When the man in command thinks of a quiet and peaceful retirement in modest circumstances, there is hope of progress in the country.
The above statement was made by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 1963. But that was then. Now, PAP ministers demand millions of dollars to serve in the cabinet.
This change in attitude, made by Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself in the late 1980s, was the basis of the Singapore Democrats’ landmark paper entitled Ethical Salaries for a Public Centered Government which was launched this eveining at the Quality Hotel.
Prepared by the SDP’s Policy Unit headed by Dr James Gomez, the paper calls for a re-evaluation of the ministers’ motivation in serving in public office. It questions the ministers’ dedication to serving the nation when they look to rewarding themselves financially instead of performing in the sacrificial spirit of public service.
The paper points out that “Those who aspire to govern the country must be imbibed with a strong sense of selflessness and love for the nation. To enrich oneself financially for one’s service to one’s country is incompatible with such a type of leadership.”
The first comprehensive and in-depth look at ministerial salaries conducted by a political party, the publication notes that ministers’ salaries are excessive and that they should not include bonuses (which added to 24 months of the basic salary in 2011).
In his presentation, Dr Gomez said: “Ministers must be compensated fairly but at current levels the pay is excesive. Compared to heads of government around the world, the prime minister is way above.”
The paper makes five key recommendations to rein in the high salaries:
- Establish an independent salary commission to determine ministerial remuneration for each financial year. Such a commission shall compile and publish annually the salaries of ministers, along with their other commercial interests.
- Do away with variable bonuses such as the GDP Bonus and the Performance Bonus which together can make up to as much as 22 months of the ministers’ basic salary. Instead, the pay should comprise of the fixed salary components.
- Peg ministerial pay to the bottom 20 percent of Singaporean wage earners. The SDP recommends that the MP allowance be 10 times $1,400 (mean wage of the bottom 20th percentile based on the assumption of a minimum wage in place). Ministers are paid three times the MP allowance while the prime minister 4 times more. This will bring the PM’s pay to about $56,000 per month. Such an approach will ensure that the living standards of this group rise with the rest of the population.
- Provide ministers with allowances for expenses incurred while performing their official duties. The claims should be published to ensure transparency and accountability.
- Move the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board (CPIB) out of the Prime Minister’s Office and empower it to investigate all ministers without needing the approval of the President of Singapore.
The paper is published in anticipation of the review of ministerial salaries by the Government-appointed commission led by Mr Gerard Ee which is expected to be ready in December. The SDP’s recommendations will be used to compare and contrast with those made by Mr Ee’s committee.
Ethical Salaries for a Public Centered Governmenthe can be downloaded here.