Why do we need to pay our ministers huge salaries?
1) IS IT TO ATTRACT GOOD MEN?
Presumably, bad men are not attracted. In short, only good men are attracted by huge salaries while bad men are somehow, put off by the huge pay cheques and will therefore, not put themselves forward for political office.
2) SO THAT THEY WON'T LEAVE FOR THE PRIVATE SECTOR.
Is that so bad when, after all, they are also contributing to the economy -- in fact, by creating wealth and making money, instead of just 'agreeing' to position papers and 'nodding' their acquiescence to decisions that are easy to decide when the options and consequences are so clearly spelled out by their advisors or subordinates.
3) THEY CAN EARN MORE IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR.
The private sector works like a free market that determines the optimum level of remuneration for a given contribution. The political office does not. Its contributions are unmeasured and unmeasurable. Its remuneration is anything the PAP government decides. Why peg the pay to a (high) percentage of the top private sector job-holders? Why not take the stand that political office is so important that it deserves to be 500% of the average of the top private sector jobholders? Why just 500%, why not 1,000%? Or more? Aren't their responsibilities immeasurable?
4) THEY CAN EARN MORE IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR.
This has never been proven. Thus far, only Richard Hu has been touted as a minister who can 'earn (a lot, though not) more' in the private sector. It is no coincidence that when Lee Kuan Yew first announced the huge ministerial increases, he used Richard Hu. Now, many, many years later, his Son is also using Richard Hu. It must be clear to even PAP supporters that other than Richard Hu, the entire Cabinet cannot get more than a fraction of their current pay if they were to try their luck in the private sector without resorting to 'influence' to get into a government or government-linked company.
Of course, in a government or government-linked company (very convenient institutions as Retirement Grounds for ex-Ministers who would otherwise find themselves in the embarrassing situation of firstly, being unable to obtain their former Ministerial-level salaries, secondly, having to compete for jobs with the rest of the plebians and worse, thirdly, losing to the plebs). In short, if these ex-Ministers were to compete in the real private sector and not just land cushy posts in Government Companies, their competency levels for their jobs and ability to compete for high salaries would be exposed and we would all wonder what's so special about them -- which then leads directly to questions about the current Ministers' competence and huge salaries. That is why the Government will continue to keep Government Companies.
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5) MINISTERS CAN RUIN BIGGER PROJECTS, THEREFORE THEY DESERVE MORE.
The point is, if a director of a private sector company ruins a project to make printed circuit boards, he gets the sack the next day. And nobody will hire him for the rest of his life. A minister can ruin a bigger project, like a housing project, but the responsibility is so diffused and scapegoats so numerous all along the way, and he does not have hands-on responsibility, all of which make him difficult if not impossible to blame. Thus he is in the unique position of taking the glory for successful projects (by being very visible at the Opening Ceremony cutting ribbons and so on) while not being blamed for failure. Lee Hsien Loong credits Singapore's economic success to the Ministers.
How does one explain the economic success of the dozen-odd 'Tiger' and 'new Tiger' economies which have had similar great economic success although under a series of revolving governments and numerous changes of ministers? Are ministers really responsible for the economic success of the Tiger economies? Are the ministers in the slower-growing Western countries like the US and Europe therefore incompetent compared to Singapore's ministers? Do they deserve less than our super-competent ones?
Now that some of the Tiger economies have fallen on temporarily hard times, the PAP is saying that they are cheap compared to the billions that could have been lost. What rubbish! What about Hongkong? Hongkong's skyscrapers tower above ours. Lee Kuan Yew himself admitted that their economy has more 'buzz'. They are a bigger financial centre. Their port is busier, their economy is bigger, more vibrant and more diversified. Their music recording and film industry make our TCS productions seem like kindergarten efforts. And they achieved all these without the benefit of a Lee Kuan Yew or a PAP. In fact, they have had numerous Governors who have come here for the view and the cuisine and leave after a few years without even getting to know the place.
So, please, please don't think that Lee Kuan Yew or the PAP alone built Singapore. Singaporeans, given the same freedom to innovate and entrepreneurise, would succeed in exactly the same way Hongkong succeeded. As has so many overseas Chinese commnunities whether in Indonesia or Malaysia.
6) MINISTERS HAVE THE MANDATE OF THE PEOPLE WHO 'AGREE' TO THEIR HUGE SALARIES BY VOTING FOR THEM RATHER THAN THE OPPOSITION.
Entirely false in the context of Singapore. The people have no alternative government to vote for as well as a reluctance to vote against the PAP as it can result in lower priority for flats upgrading since their votes can be tallied precinct by precinct and penalised. Why not hold a referendum or some other way in which the people can vote directly on this issue of high ministerial pay? That will settle once and for all the issue of whether the people really agree to the ministers' huge salaries.
7) PEOPLE ELECT THEIR MINISTERS, THEREBY 'AGREEING' TO THEIR HUGE SALARIES.
The truth is, they are appointed not by the people but by the PAP, meaning the party Elder. Therefore they owe allegiance not to the people but to the party Elder. They are mere party followers who get these fat jobs as a reward for their political allegiance to the party Elder.
8) MINISTERS HAVE MORE RESPONSIBILITIES THAN THEIR PRIVATE SECTOR COUNTERPARTS.
CEOs in the private sector have Performance Contracts they are measured by. Plus a merciless scrutiny of their company performance and company profits quarter by quarter, as well as half-yearly and annual analyses. Thus, they are extremely accountable. If they perform well, they get big raises and share options. If they fail, they are sacked and nobody will hire them. Ministers, on the other hand, have no performance contracts to be measured against. They spend money rather than make money. And the more money they can get to spend, the more visible and 'successful' they seem. This results in glaring contradictions from private sector practice. In short, if ministers' performance is not measured like the private sector, can they justify pay like the private sector?
9) MINISTERS MUST BE PAID HUGE SALARIES TO KEEP THEM HONEST.
It is like saying that a robber should be given a lot of money so he will not rob. Or a thief so many valuables he will not steal (it did not work in Teh Chiang Wan's case). Lee Hsien Loong uses Marcos as an example of a President who was paid little and therefore stole from the people so much. In other words, give the man what he wants to steal so that he would not have to steal it.
10) ARE EXPATRIATES BEING USED AS BENCHMARKS FOR MINISTERIAL PAY?
In using private sector top jobholders as a benchmark for ministers' pay, did they include foreign expatriates in that select group? If they did, then they are again being illogical because foreign expatriates (who may be taxed locally and therefore get into the top benchmark) are generally on vastly different remuneration scales based largely on the countries they hail from and NOT the local conditions.
11) THE TOP JOBHOLDERS MAY BE REGIONAL DIRECTORS RATHER THAN JUST MANAGING THE LOCAL SINGAPORE OPERATIONS.
The top private sector jobholders used in the benchmark very probably hold regional and international responsibilities. This is not strange as Singapore is too small a market and Singapore companies have only very small operations. Thus, the top private sector jobholders are likely to report not only overseas to New York, London, Paris, Tokyo or some other European headquarters, they are likely to hold responsibilities for entire regions such as the whole of East Asia. This makes them international executives and as such they should not be used to benchmark local ministers' pay.
12) THERE SHOULD BE NO 'AUTOMATIC' PAY RISES FOR MINISTERS.
There is also the element of unfairness in that every year, the ministers get "automatic" pay increases pegged to these top private sector jobholders whereas the rest of the labour force have to be assessed on performance for the year to "deserve" their pay increases and "bonuses". In short, the ministers don't have to "perform" or to show that they "deserve" a pay rise and bonus whereas the rest of Singapore have to be assessed by their superiors each year. I would like to see the PAP set up some measures so that we can see how productive our Ministers really are.
13) MINISTERS CANNOT JUSTIFY THEIR HUGE SALARIES BASED ON A FALSE 'HIERARCHICAL' CONCEPT OF SINGAPORE SOCIETY.
The very notion that ministers sit at the top of the hierarchy in Singapore and therefore 'deserve' to pay themselves close to the top salaries in the country is based on a false concept of society. Ancient Confucian society may have the Emperor and the Lords at the top of the hierarchy and therefore enjoying the wealth of the country while the rest of the people had to be content with being poor peasants and tradesmen. But since the rise of the merchant class and the Industrial Revolution, that sort of King and Lords society has largely disappeared.
In a modern democratic society, the capable businessman may amass more wealth than a Prime Minister. A capable plumber can earn as much as a technician. A surgeon can earn as much as a Permanent Secretary. And a Regional Director of a multinational company with trans-national responsibilities can, yes, earn more than a minister. This is modern life. This is modern society. A society in which almost everyone is a specialist and there is little hierarchy in terms of status rankings and remuneration. The very notion that ministers should be at or near the top of the earnings ladder went out with Confucius.
To conclude, there may be some good reasons to pay our ministers huge salaries, but so far, we haven't heard them yet.