Lee Kuan Yew defends salary increase for Ministers

05 Apr 07

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has defended the impending salary increase for ministers and told its critics to have “a sense of proportion” when debating the issue.

Lee said that for the average family earning S$1,500 or S$3,000 a month, the proposed salary increase might be an astronomical figure.

“But for people in government like me, having to deal with these sums of money which we have accumulated through the sweat of our brow over the last 40 years, you have to pay the market rate,” he told the Singapore media covering his visit to Australia published in The Straits Times today.

Otherwise, he said, the top talent in public sector would join the private sector.

“And then you’ve got an incompetent man and you’ve lost money, by the billions. So get a sense of proportion”.

Singapore cabinet ministers are currently drawing S$1.2 million salary a year but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said recently that the amount was below the benchmark of S$2.2 million, and should be increased in order for the public sector to attract and retain talent.

Minister Mentor Lee described as “absurd” for Singaporeans to quarrel over the amount the ministers should be paid. “You know, the cure for all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government,” he said.

The total cost to pay ministers and other office holders is now at S$46 million a year, which Lee said, amounted to about 0.13 per cent of the government’s total expenditure.

“We are quarreling about whether we should pay them S$46 million or S$36 million, or better still S$26 million. So you save S$20 million and jeopardise an economy of S$210 billion? What are we talking about?” said Lee.

The proposed salary increase has attracted debate among Singaporeans who are against the move.

But Lee told them: “I say you have no sense of proportion; you don’t know what life is about. And just think, what would your apartment be worth with a poor government and the economy down?”

Asked on his salary, Lee, said he earned S$2.7 million a year as Minister Mentor.

“A top lawyer, which I could easily have become, today earns S$4 million. And he doesn’t have to carry this responsibility. All he’s got to do is advise his client. Win or lose, that’s the client’s loss or gain.”

On views that the ministers should be willing to make sacrifices and not to be there for the money, Lee said: “Those are admirable sentiments, but we live in a real world.”

The proposed salary increase will be tabled in Parliament on Monday.

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