Member of parliament for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Edwin Tong’s question was whether it was timely to review the framework by which political salaries are determined. It was just a subtle reminder that U.S. President Barack Obama is (still) paid only about US$ 400,000 annually while Japanese Prime Minister is paid US$ 359,000 a year. Point of fact, the Japanese PM’s pay was cut 30% in Nov 2011 as part of plan to reduce Japanese public servants’ pay and help fund reconstruction for the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastation. Not to appease voters seething with anger for years of pillage from public coffers.
True to form, Teo Chee Hean dodged the bullet and went off tangent to highlight that political salaries have not gone up in the past 3 years even as the benchmark they are linked to has risen by around 3% per year over the period. He itemised the “3 Principles” which guided their iron-clad rice bowl connection:
- Salaries must be competitive;
- Ethos of political service entails sacrifice, reflected as “discount” in wages;
- Salaries paid without hidden bonuses
Even the most daft of Singaporeans can spot Pinnochio’s nose lengthening as he spoke. Compared to Eduardo Saverin, Obama and Shinzō Abe must feel like living the subsistence of a Mother Teresa. Teo can’t be making too much of a personal sacrifice when his residential home, funded by public service pay, consists of two houses sited side by side in a Good Class Bungalow estate. As for the “hidden bonuses”, what they are getting from the newly introduced National bonus component – wherein ministers can receive up to 3 months bonus if the targets set by the Cabinet (meaning themselves) are met – are not exactly public knowledge.
The most infuriating part of Teo’s retort is his not-too-subtle suggestion that political salaries should go up after 3 years. He may actually be swallowing Lui Tuck Yew’s line that “train reliability has actually improved” when we are witnessing a transportation disruption every week, if not every other day. Teo should take a closer look at the top 1,000 earners whose pay they are benchmarking against – these guys actually get marching orders if they are not up to scratch. Just ask Magnus Bocker, ex-chief executive of the Singapore Exchange (SGX) who chose not to seek to extension of his appointment beyond his current contract, which ends on June 30 this year. Not for him the option of saying, “If we didn’t get it right, I’m sorry. But we will try better the next time.”
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