Why Obama makes less than S’pore minister

Dear PM Lee,

I refer to the 6 Apr 2011 Straits Times report of your comments at the Kent Ridge Ministerial forum.

You said the ‘low’ salary of the US president suppresses salaries down the line. By whose standard do you say the US president’s salary is low? From the perspective of your multi-million dollar salary, US president salary is low of course. But your perspective is one and only in this world. From the perspectives of the common people, that salary is not low. Also, despite our ministers’ million dollar salaries, salaries down the line are still depressed nonetheless. So paying ministers top dollar doesn’t guarantee that salaries down the line won’t be suppressed.

You quoted US Chief Justice (William) Rehnquist as saying that a senior judge hearing a case is paid less than a junior lawyer on Wall Street. But Wall Street cannot employ all the lawyers in the US. If it does, it will merely encourage more people to become lawyers so there will always be enough lawyers on or off the Wall Street. Despite Wall Street receiving the better lawyers, lawyers off the Wall Street aren’t substandard either. They are qualified and can do the job well. Otherwise, they shouldn’t even be given the lawyer’s licence to begin with.

The argument that people entering politics should not, as a result, become poor only applies to JB Jeyaratnam and Chee Soon Juan who were both made bankrupt. Even before the days of million dollar salaries, were any minister poor? Never, ministers were never poor, million dollar salaries or otherwise.

Enough of comparison with the US, let’s compare with Hong Kong which is similar to Singapore in many aspects and forms a good reference for us to benchmark against. It’s Chief Executive draws a very decent annual salary of close to half a million dollars. Since our per capita GDP or median salary is not two, three times those of Hong Kong’s why should our ministers be paid two, three times their salaries?

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