Diverse voices, same objective

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.

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