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Friday, 30 January 2015



The thorn that inflicts pain in the PAP in the coming general election, and for that matter any general election is not the CPF issue that landed blogger Roy Ngerng in trouble, it is the issue of Minister Salary.  Foreign Talents being the other.

Minister Salary & Foreign Talents touches the nerves of "Unfairness" in what deems most sensitive to most ordinary Singaporeans, their income.  The Workers Party calls it "elitist" while the Singapore Democratic Party calls it "Unethical". Their supporters, "immoral", "shameful", and "robbers of people's money" etc etc.

The issue of ministerial salary was hotly debated in parliament, and the government had also taken steps to address the negative perception with a reduction in salary in the wake of public disquiet.  But the oppositions still believe the salaries of ministers are still way too high, where foreign governments are paid only a fraction comparably. They argued that political office should not be a lucrative career path for a selected few but a noble calling of which the remuneration should reflect the noble sacrifice one is called to serve.

The government, namely the Prime Minister had defended the pay packages in that it has to be attractive enough for good people to come forward to serve Singapore.  This response had brought about more jeer than cheer. The oppositions proponed that either the calling was not noble enough for good people to sacrifice, and/or that the crop of ministers are not up to the noble calling where for they are only motivated by high salary.

No explanation can be accepted because this in reality is not about millions in terms of numbers, but millions in terms feelings.  A million dollar can be both extravagant as well in gross insufficiency, whichever way you want to paint it and whichever way you get to perceived it.

I think it is also important to note at this point that this article is not about whether it is right or wrong for Singapore's ministers to be paid what they are getting now, but to ponder if our assessment of it had been "Fair" or otherwise.


Countering, the government had maintain that comparing pay packages of Singapore government and that of foreign governments is both impractical and unfair. Undeclared perks and advantages aside, cost and standard of living are remarkably different.  The available talent pool too is comparing the Pacific Ocean with Jurong Lake.  They have abundant supply of well trained talents, let alone many of them already have well established sources of income behind them.

Ugly or dirty as the words may be, Singapore can only afford career ministers. This is an absolute "Unfair Disadvantage" we have in our hands.

There is really no "Fairness" in comparing what foreign government are paid, in particular the Western countries with much longer history and nation building can only be found in history books.


Between the crook and the haloed saint, what is a practical and sensible pay package should ministers be remunerated? Is there a better, fairer formula than to be a fraction lower than the best paid individuals in Singapore?

In perspective the "Nation" is the apex of all enterprises of Singapore the country. The Nation flourishes, all other enterprises flourish, and if the Nation fails, all else fail.  Thus the paramount importance and responsibility laid upon the shoulders of those tasked with keeping the Nation up and preventing it from failing.

Lives and livelihood of all citizens are rested in the hands of a few men and women whose job is to make sure we have food on our table, a roof over our head, our safe passages day in and out, and we don;t get bullied by others who think they have better muscles. They devoted themselves to serving Singapore and its people, but to call them servants derogates the dignity that belongs to every individual Singaporeans for which they serve.

Shouldn't these be rewarded accordingly and compatibly with the heavy responsibilities that come with the job?

However, most people don't or are unable to see or even imagine the intensity of work that these ministers do.  The ministers have themselves to blame for painting a picture of themselves as no more than experts in cutting ribbons. Citizens never get to feel how important and heavy is the job of a minister.

It is commonly believed that anybody can be a minister where the civil servants are those doing the real job.  I supposed the rapid and frequent changes of governments in certain countries have created such an impression.  It is not untrue that institutions will remain even if there is a change of government but civil servants do not have to answer to the people why things fail, or worst of scenario why the country fails. Who gets the brunt when the MRT slowed or stalled altogether? It is Lui Tuck Yew, not the Permanent Secretary of the ministry.  Even if Desmond Kwek gets dragged into the blame game, it ultimate traces back to the government for putting him there.

Was the blame of freak flooding borne by PUB or the senior civil servants of the ministry of Environment and Water Rsources?  No it is Vivian Balakrishnan who takes the lashes.

But of course these ministers can in turn bang tables on their civil service colleagues, but five years time it is the political office holders that will face their real bosses.  Singapore needs strong political leaders because we have a very strong civil service.  If you may, this is a power unit unto itself.  A weak government will not be able to stand up to the strong will of powerful civil servants, and civil servants are not robots void of ambitions and ego.  Thus far the present government had a well balanced relationship with the civil service, weeding out any impropriety as a means of maintenance as well as deterrence.

It is not unfamiliar to notice discontented civil servants with ambitions beyond their jobs.  Many left to pursue political office.  Civil servants need not oblige their political bosses if their bosses lack the capability and strength to define a constructive working relationship.

Singapore has become a niche exporter of "Governance Software" with proven effectiveness and marketability. The Singapore government has made a "success story" of itself being able to consistently produce results that advanced countries were unable to.  Our governing system is sought after and not exactly replicated but applied to countries that have seen it working.  In that sense, the salaries of those who produce these "governance Software" cannot be non-reflective of its success, can it?

Ultimately salaries needs to be symmetrical to the job. Every job in Singapore is noble and honourable, be you a teacher, a cleaner, a banker, and each has its own portion of sacrifice.  Why then should ministers bear more monetary sacrifices than any other when the weight on their shoulder is so much heavier.

It is not the case where the country is deep in an abyss of debt, nor the country is unable to provide jobs, home, and safety for its citizens.  It would have been justifiable to question about high salary if the country needs to borrow or print more money to pay for its programme, neither is the case. Maybe these did happen in countries where their ministers are paid lower, but that is being symmetrical either.

This issue has no impact at all on Singaporean lives, but plain, pure politicking.

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