Monday, 20 June 2011

My two cents is that high ministerial salaries should stay

I was curious to read what CEOs had to say about the Ministerial Salary Review (Finding the right balance, Business Times – 30 May 11) but alas, much like feedback from the common man, not a single mention was made of the personal sacrifices the job demands.

Everyone assumes Ministers are missile grade androids who do not sleep and have no need for love and companionship.  With the newfound need to maintain an effective social media presence, has anyone spared a thought for their mental, emotional and physical health?  Top Bankers, Lawyers and Accountants can pick and choose while most of us are able to enjoy a five-day workweek. Ministers are no less human and deserve the high compensation in lieu of the precious lost family time.  I do wonder if PM Lee has truly had a day off with the family since he took office.

The salary review committee should follow the Ministers 24/7 to understand the daily demands and personal effort expended by them.  What time do they wake up? Are they checking emails/sms when they should have breakfast with the family?  Do they attend meetings every day or all day?  When do they meet constituents or reply to emails?  What time do they return home to eat with the family and do they still check emails late into the night?  Do they get quality time with their family and friends?

As it is, the present ministerial salaries is about 70 per cent of the benchmark – it has never reached 100 per cent, thus Ministers have never been fully compensated since the benchmark (two-thirds of median incomes) was introduced.

It is no coincidence that of Singapore’s top 2 legal eagles, one, Mr K Shanmugam stayed on after years as a backbencher to enter Cabinet while the other, Mr Davinder Singh returned to the private sector and the million dollar fees he easily commands. The idea is not to make the minister rich, but to reduce any financial sacrifice he must make to take on the burden of public office.

Thus, before deciding to cut remuneration, you should recognize the need to attract top talent and not drive top talent away from politics.  Many have stated that that high salaries have not worked in pulling top talent from the private sector, as most of the new leaders still hail from the military, civil service and NTUC.

That ONLY this group have stepped forward to serve further reinforces the fact that top private sector talents are reluctant to give up their careers at their prime in exchange for the stress and thankless task of public office.  And why should outstanding leaders of the SAF, Civil Service and NTUC be viewed as inferior, if they were, then Singapore would only be half of what it is today.

If we are to accept that this is a new world and age, then we should also accept the notion that politics is about serving Singapore is no longer true, what with the endless opportunities to explore and personal riches to come.  There would be a place for noble public service if we were still a third world nation.

It is easy for someone earning 4-5 thousand a month to state that he will donate half of his Member of Parliament’s allowance to charity (as a few Opposition candidates have declared in the recent GE) but do they really understand the commitment and sacrifice the job entails.  In reality, the PAP will form the Government for quite a long while yet, so such “declarations of goodwill” serve only as idle talk.


I believe the best outcome of this review would be to maintain the status quo with the committee communicating to the public clearly the justifications for high ministerial salaries and to put this issue to rest once and for all.  Plus the fact that you can never please everybody makes this a flammable topic whichever way you look at it.

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