Archive for the ‘Minister salary’ Category

Minister’s millions

April 21, 2007

At the end of the day, it is the prosperity of us ordinary Singaporeans that should be the basis of judgement for ministerial performance. We have had to suffer cuts in CPF to help the nation tide through bad times and now we are required to contribute more in terms of GST. There hasn’t been any significant improvement to our lives to justify the significant pay increases for our ministers.

Some people will say that benchmarking against the lowest is wrong. But it is not any more wrong than benchmarking against the highest. One extreme is wrong doesn’t imply that the other extreme is correct.

The government’s main selling point is that if our highly mobile elites were to leave, our leadership would be badly shaken and we would all suffer as a consequence. The question we need to ask is why should our economy depend on just a few individuals to begin with?

To insist that the government control our entire economy is to place our future into the hands of a few elites, which may not be the wisest thing for us. It may have worked well in the past when things were a lot simpler. But with globalisation and increased technological leaps, it gets harder and harder for any individual or an elite for that matter to strike lottery. For if the elite were to fail, it would have dire consequences for us all. We need not look very far back to see how our infallible elites failed to pre-empt the mass exodus of electronics manufacturing to China to tell us just how fallible they can be and how much we suffered as a consequence.

Over reliance on the government is no good and it may be much better for economic decisions to spread throughout the population. Two heads are better than one and three non-elites beat one elite any time. So rather than pay a premium to keep those elites, let these elites dissipate throughout the economy which can only strengthen, not weaken our economy.

We only have to look at Hong Kong to see how a vibrant and entrepreneurial economy can prosper in the absence of a over-directive and highly monopolising government. In our quest to become more vibrant and entrepreneurial, perhaps all we need is for our government to fade into the background so that free market entreprise can come alive.

In the past, elites were elites for the simple reason that most of us ordinary folks were either illiterate or could not read English. But education standards of ordinary folks have improved substantially and we now have more straight As students coming from neighbourhood schools. This closing of the education gap makes it a lot more unacceptable to continue to maintain that elite / non-elite differentiation.

The government’s argument that a welfare state will weaken our nation is not put in the right context. The amount of welfare our people receives is so much less compared to what people in US and Germany receive. How can a few hundred dollars cripple a nation more than a few million dollars?

Better a finite quantum than fake selflessness

April 4, 2007

I refer to Dr Yik Keng Yeong’s reply “Better a finite quantum than fake selflessness” (ST, April 4).

I agree with Dr Yik’s quote, that an able general is worth more than 10,000 foot soldiers. But no matter how good a general is, he is worth nothing if he cannot defeat his opponent general. So how well we have weathered global storms is best seen in relation to how well other countries like Taiwan have coped.

We are often told that it is a miracle that Singapore exists, let alone prospers, given it has no natural resources of its own. But we do have one important natural resource – our location, which is the reason for our founding and the origin of our wealth. So it was not by accident that Singapore came into being for it was a gem waiting to be discovered.

Countries like Denmark and Finland have government ratings and economic performances on par or better than ours. Are we not paying a premium when compared to them? If we cannot have politicians serving selflessly, can we at least not have politicians serving out of greed?

In retrospect, the 80s and 90s were the easy days when we successfully rode on one formula – electronics. It was only after the mass exodus of electronics firms to China that the alarm bell started to sound followed by a frantic scramble to find a replacement. This is one of those incidences where we could only react instead of anticipate, where we didn’t see very much ahead of us which is what separates a general from his soldier.

Yes, we have weathered one storm after another, but our recovery from regional or global storms are due in no small part to the recovery of the whole region or globe.

I think the government can do more to improve the livelihood of the people. For a beginning, it can waive HDB rental fees for the old folks under public assistance.

What’s this place worth to you?

March 31, 2007

I refer to the article “What’s this place worth to you?” by Mr Paul Jacob that appeared in the Straits Times on 24th Mar 2007.

Mr Jacob exposes our true selves – ever envious of those better than us but seldom sparing a thought for the less fortunate. It serves as a timely reminder for our elites to stop comparing themselves with top bankers and accountants and to focus instead on improving the livelihood of the commoners.

He urges us to look at where we came from and who got us where we are today. But this epic journey back in time invariably stops at 1965, a good 156 years after that moment of history when Singapore was founded as the gateway between the Far East and the West. It is the same true self that Mr Jacob exposed earlier that leads our leaders to see only their own contributions but not those who came before them, for what would modern Singapore be, without our British predecessors?

He reminds us of such grand undertakings as the transformation of Jurong swamp into the engine room for the modern Singapore economy and the creation of the icon that would be Singapore Airlines. But these are the contributions of our leaders from an earlier era, contributions we Singaporeans are forever grateful for. What has our present generation of politicians to show for other than their constant bickering for more millions?

It took our leaders nearly forty years to finally do something about Sentosa and they are already putting that into their bag of contributions before work has even completed. If the casino-resort provides jobs to Singaporeans, where would those Singaporeans come from? They would come from similar jobs elsewhere on the island. If it is the casino of the casino-resort that would bring in the dough, then fellow Singaporean gamblers would be the ones footing the bill and paying salaries. If it is the resort of the casino-resort that brings in the cash instead, then why have the casino?

It is not that citizens do not appreciate the fact that Singapore ticks, but all first world cities tick but none of them blackmail their citizens with that ticking. Hygienic eating places and clean running water are commonly available in all first world cities. The government constantly emphasizes our first world status so comparison has to be with fellow first world cities. What is it that we have here that other places don’t have? Why must it only be us who has to pay a premium for what everybody else has?

Yes, under table money doesn’t get me my flat fast, nothing else does.

Suddenly, all the million and one things that average folks like you and I accomplish everyday goes to our prime minister. If the prime minister were to go tomorrow, would you stop writing? Would I stop working? Would we stop contributing?

The people who looked at the threat of China, looked at just around the same time when everyone realised they’ve been retrenched.

All the things that are collectively provided by Singaporeans are collectively worth the whole of Singapore and the prize goes ultimately to all Singaporeans, not to one or two politicians.

The comfort of my home comes at a price that is probably five times those found in similar cities elsewhere. The security of our homes is provided for by our serving national service. Our freedom to worship is just one compared to the many more freedoms we do not have, that people elsewhere take for granted. The quality of our government would be nothing without the quality of its people and the strength of the Singapore brand ultimately rests with Singaporeans.

Paying my politician top dollar may not dent my pocket, but it brings anger to many ordinary Singaporeans who has to pay more for everything without having the freedom to write his own paycheck. What the politicans have to show of late doesn’t demonstrate the talent they claim to have nor justify the millions they are demanding. The pact of mutual benefit that has been more oft used than it should is fast losing faith amongst Singaporeans who find their salaries relatively unchanged in a decade when ministers, in good times or bad, continue to earn millions.

Knee jerk

March 27, 2007

Straits Times 24 Mar 2007

Beyond knee-jerk reactions, hard issues remain – Chua Mui Hoong

A common response that Ms Chua gets from folks is “Wah, $2 million, so high, 100 times more than me. Are you saying he’s 100 times better than me?” She feels that sensible people know better – that pay is not a measure of anyone’s worth and that true quality is beyond price.

The notion that pay shouldn’t be a measure of one’s worth is a lofty ideal that is far detached from the real world. I remember a local Chinese newscaster once said on national TV that a person’s career achievement (position and pay) is a measure of the qualities that he posseses that which the society recognises. We would be lying to ourselves if we believed that the world at large behaves in accordance to Ms Chua’s lofty ideal for if it truly did, we wouldn’t find thousands of graduate women unable to find suitable grooms or thousands of lowly educated men having to resort to marrying Vietnamese and mainland Chinese. I am not denying there are those who could see beyond dollars and cents but they are few and far between.

Ms Chua also says that “pay is just the compensation the market gives you for your skills in your lifetime”. If it is the market that determines our pay, then why are we letting our politicians determine their own pay? Where is the market for political compensation so to speak? If by market, we mean political parties like the PAP or the Worker’s Party, then surely our market is being monopolised by one party? We all know how distorted prices become when the market is monopolised by just one party and consumers end up paying more. So where is our antitrust authority to ensure fair play and prevent anti-competitive behaviour? How do we know we’re not being held ransom?

Ms Chua then tries to illustrate how dependent our skillsets are to luck and timing by contrasting the fortunes of a finance professional with that of a Chinese scholar in poetry and calligraphy. The former is having it good right now while the latter can only blame himself for not being born in Tang dynasty China.

So here we are telling ourselves to accept the realities of our choices yet here we are too allowing our elites the luxury of asking themselves how much they would’ve been worth had they chosen a different path altogether. So while our elites have the best of all choices without actually having to choose, the common folk can only blame it on luck, timing or himself for choosing whatever he has chosen. But given the limited choices that this economy presents itself, choices that are largely those of the elites, who can we blame for choosing what little we could choose from? Who can our engineers blame for giving all their lives to the government’s drive for electronics manufacturing only to find themselves jobless and their skill sets useless at the end? Similarly, who can our young, aspiring scientists blame for committing themselves towards the government’s calling for biotechnology should it fail someday?

Ms Chua then dismisses ‘sour grape’ views like “This guy can’t be worth $2 million, he used to work for me / I beat him in a Maths test once in Primary 5 / someone says he’s just average” with the notion that people can and do improve.

But this fails to address the fact that the elite circle is a very exclusive one that a non-elite has almost no chance of stepping into no matter how much the latter improves later on in life.

So far from being knee jerk reactions, the disdain and cynicism the common folks have for ministers’ obscene pay are rooted in thorough understanding of the underlying unfairness.

However Ms Chua said it very well when she said that anyone who feels that $1 million is not enough and wants $2 million before becoming a minister should remain instead in the private sector for the good of the country.

Low Thia Khiang’s suggestion of pegging minister’s pay to 100 times those of the bottom 20% is very sensible as it encourages the ministers to improve the lives of the poor.

Minister’s pay

March 27, 2007

Straits Times, 23 Mar 2007

Ministerial salaries well below benchmark

Our PM says that ministerial salary has to be pegged against those of top professions like bankers, lawyers and accountants because these are alternative professions top civil servants could have had. But what alternative could a vet like Dr Lee Boon Yang have had, had he not become a minister? Could he have become a lawyer or an accountant with his phD in animal science? Which MNC other than those that manufacture pet foods would hire him as a CEO? Therefore, in order to be completely fair, his pay should only be benchmarked against top vets in this country. Having said that, I am of the opinion that Dr Lee is one of the most unassuming ministers we have and the example here merely illustrates the unsound basis for pegging.

While it may be true that our ministers aren’t guaranteed long term jobs since they face elections every five years, it is also true that they have never lost their jobs in all their 42 years in power whereas we have seen CEOs in the private sector like Peter Seah cry on national TV when he was retrenched because it was decided that OUB should merge with UOB. While it may also be true that top civil servants are only given fixed term appointments to a top position, it is also true that many of them step down in style as ambassadors to truly first world countries.

PM on race to attract top talent to civil service – Peh Shing Huei

“Increasingly, the island nation is realising there are few countries it can learn from and no ready models to study.”

Increasingly, people are also realising that when it comes to ground issues like MRT, the government’s favourite model is the world’s most congested trains in Japan. But when it comes to ministerial salaries, it can’t seem to bring itself to model after nations with comparable economic achievements and government ratings like Denmark and Finnland.

“… creativity and innovation are needed to make sure Singaporeans get better paid jobs and the city can bloom in the face of a growing population and economy.”

It was the creativity and innovation of our government that led it to run our economy on the same FDI formula for nearly forty years without ever a thought for nurturing our own technological enterprises. It had to bang its head on the wall before it could see the writing on it but by then it was too late as droves of eletronics firms left enmasse for China leaving thousands of workers and managers jobless in its wake.

It was also their creativity and innovation that saw opportunities in Shin Corp and Suzhou leading to profuse bleeding of our nation’s coffers. Hasn’t there been enough examples to convince our leaders the futility of their business aspirations? A centrally planned economy is not the most ideal in a globalised age and the best our government can do for us is to gradually take a back seat so that the more entrepreneurial private sector can come alive and lead us into the future. All the top nations in the world like Finnland, Switzerland, USA, Japan, Korea and Taiwan have their success firmly rooted in the private sector. The role of their governments is largely confined to providing public essentials like security, education, heath, infrastructure and welfare. Even governments in highly interventionist nations like Japan, Korea and Taiwan only intervened in the early years to nurture fledgling industries. Here, we find our government continuing to wield a tight rein on just about every aspect of our lives, stifling creativity and preventing winners from emerging and it is not hard to understand why.

The examples of Korea, Taiwan and Japan has shown us that when economic success has been attained and the government’s role is gradually decoupled from the economy, its legitimacy starts to fade in the eyes of the people so that government change becomes easier. So our bloated central administration that comes at a very high price to our people, may just be what is required to preserve the political ambitions of some.

What is so creative about growing the economy by growing the population? You merely increase the GDP without increasing the per capita GDP so that the people on average are no better off.

Terms must keep pace with private sector

PM Lee wishes for the public service to be like “Google – an exciting and innovative organisation, with a distinctive and appealing culture. …Google receives 1,300 resumes a day!” There is a basic difference between Google and the public service. Google innovation is about benefiting consumers without emburdening them. Public service innovation on the other hand is about finding all kinds of ways and means to leech on the people – like GST increase, bus fare increase, CPF cut …

PM also stresses the need for his officers to “develop the instincts of the entrepreneur … to seize fleeting opportunities and the boldness to try out new ideas”. I hope he wasn’t referring to opportunities like Shin Corp or Suzhou.

PM spoke about having “abandoned the practice of the iron rice bowl”. I wonder what it was replaced with? A silver dining set pegged against the absolute finest in quality?

PM spoke of unreasonable financial sacrifices to be in the public sector. There are many people who would gladly relieve them of their ‘sacrifices’ much like TT Durai was relieved of his. In his place was found an equally suitable candidate at a much lower cost to the public. Perhaps the civil service can invite bids for its top positions so that the candidate with the lowest bid and who meets all criteria can get to serve.

What a top admin officer gets

A 32 year old officer neither faces elections nor is appointed on fixed terms. He therefore bears no risk of job loss as compared to his counterparts in the private sector. This risk difference has to be factored in when determing his pay. $372,000 is just $28,000 short of George Bush’s salary. Maybe our young officers are benchmarked to take charge of the USA?

Maintaining a first class public service

Singapore always ranks well in terms of lack of corruption. But if by corruption we mean under table money, then how different is that compared to money over the table? If one is theft then is the other daylight robbery?