg Blog, “And it is not about envy. So much money raises a lot of questions. What does it mean to be for the public service, what does it mean to be in the Government; if the pay is so much? What kind of people are we attracting specifically?
Talent is a word that encompass so much. It says so much but to the extent of it being quantifiable, nobody would have paid Einstein a cent in his earlier years. There is also the question of how much connected these leaders are to the populace. It is not impossible to be rich and have a heart, but 1.2 million a year can change attitudes. Can it not? …
And if I don’t remember wrongly, if you increase the pay too much, people will take the money and then retire. That I can perfectly understand. If let me earn 5 years of 1.2 million, I definitely will relax after that.”
Singapore Ministers’ PAINFUL Sacrifice : Unfair and Unjust System Part 2,” Lucky Tan, “I was stunned and shocked that our esteemed ministers have sacrificed more than a million a year as they serve the people of Singapore. Such sacrifice is unheard of anywhere in the world. They are truly driven by a sense of duty and dedication to work for the interest of ordinary Singaporeans. I’m so touched by this tremendous sacrifice. The system is so unfair and unjust to our ministers – this has to be quickly addressed….
It seems that the work ethics of our ministers will be undermined if they continue to be paid only $1.2M a year. Poverty motivates the poor and money motivates our ministers. It is only right that everyone in Singapore should receive the appropriate motivation to help them to work harder.”
“Just Pay Them More, Lah,” Kitana, “I don’t see why they bother to waste so much good advertising space on our ST Saturday edition trying to justify to us why they want to raise ministers’ pay. I mean seriously, is it like we have any say at all? They did something like tt for our GST hikes and the Budget as well, and it wasn’t like there was an effect. Sure, people on the ground can criticise, complain, give suggestions, question etc… At the end of the day everything still goes as planned anyway. So, for fuck? …
The idea is tt all these people who are our ministers are so talented tt were they in the private sector, they’d be the top earners there! *pause* Wait a minute… isn’t this just extrapolation? Can we really prove this? If these guys were going to earn so much in the private sector anyway, then why move to the public sector? If you want the money so much, then why not just stay in the private sector? I mean, there has to be more than tt to being a civil servant, right? …
The way this looks, it’s as if our civil servants are essentially all money-grubbing. Yeah, we’re all noble and we all wanna act for the good of Singapore – but you must pay us enough first! You must pay us enough so tt we don’t leave or so tt we don’t become corrupt and take money under the table, like the crooks in Taiwan and elsewhere …
I don’t agree with the pay increase. I think the reasoning behind it is flawed. Money benchmarked to the private sector? To retain talent? There is always tt question of why? Why the private sector? Why do we pay our civil servants so much more than any other country in the world? Are they really worth tt much? Secondly, are they really talent? Intelligence and brilliance without principles isn’t talent to me. We can encourage more economic growth, we can watch our GDP increase exponentially, and we can make the roads leading from Changi Airport to our city bigger and brighter so tt all visitors will be suitably impressed with us. But is tt real prosperity, when some people can’t even get anything above $290 a month? Is tt real prosperity, when most of the generated wealth simply goes to a select few at the top?”
“The Queer Sensibilities of Singapore’s Wordscape,” XenoBoy, “No one expects an objection from the media. But not even a “concern“ has been raised this time.
Instead, its a monopolistic narrative that calls upon the hallowed traditions of the Singapore Wordscape. The sense of crisis, of siege that will soon befall the Government if they are not paid more. That there will be a vacuum in Government. That the talent will leave or will not come. And without the talent, the Government suffers. And if the Government suffers, Singapore suffers. And if Singapore suffers, the Singaporeans suffer most of all. …
In an emergency, the Singapore Wordscape gives birth to contradictions and conundrums. They become exigent norms. And the citizens are supposed to understand that. They are supposed to be angry. But like the top talent, they sacrifice too. For the good of Singapore, they sacrifice their anger. A ceremonial sacrifice just like the top talent who sacrifice themselves to accept that 55%.
When the hallowed traditions of the Singapore Wordscape are invoked, a comforting silence envelopes the land. Soothing the seething, smothering the smoldering. The hounds of Obaskerville perform their perpetual vigil on Singapore’s Wordscape while their fork-tongued* masters devise the meanings of crisis, siege, emergency, sacrifice, review for the good of Singapore.”
“Minsta Pay Increase Special!” The Void Deck, “Money the only way to recruit and retain top ppl in poritics meh? We all know of coz the answer is “maybe” wat. Where got obvious red or white answer. Pui. It is all pink! Money is impt, but passion to contribute and serve Sg oso impt hor? hehe power dun count yet in the equation, Sg is not USA. Sg PM boh power projection one. Look at first generation of poriticians in the 1950s and 1960s, dun care Pappies or Barisan Socialis, they are first got passion for shaping Sg and making Sg succeed. I dun think they see money as the reason to join poritics. Of coz some dat time will be corrupt lah and think wahh sayy, become a minsta is easy to take kopi money. But how many macam Teh Cheang Wan type?”
“Are you inspired by your ministers?” Zyberzitizen, “Anyway look at our leaders today. Not a single one comes close to having that spark of inspiration. They are dull, technocratic, statistics-spewing monsters. Little more than robots, really. …
But this is also why I do not consider our present set of ministers “leaders”. …Where are the leaders who can really inspire a new generation of Singaporeans? …
Nah, what we need is to return to fundamentals and see why people are so uninspired to join the civil service and do right for their country. This, really, is the crux of the issue.
And you know where the problem is?
It is in our political process.”
“You are ****ing kidding me,” little green stick, “AND no, you don’t need a ridiculous pay to prevent corruption. the tendency for corruption has no correlation with the ridiculous amount of money you get paid. just get people who are genuinely interested in making a difference…not just in their bank balance.
from an utiliarian standpoint, if the difference between a corrupt govt and an uncorrupt govt is that the corrupt govt needs ALOT more money to get the same amount of work done then isn’t what we have already a ermm….yup, u can join the dots here.
i wonder about the integrity and audacity of the fat kid in school who begs his mama for another candy bar on the claim that he is starving. lose some deadweight please.”
“The Ministers’ Salary Brouhaha” Singapore Kopi Tok, “We can contest, however, what Minister’s salaries should be pegged against. Top earners have income from various sources – aside from earned income, most would have stock gains & dividends, overseas assets, rental income and other financial instruments etc. PM Lee has taken some pains to explain clearly how the formula has been adjusted to deal with some of these elements. The fact remains, however, that the average Singaporean enjoys a far less exciting remuneration package, but one that can go up and down nonetheless.
My suggestion is this: To motivate our Ministers to work the best interests (financially anyway) of the people, we should consider pegging their salaries – not to the top few or the bottom 20%, but to the median or average wage earners in Singapore. It would be a fairer approach.”
“Minister Pay Hike,” Cobalt Paladin, “I don’t understand the logic behind the formula at all. Basing the salaries of the top 8 highest salaries from 6 professional industries just does not seem logical to me. It means that the ministers’ pay will always be compared to the top 8 professionals. It is not easy to be ranked top 8 in each of the industry and you seldom find the top 8 coming from the same company. …
The government has always asked the people to make sacrifices for the country. However, in this instance, it seems to tell us to sacrifice if only the pay is high enough. I don’t think that is the intended message but it is what the people may be led to think. How does this help in our sense of patriotism and fostering loyalty towards our motherland? Does this mean that which ever country pays me more, I should call it home?”
“A man like this is hard to find” 1 more Sg Blog, “This is the idea of elitism. To attract the best. To my mind, this argument is somewhat self defeating from a political perspective. It draws the chief ire from the many people around. The truth is ‘best’ is not possible to define properly. PAP ministers have great talents no doubt, but no talents can to the public mind, be equated with the need in public service, to command a higher wage. In other words, to ask for a higher salary and say that is because you are the best, and deserves the best pay, is just asking for popular discontent in ‘public service’. Its public service after all.”
“Ministers’ Salaries Skyrocket” Mr Biao, “How much is the bill going to go up by? I don’t know exactly how many of them there is, but say for 10 of them it’ll cost $10 million more. $10 million. How many mouths can this feed? How many poor people can be saved with this money? And that’s not including other senior civil servants’ pay increments.
Sometimes, I wonder what is the motivation for becoming ministers. Is it for the good salary, or for our country? Is it always about money?
Why are the rest of us (guys) serving NS for peanuts in allowances, while ministers are getting millions for serving the country too? I am sure there are dozens of high caliber people out there who love Singapore and are willing to run the country for much less than $2 million.”
“Sick of Constant Media Blitz” The Republic@HardwareZone, “Every industry has its own specific purposes.There is no way civil servants can compare its pay to market-related pay and demand like law,medicine,big business because civil service is a non-profit organisation.I say to each industry on its own. It is like comparing chalk and cheese. …
I also seriously doubt the civil servants who left civil service can perform as well in the private sector since most of them has no private sector experience before and no achievements. Private sector working environment is more competitive and less protected than public sector since companies face the threat of closing down and facing losses which public sector will never face. …
My message to PAP is do not hold us to ransom all the time. If we do not increase your pay does not give you the license to be corrupt either. Besides, your pay is already very high and a ‘talent’ in public sector could be a mediocre in private sector. PM Lee’s way of comparision is seriously flawed.”
“Singapore Government Promotes Obscenity,” Yawning Bread, “There is a case to be made for civil service salaries to be competitive with the private sector, after all a career is a career, but political positions are supposed to be filled by people who seek power out of passion and mission. It’s not reducible to a mere career path. Arguments about ministerial salaries needing to be competitive with the private sector ring false. …
We need to question the fundamental assumption that ministers must be paid more than their permanent secretaries or department heads. In the private sector, the CEO does not have to be the highest paid officer in the company. Many founder bosses work for less than their key lieutenants.”
“Paternal Nanny,” Molly Meek, “The pay increase for ministers does not have a message in itself. But the justifications for the increase have intended or unintended messages. We need the rare talents to plan our lives, to tell us what sort of hub we should build, to tell us what is best for us. Otherwise we will die. They are there to help you be a good subject. The people you vote into office are not there to represent your political or social concerns as a subject. …
Politics is not as specialized as the legal profession. We can let Dr. Chee Soon Juan do it and let him “destroy” Singapore, as you people claim he would. Let Chiam See Tong do it. Let Low Thia Kiang do it. As Dr. Mahathir to migrate here and do it. Get Bill Clinton to migrate here and do it. They will charge less than they are.
Yes, Father. Yes, Father. Yes, Father.”
The Debate On Ministerial Salaries Continues. See these posts for further reading (links open in new window):
- Top Justifications for Raising Ministerial Pay, by TalkingCock.com