Archive for January, 2012

‘Don’t underpay our ministers’

January 31, 2012

Dear Mr Lee Kuan Yew,

I refer to the 19 Jan 2012 Straits Times report of your comments on ministerial salaries.

You said unless we have high quality men and women to serve as PM and ministers, Singapore the little red dot will become a black spot. Belgium reportedly had no government for more than a year, yet Belgium didn’t turn into a black patch. Belgium is living proof against your claim and it is not difficult to see why. It is the civil service that essentially runs the show in the background. Ministers can come and go but as long as we have good civil service, Singapore won’t turn into a black spot. The civil service is not a one man show but a gathering of many high quality men and women guided by nearly two hundred years of experiences accumulated since the colonial days.

You said we cannot underpay our ministers. But in many cases, ministers receive a pay jump when they joined politics. How can it be that they are underpaid when they are paid more than before? You said ministers go through risky, uncertain, unpredictable elections. Only two minister casualties since 1965. Not so risky after all.

You said every family wants to send their children to a good university. Harvard University total cost of attendance for 2011 – 2012 is US$60,200 including tuition fees. If ministers’ child spends four years at Harvard, he would need about US$240,800 or SGD $328,331 in total. As such, minister has no need for million dollar salaries to pay for his child’s Harvard education, he just needs $328,331. If minister serves one term of five years drawing $328,331 each year, he would be able to send five children to Harvard.

You said the PM and his ministers’ macroeconomic policies decide the country’s GDP. That’s hardly the case. Macroeconomic policies can influence but not decide the country’s GDP. If the government can unilaterally decide GDP through macroeconomic policies, why does it allow our GDP to slide every time there is a global or regional crisis? Quite obviously, GDP depends on the global economic climate. More importantly, GDP depends on the success or failure of each and every individual, firm or business because GDP really is the sum of the output of all individuals, firms and organisations and is therefore collectively decided by them. Nokia hasn’t been selling as many phones as it used to so Nokia’s contribution to Finland GDP has come down. What macroeconomic policy can nurse Nokia back to health? Quite obviously, macroeconomic policies aren’t going to help Nokia much. Apple Computers on the other hand, has been selling many phones and computers so its GDP contribution to the US has been going up. Do you think the American government turned on some macroeconomic magic to bring this about?

You said you and your colleagues took Singapore from Third World to First World not by getting people of calibre to give up too much so we mustn’t reduce Singapore to another ordinary Third World country by dodging competitive minister pay. Firstly, Singapore wasn’t Third World when you took charge in 1959. Back in 1960, we were already ranked second in Asia after Japan and 34th out of 111 economies worldwide based on our real per capita GDP of $4,299 (The University of Pennsylvania’s Centre for International Comparisons). Countries that were listed as low income by the World Bank in 2010 were having real per capita GDPs ranging from $2,546 (Nicaragua) to $259 (Burundi) and averaging $862 in 1960. We were clearly above Third World already when you took over so you can’t possibly have taken us from Third World to First World.

While we may not be as prosperous in 1959 as we are today, neither were we as poor as you’d make us out to be as the following books will attest to:

  • “by the end of the nineteenth century, it (Singapore) was already a very prosperous colony.”, page 54, The evolution of crises and underdevelopment in Africa By Christopher E. S. Warburton
  • “Singapore was from the very beginning a Crown colony, a prosperous free port”, Page 86, Forging a Singaporean statehood, 1965-1995: the contribution of Japan By Robin Ramcharan
  • “Lying along the trade route from China to India, it became one of the most prosperous of British colonies.” Page 361, Imperial island: a history of Britain and its empire, 1660-1837 By Paul Kléber Monod
  • “The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the advent of steamships launched an era of prosperity for Singapore as transit trade expanded throughout Southeast Asia.” Page 21, Singapore Diplomatic Handbook By USA International Business Publications, Ibp Usa
  • In Chapter 1 of the book “The Practice of Economic Growth”, Dr Goh Keng Swee concluded that the Singapore economy works in much the same way as it did under the British and that the basic thinking and philosophy behind our success remained essentially unchanged since colonial days. He offered the following reasons why Singapore succeeded:

  • Our superb central geographical location between the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca
  • Sir Stamford Raffles’ great vision founded on the Victorian belief in the virtues of free trade and free enterprise system which meant:
    • Lean, mean administration, freedom for merchants and bankers to exercise their talents and minimal taxes
    • Free competition forcing businesses to continually adapt to changing circumstances
  • Continuous, rapid development of Southeast Asia
  • So for Dr Goh, Singapore became extraordinary for reasons of geography, neighbouring conditions and most important of all, colonial institutions and practices which he regarded as priceless. He didn’t list extraordinary ministers as the reason for Singapore becoming extraordinary. Singaporeans should not be held hostage to the idea that our continued success depends on ministers who have time and again proven to be so ordinary.

    Heated words over hot topic

    January 24, 2012

    Dear MPs and Straits Times,

    I refer to the 19 Jan 2012 Straits Times report “Heated words over hot topic”.

    I applaud the Straits Times for making the right report instead of echoing the mistake of the PAP with the sentence: “The base salary that the WP proposes for entry-level ministers, of $55,000 a month, is the same as the benchmark the Committee to Review Ministerial Salaries had recommended.” This is clearly very different from the PAP’s statement which is that the Review Committee recommended less than $55,000 a month or $46,750 a month to be precise. The mistake was also made by Channel News Asia when it broadcast the wrong figure of $46,750 in extra big font on screen.

    Dear Ms Josephine Teo,

    I agree with you that the WP figure is not low enough to escape the elitist label. But if we were to look at the annual package, the WP figure is indeed about 25% less than that recommended by the Review Committee and so is somewhat less elitist.

    Dear Mr Janil Puthucheary,

    No one will say that the Review Committee is not independent because it is almost impossible to prove it. But failure to prove that the committee is not independent doesn’t mean that the committee is therefore independent. It is the same principle as failure to prove guilt doesn’t imply innocence. Members of the committee, like the great majority of Singaporeans have innate biasedness, no matter how small, towards or against the PAP. Those who claim they have absolutely no biasedness are either completely apathetic towards politics or are robots. Distinguished members of the committee can’t possibly belong to these groups. In the end, the most representative committee is the one that comprises all Singaporeans.

    Dear Mr Alvin Yeo and Mr Pritam Singh,

    You referred to ‘perks’ for politicians in other countries. Presumably, you were referring to British MP claims that Ms Indranee Rajah expounded on in parliament. Please don’t be mistaken, British MP claims are not perks. For example, the British claim for additional accommodation is not a perk. It is reimbursement for a necessary expenditure arising out of work. For example, if a Scottish MP travels to London to attend one week of parliament, he will have to pay for hotel accommodation; it is only fair that he claims for his hotel stay. The Scottish MP is not claiming for a hotel stay in Bali for personal pleasure. There has been uproar recently over MP claims in Britain. But make no mistake, the uproars are over MPs’ abuse of claims, not MPs’ legitimate claims. The claims by themselves aren’t perks. The abuse of claims is also not perks but petty corruption. Paying politicians millions to stamp out petty corruption doesn’t mean that politicians have become incorruptible. If what politicians want to get through corruption is given to them and more, why do they even bother to get their hands dirty?

    MPs direct attention to Government​’s key task

    January 24, 2012

    Dear Mdm Halimah,

    I refer to the 18 Jan 2012 Straits Times report of your parliamentary comments on ministerial salary.

    You said a government is only as good as the people that comprise it. In the same way, a nation is only as good as the people that comprise it. Can a nation with good government but lousy people be good?

    You urged Singaporeans to look at how the government improved welfare over the years. But welfare improvement is to compensate for stagnated low wages. In the 17 Jan 2012 Straits Times article “Completing the wage revolution”, Mr Ho Kwong Ping explained an IPS study which showed that our construction workers earned one tenth of what our doctors earned compared to one third on average for countries like the USA, UK, Germany, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. Instead of rejoicing over welfare improvement, why don’t we ask ourselves why our low wages are so low compared to other First World nations exposed to the same forces of globalisation that welfare supplementation is required?

    You said the recent plan by the education ministry to help private school students pay for university education requires leaders with ‘vision and foresight’. But these students have been struggling for years. Shouldn’t ‘vision and foresight’ come before the problem first took hold instead of years after? The plan came soon after the general elections when the electorate expressed unhappiness at the lack of university education opportunities. Isn’t this a reaction to electorate pressure rather than ‘vision and foresight’? Finally, the plan was announced at the end of a two-day panel visit to Hong Kong. Is this ‘vision and foresight’ borrowed from Hong Kong? Do we call borrowed vision, ‘vision’? Do we call borrowed foresight, ‘foresight’?

    Political pay in UK: Take allowances into account

    January 24, 2012

    Dear Ms Indranee Rajah,

    I refer to the 19 Jan 2012 Straits Times report of your speech in parliament.

    You said when citing UK ministerial salaries, a whole host of allowances specified in the Green Book should also be included. That may not be the right thing to do. For example, the Green Book spells out the eligibility criteria for additional accommodation claims as:

    - overnight stays in London when main home is in constituency
    - overnight stays in constituency when main home is in London
    - when main home is neither in London or constituency

    In other words, this claim arises from the huge commuting distances between British constituency and parliament. For example, a Scottish MP whose main home is in Scotland would have to stay in a hotel in London to attend parliament. The claims for such expenses do not go into the pockets of the British MP but are expended over the course of his work. It is therefore not right to include them as part of the British MP’s salary. Singapore MPs have no need for such claims because Singapore is so small and MPs can easily drive to and from parliament everyday. Imagine if Singapore were to remain in Malaysia and MPs have to travel up to KL to attend parliament, would they not incur additional accommodation expenses? Would they not want to claim such expenses?

    Similarly, while British MPs have to pay for their offices, Singapore MPs don’t have to. Or at least PAP MPs don’t have to because meet-the-people’s session venues are provided for cheaply by the HDB through the PAP Community Foundation. While British MPs have to hire people to help them run their offices, Singapore MPs get plenty of help from the grassroots who in turn derive other benefits like priority in school enrolment. British MPs also have to incur higher costs travelling greater distances to attend parliament. All these are additional costs that British MPs face that Singapore MPs don’t. It would be unfair to include them as part of British MP salary.

    You also remarked that British allowance claims are totally opaque because we have no idea how much they add up to. Actually, we do know how much they add up to. We can even download their details here: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/members-allowances/house-of-commons/house-of-commons-scheme-guides/hocallowances07/unformatted-data-for-200910-and-201011/. The breakdown of most expense categories are clearly listed, MP by MP. While it is true that claims are susceptible to abuse, the fault lies not with claims itself but with the approval and monitoring process. The recent online publishing of British MP claims will help to reduce cases of abuse. There is also a guideline that can be downloaded here: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-information-office/fymp/m05.pdf.

    The £5.8 million UK taxpayers paid for MP’s food when spread over 650 MPs and over 12 months is £744 per MP per month. The table below shows that even if we add food costs and the maximum that the British MP can claim to the British cabinet minister’s salary, the amount is still far less than £1 million.

    Annual Monthly
    Cabinet minister’s salary £134,565 £11,214
    Staffing expenditure £103,812 £8,651
    Administrative and office expenditure £22,393 £1,866
    Additional accomodation expenditure £24,222 £2,019
    London costs allowance £7,500 £625
    Winding up expenditure (assume amortised over 5 years) £42,068 £3,506
    Communications expenditure £10,400 £867
    Food £8,923 £744
    Total £320,229 £26,686

    If British people are up in arms over food and claims expenditure that total up to £185,664, would they be happier if their cabinet ministers were paid £1 million instead?

    Why pay was not benchmarke​d to that of foreign leaders

    January 23, 2012

    Dear DPM Teo,

    I refer to four 17 Jan 2012 Straits Times reports of your speech in parliament:

    Why pay was not benchmarked to that of foreign leaders

    You said since salary is pegged to the middle of the top 1,000 earners, it won’t change even if the salaries of the top 499 rise. You mean the 500th top earner in Singapore won’t see significant pay rise over the next five years? How can this be? Even the top 10,000th will see faster than average pay rise let alone the top 500th.

    You said Singapore has a smaller pool of able people compared to Britain and Japan. Then what about Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Hong Kong or New Zealand? Their populations are much closer to ours than Britain’s or Japan’s. These countries show that you don’t need to pay top dollar to politicians to secure good prosperity even when populations are small. Furthermore, the prosperity of these small countries are largely driven by private sector firms like Rolex, Omega, Nestle, Norvatis, ABB, Ikea, Nokia, Angry Birds, Maersk. Therefore, the critical element of progress is not government talent but talent itself regardless of whether it came from government or the private sector. Perhaps Singapore can progress even further with less government talent but more private sector talent. We should pay politicians less to encourage them to show their talents through business startups.

    You said Singapore doesn’t have the cushion of the EU like smaller European nations do. But Switzerland is not even in the EU. Yet it was completely ignored by the PAP even though it served as a good comparator for Singapore since we once aspired towards the Swiss standard of living. Smaller European nations like Sweden, Finland and Denmark were already prosperous before they joined EU and never had need for the EU cushion. Recent events have shown that the EU cushion is not so cushiony after all but entails heavy austerity measures instead.

    You said it will be problematic to choose an appropriate multiple of the median or bottom 20% income to arrive at ministerial salary. Yet you see no problem discounting the inflated ministerial salary by 40%. How did you come up with 40%. Isn’t that equally arbitrary?

    You said the benchmark has to link comparable abilities and skills. But the recent crop of new political appointees didn’t come from the top 1,000 earners they were benchmarked against. How then do we know they have top 1,000 abilities and skills when they didn’t come from the top 1,000?

    Passion alone not enough to run country well: DPM

    You said the top 1,000 earners hold professions or positions that Singaporeans in their late 30s or early 40s would aspire to in a few more years. Yet, without actually attaining these professions or positions, there is no guarantee that the new crop of political appointees would eventually achieve those professions or positions.

    You said if the salary discount is very steep, a person in his prime may postpone entering politics. But for most of the new political appointees, entering politics is not a salary discount but a salary jump instead. If they are already in their prime, why are their previous salaries so far from their current political salaries?

    Minister’s pay not automatically $1.1m

    You said $1.1 million will only happen in a normal year. But the performance indicators are so close to what Singapore has been achieving in the past five years, a normal year doesn’t seem far beyond reach.

    $46,750 is not the pay of the minister but that of the minister of state instead. You said the PM can appoint a minister below the MR4 grade by appointing a senior minister of state as an acting minister. But an acting minister is still not a minister yet.

    It’s the principles behind the numbers that matter: DPM

    You said we are a city state critically dependent on good governance to survive and to succeed. Hence, more so than other countries, we need to get the best possible leadership from our small population. Hong Kong, our closest cousin, is a city with a small population too. Hong Kong never stressed the need for good governance to survive or to succeed because Hong Kong knows that its success cannot be due to good governance propping up lousy people. Similarly, the critical element of our success is not just good government but good people too. So even if we can’t benchmark defence and foreign affairs minister salaries against those of Hong Kong’s, surely we can benchmark health, education, home affairs, national development minister pay to those of their counterparts in Hong Kong?

    You said Singapore progressed because of capable, honest leaders in government working with the people. The reverse is also true. Singapore progressed because of capable, honest people working with the government. So pay the people millions too?

    Diverse voices, same objective

    January 22, 2012

    Dear DPM Teo,

    I refer to the 19 Jan 2012 Straits Times report of your closing speech on the ministerial salary debate.

    You hope to put an end to salary comparisons between our ministers and those of other countries because you feel they are misleading as other countries provide unquantifiable benefits. Actually, some of them may be quantifiable. For example, while future claims by British politicians may be unquantifiable yet, past claims are. If we analyse past claims over many years, we can see for ourselves whether they are really as astronomical as our ministers’ pay is. In other words, unquantifiable doesn’t mean limitless or excessive. Furthermore, even if the PAP found UK political remuneration inappropriate as a comparator, why didn’t it compare against so many other First World nations like Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Germany or Hong Kong that may not have such issues? With so many First World nations to choose from, it is surprising that the PAP didn’t find any nation worth comparing against. Therefore, the Workers’ Party’s past campaigns about politicians in other countries being paid a fraction of what they are paid here remains valid because of the existence of many First World role model nations that have not been adequately debated on.

    The debate was silent on corruption and dishonesty doesn’t mean we ought to pay a high price for those things. If we have to pay a high price to get politicians to stay uncorrupted and honest, doesn’t it imply that they are corruptible and potentially dishonest to begin with? So it is not a vindication of the integrity of MPs because you cannot vindicate a person’s integrity by paying him so much that he has no need to compromise his integrity. Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Germany or Hong Kong shows that you don’t have to pay a high price for incorruptibility and honesty.

    The recommended starting salary for a minister is $55,000 a month, not $46,750 a month meant for the senior minister of state instead. Don’t quote Mr Vikram Nair blindly. The Workers’ Party didn’t propose a salary higher than was proposed by the review committee because the review committee didn’t propose $46,750 for the minister to begin with. So the debate about three months bonus on higher salary or seven months bonus on lower salary is meaningless because there is no higher or lower salary to begin with. The monthly salary proposed by WP and the review committee are in fact, the same.

    While the review committee had well respected members, many of them have distinguished backgrounds. So what is fair and balanced to this distinguished lot may not be fair and balanced to Singaporeans from humbler backgrounds. There are a lot more Singaporeans from humbler backgrounds than distinguished backgrounds so the committee’s recommendation may not be representative of the wishes of the people. Perhaps future panels should comprise more from humbler backgrounds to better reflect the servant in PM Lee’s exhortation of the servant leader.

    While Denise Phua lamented on the dearth of good people willing to step forward to run charities, the logic doesn’t automatically extend to dearth in finding good people to run the country. The resources available to the country dwarfs those available to charities so much so that Denise may find herself having an easier time, not a more difficult time, to staff political seats than charity ones.

    You mustn’t go away with the idea that the leader of a 100-person organisation is the only person capable of leading 100 persons. Amongst the staff of the company, there may be a reservist company commander who heads 100 persons in his reservist unit, a church leader who heads 100 persons in his church, a choir leader who leads a hundred strong choir for example. If a 100-person organisation only has one such leader, the moment the leader leaves, the organisation will collapse. Obviously that doesn’t happen very often because someone else who is also a 100-person leader will step up the plate.

    So when you say that an MP should be someone who can lead 100 persons, clearly that someone is not confined to just 1% of our population. It is possible for example that 20% of our population can lead 100 persons. Similarly when you say that a minister should be someone who can lead 1,700 persons it doesn’t mean that only 1 out of every 1,700 Singaporeans or 0.06% of Singaporeans can lead 1,700 persons. Again, it’s possible for example that 10% of our population can lead 1,700 persons. In fact, it is also possible though unlikely that each and every one of the 1,700 persons can lead 1,700 persons.

    PAP: Why did WP change stand on pay?

    January 21, 2012

    Dear Mr Lawrence Wong,

    I refer to the 21 Jan 2012 Straits Times report of your PAP website note.

    You asked the WP to be accountable and to be transparent on their change of stance on ministerial salary. If you seek accountability and transparency, you should first ask your fellow PAP MPs to explain why they told falsehoods in the parliament. DPM Teo, MP Vikram Nair and MP Edwin Tong all said the salary committee recommended $46,750 for the entry level minister. That is not true. The salary committee recommended $55,000 for the entry level minister and $46,750 for the senior minister of state.

    Why take issue with WP’s 2011 manifesto to benchmark against developed countries when they continue to stress the need to compare against developed countries this time round?

    Your claim of the WP proposal being around $1 million per year is also off. DPM Teo got it right with the figure of $852,500. Whether $852,500 is around $1 million is debatable. ‘Around’ for you may not be ‘around’ for someone else. What is certain is that the WP’s recommended $852,500 is around 25% less than the $1.1 million that PAP accepted. What the PAP accepted is indeed million dollar salary. What the WP proposed falls short of that. You are therefore wrong to say that the WP’s proposal is exactly the sum that they so fiercely attacked in the last elections. It is not even around the same, let alone exactly the same. Your insinuation of political opportunism behind the ‘WP change’ also doesn’t make sense. If you believed that previous WP campaigns were to whip up emotions against the government, political opportunism would require that the WP continue to whip up emotions, not change them.

    You claimed that the WP’s MX9 grade peg is just as elitist as the review committee’s peg to the top 1,000 salaries. It is not. The MX9 grade is far from the top 1,000 salaries and is therefore far from being as elitist as pegging to the top 1,000 salaries.

    You wondered if the difference between the PAP and the WP is about honesty versus hypocrisy. You must be referring to PAP dishonesty and hypocrisy versus WP honesty and sincerity. Aren’t PAP MP’s like DPM Teo, Vikram Nair and Edwin Tong being dishonest when they tried to pass off the salary recommended for the senior minister of state as the salary for the minister? The PAP hypocrisy stems from their denial of pay being important while continuing to cling on to pay tightly.

    You found it disturbing that the WP was unfamiliar with the MX9 benchmark that they used to base their salary benchmark. Quite often, researching public information would not yield all the information needed and the opposition has to fight the battle blindfolded against a PAP supported by an army of civil servants. Perhaps better access to government officials and records for the opposition should help.

    WP proposals on pay ‘not that different’

    January 20, 2012

    Dear Mr Vikram Nair,

    I refer to the 18 Jan 2012 Straits Times report of your parliamentary comments.

    You said “elitist” is too strong a word to describe pegging of ministerial salaries to the top 1,000 earners. Consider the following:

  • “the PAP leaders have an elitist view of human nature” from page 205 of the book “Public Administration Singapore-Style” by Jon S. T. Quah
  • “Policy formulation in Singapore is elitist in nature” from page 108 of the book “Management of success: the moulding of modern Singapore” edited by Kernial Singh Sandhu, Paul Wheatley
  • “a deeply entrenched elitist conception of how Singapore society should be structured. Lee Kuan yew articulated this clearly …” from page 174 of the book “Singapore in the new millennium: challenges facing the city-state” by Derek Da Cunha
  • “PAP government’s well entrenched elitist philosophy” from page 61 of the book “Educational decentralization: Asian experiences and conceptual contributions” by Christopher Björk
  • Thus, several authors didn’t feel “elitist” is too strong a word to describe the PAP government. Neither should it be too strong to describe pegging of ministerial salaries to the top 1,000 earners.

    You said the WP’s proposed $55,000 a month for an entry level minister is more than the committee’s proposed lowest monthly salary of $46,750. You are mistaken. The committee didn’t propose $46,750 for the entry level minister but for the senior minister of state instead. In fact, the committee proposed $55,000 as well for the entry level minister. As such, your claim that WP’s proposed $55,000 is $8,250 higher than the committee’s proposed $46,750 is false because it is based on the wrong salary of $46,750 meant for the senior minister of state instead. For the same reason, your claim that the WP’s proposal will result in $99,000 more a year is also false, as is your claim about the WP’s calculated bonus being based on a higher starting salary.

    You gave the impression that getting full six months bonus is difficult because real income growth of the average Singaporean and the lowest 20% has to be above 4%, unemployment must be 3.5% and real GDP growth must be at least 7%. Actually, it may not be so difficult. The Singaporean unemployment rate was 3.1%, 3.4%, 4.5%, 3.4% and 3.1% for 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and Jun 2011 respectively. Thus, the target was met for all five years except 2009 due to the Global Financial Crisis. GDP growth target was met in 2007 and 2010. The annualised real income growth for the median and the 20th percentile Singaporean between 2006 and 2010 was 2.6% and 3.1% respectively, not far from the 4% target. It appears ministers only have to work a little harder to achieve the full bonus.

    You criticised the WP stating in 2006 and 2011, the need for salaries to be pegged to those of foreign leaders. But even for this time, the WP continued to stress the importance of comparing salaries to those of other First World nations. So they have not shrunk from that position. That position remains intact as clearly articulated in the parliament.

    ‘Real progress’ in ministeria​l pay debate

    January 19, 2012

    The 19 Jan 2012 Straits Times article “‘Real progress’ in ministerial pay debate” reported DPM Teo as saying that the review committee recommended a $46,750 starting salary for an entry-level minister with an annual typical package of $935,000.

    The actual review committee recommendation was: “A Minister at the MR4 grade (i.e. entry-level grade) should be paid an annual salary of $1,100,000, a cut of 37%. A Minister at the lower end of this grade will start at an annual salary of $935,000.” The first sentence clearly states the entry level minister’s salary as $1,100,000. The second sentence complicates issues by stating there is a lower end to the minister entry level grade. But the minister entry level grade must be the lowest minister grade. Any grade lower than the minister entry level grade must be lower than the minister grade.

    More clarification can be found in Table A of attachment 1 of the review committee’s report. The table clearly shows that $1,100,000 is indeed the salary of the MR4, the entry level minister grade. $935,000 is the salary of the senior minister of state instead. Clearly, the senior minister of state is not the minister.

    DPM Teo has therefore wrongly quoted the review committee. The review committee’s recommended annual package for the entry level minister is $1,100,000, not $935,000. When worked backwards, the recommended monthly salary is $55,000, not $46,750. DPM Teo’s argument: “The WP proposed a monthly pay for ministers of $55,000 and an annual typical package of $852,500. The committee recommended a $46,750 starting salary for an entry-level minister with an annual typical package of $935,000.” is therefore false because he wrongly quoted the review committee.

    Comparing apple to apple or minister to minister, the WP recommended the same monthly pay of $55,000 as the review committee. The WP did not recommend more than what the review committee recommended.

    The WP’s $852,500 annual package recommendation should be compared against the review committee’s $1,100,000, not $935,000. As such, the WP’s figure is almost 25% less than what the review committee recommended, a difference not as insignificant as DPM Teo made it out to be.

    Mr Edwin Tong’s comparison is even worse. He compared WP’s $715,000 to the review committee’s $607,750 recommended salary excluding variable bonuses. While there is nothing extraordinary with Mr Tong’s mistake of using the $607,750 meant for the senior minister of state as all PAP MPs made that mistake, what is extraordinary is that he even bothered to compare salaries without considering bonuses. Even the review committee didn’t make that comparison in their report. Why? Because it is so ridiculously irrelevant. Table C of attachment 3 shows that a good performer will get three months bonus. The PAP kept emphasising they have gotten the top 1,000 from the population, the cream of the cream. It’s taken for granted they will be ‘good’ performers if not ‘super-hero’ performers. Is Mr Tong telling us he expects this crop of ‘top 1,000′ ministers to churn out mediocre performance?

    For salaries with bonus, Mr Tong compares the WP’s range of $880,000 to $1,017,500 with the review committee’s range of $935,000 to $1.23 million. Firstly, Mr Tong’s quote of $880,000 for the lower end of the WP recommendation differs from the $852,000 quoted by DPM Teo. How is this so? Because Mr Tong quoted WP’s Gerald Giam’s figure of three month’s minimum bonus whereas DPM Teo quoted WP’s Yee Jenn Jong’s figure of two and a half months bonus. Its strange that when quoting WP’s lower limit, Mr Tong used Gerald Giam’s figure of 3 months and not Yee Jenn Jong’s figure of 2.5 months but when quoting WP’s upper limit, Mr Tong didn’t use Gerald Giam’s figure of 5 months but used WP’s Yaw Shin Leong’s figure of 5.5 months instead. It seems like Mr Tong simply chose whichever figure that was higher.

    The bottom line is this: the review committee’s figure is $55,000 per month, not $46,750 per month or $1,100,000 per year, not $935,000 per year. As far as monthly salary is concerned, WP’s figure is the same as the review committee’s. The difference is in the annual package. WP’s $852,500 is about 25% lower than the review committee’s $1,100,000.

    Ministeria​l salary 2012

    January 17, 2012

    Dear MPs,

    I refer to 17 Jan 2012 Straits Times articles:
    - MPs favour clean wage system
    - WP plans differ little from recommendations: PAP MPs
    - Corporate peg to pay draws lively debate
    - Speech of the day: Temper idealism with realism

    Dear Mr Arthur Fong,

    Why compare ourselves with China, a developing nation low on the Corruptions Index? You might as well compare us with Zimbabwe. It adds nothing to our appreciation of the issue. You should compare us with First World nations instead.

    Dear Ms Lee Bee Wah,

    I have heard stories of British politicians misusing expense claims. But isn’t it cheaper to lose small change over miscellaneous expense claims than to lose millions to political salaries outright? Also, it’s just Britain. There hasn’t been anything of that sort from Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Denmark or Hong Kong. While your Malaysian friends wish for Singaporean politicians, have they lived in Switzerland, the Netherlands and so on?

    Dear Dr Lam Pin Min,

    The new ministers were already being paid very well before they joined politics. Even if we pay them what they were getting before they joined politics, they would still be earning a lot more than the apple tree gardener to be tempted to steal apples. If we have to pay them so much more just so they won’t steal apples, wouldn’t it show that they are very greedy to begin with? Why do we even consider employing such people? Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Hong Kong do not pay clean wages? We cannot compare with them?

    You said it is wrong to peg to bottom 10% or 20% because ministers should be concerned with the wellbeing of all. By the same logic, wouldn’t you also think it is wrong to peg to the top 1,000?

    Dear Dr Amy Khor,

    You said political service is more than public service. Civil servants work five days a week. MPs carry the ground five days a week? How many meet-the-people sessions do you conduct per week?

    Dear Mrs Josephine Teo,

    Please get real, pegging to the top 1,000 earners is elitist. You said pegging to top 10,000 or top 100,000 means we are drawing from those levels. In other words, pegging to top 1,000 is because we want to draw from top 1,000. But the current crop of new ministers did not come from the top 1,000. So we are indeed not drawing from the top 1,000 but are in fact drawing from the top 10,000 or top 100,000 depending on which group the new ministers came from. Why are we paying top 1,000 salaries to top 10,000 or 100,000 talent?

    Dear Mr Alvin Yeo,

    You said that the salary committee was trying to draw from Singapore’s top talent pool when it benchmarked ministerial salary to the top 1,000 Singaporean earners. But the current crop of new ministers did not come from the top 1,000 earners. So they are not our top talent? If the idea of setting top 1,000 salaries is to get top 1,000 talents, then aren’t we being short changed when we pay top 1,000 salary but get only top 10,000 or top 100,000 talent? Once their salaries become auto-pegged, the new ministers will never be able to show that they are capable of making it to the top 1,000 by themselves. How then would we know that they are truly top 1,000 material to begin with?

    You said if we multiply median income by 5, 10, 20 times, we lose that identification with median income. Isn’t it the same with the 40% discount? Wouldn’t we lose identification too with the top 1,000 earners?

    You said the most significant figure was Mercer’s $2.29 million average CEO pay considered by Mercer to be the closest approximation to a minister’s pay. If Mercer recommended 2.29 million ruppiah you think it will get more business in future?

    You said ministry budget is billions of dollars and number of employees is tens of thousands, therefore command high ministerial pay. What about United States ministry budget which is hundreds of billions of dollars and many more thousands of employees? They deserve even more pay? Our defence minister should be paid more than our minister for information and the arts because of bigger budget?

    You said ministers are answerable for MRT breakdowns and floods. But the MRT CEO resigned while the minister of transport is still the minister of transport. What’s so difficult with flood answers? Once every 50 million years.

    You ask isn’t 50% discount on $2.29 million a sacrifice? In the first place, who says $2.29 million is fair? Who should decide what a fair price is? Mercer or Singaporeans?

    You said we want everything from our leaders with no regard to whether they can sufficiently provide for their family. Please lah, even for the junior ministers, their former pay before they joined politics was already more than enough to provide for their family. We are talking about people from the top 10,000 or 100,000. If these guys can’t sufficiently provide for their family, 2.9 million Singaporeans must be starving now.

    You point to the excessively rich politicians in the US and the UK. There are so many First World nations, why choose that one or two to suit your argument? Why not choose Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong?


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