Cut the president’s pay

President S R Nathan is getting a salary increase of a whopping 26.4 percent. I knew inflation in Singapore is bad right now, but is it that bad? As it turns out, inflation is “only” 5.5 percent (Jan 2011 compared with Jan 2010). This means the president is getting a salary increase five times the inflation rate.

What gives?

As reported in the Straits Times, 11 March 2011, Parliament has just approved an S$11.6 million budget for the Civil List, a term that denotes the expenses connected with the office of the President of the Republic. It represents an increase of S$1.25 million, or 12 percent. Of this increase, the bulk of it — $890,700 — will be the upward padding of the president’s salary. It goes from S$3,376,800 to S$4,267,500.

The budget for staff salaries, however, will rise from from S$4,060,800 to S$4,532,400, an increase of S$471,600 or 11.6 percent.

Why is the president getting a 26.4 percent increase when his staff get less than half that? According to the report, “The President’s salary rises in tandem with that of political, judicial and civil service appointment holders.”  This as we know, is pegged to GDP growth, which is a top-line figure that can be pushed up by importing loads of foreigners to work in or do business in our economy. It does not reflect productivity growth, which surely must be the chief driver for better income and living standards for Singaporeans. That is to say, high GDP growth can be achieved at the expense of Singaporeans’ interest, which will lead you to this thought: ministers’ personal interests can easily be opposed to Singaporeans’ interests.

Making things even more illogical, the president’s job has nothing to do with the economy, and the explanation doesn’t even pretend that he does. His salary rises because ministers’ salaries rise according to a certain formula (pegged to GDP growth as aforesaid). It’s all got to do with face; it’s got nothing to do with the little work that S R Nathan does. It would be awkward if ministers salaries were to rise above the president’s, so the solution is to let his salary rise too to give cover to ministers’ fat pay cheques.

We’re beginning to get to Animal Farm-style logic here.

The other big component of the Civil List is expenses for the palace. This will be — wait for it — cut by S$25,300 to S$2,068,300. I assume the plan is not to replace light bulbs should they blow, and state dinners for visiting dignitaries will no longer have dessert on the menu.

Of course we have to find savings somehow, since 2011 is also presidential election year. An extra S$610,000 has to be set aside for the swearing-in ceremony likely to be in August.


Why would this cost S$610,000? It’s not as if it’s a once-in-a-generation coronation of a monarch when we have to have white thoroughbreds pulling a gilded carriage down the streets (and then have an army of cleaners to sweep up the horse poo afterwards), and pay to fly in royalty from the remaining kingdoms around the world to grace the occasion and testify to the splendour of the Singapore throne.

It’s only a swearing-in-ceremony. The bloke raises his right hand and reads some words from a scrap of paper. Then he (or she) and guests adjourn to another room to have tea and cucumber sandwiches. Can’t we do this for under S$10,000?

Speaking of the upcoming presidential election, assuming there is one and that we don’t have a repeat of the situation where all except the government-nominated candidate is disqualified, let me put forward a suggestion for whoever is interested in contesting. You don’t have to promise Singaporeans anything — you can’t anyway since the job doesn’t come with many discretionary powers — except one thing: Just promise to give away half that salary to charity. Do that and the election will be yours to lose.

32 Responses to “Cut the president’s pay”

  1. 1 Paul 12 March 2011 at 01:55

    Then, Alex, what are you waiting for? Declare your intention to stand!

  2. 2 Paymemoretobelesscorrupt 12 March 2011 at 03:19

    Your suggestion at the last end was hilarious. Yet, it speaks of the mockery of the substantial increase in presidential pay at a time where socioeconomic inequality persists and couples/families are scared of the financial/time costs in raising children. To add insult to injury, this is occurring a little while before the Elections.

    Now I really wonder how Singaporeans will respond. And how…..shameless the government can get. Sighs. I really wish I could think of a kinder word as an alternative.

    I have thought of a suggested pay for a president and a minister.

    President: Median wage
    Bonuses: Based on growth of lowest third of income earners
    Rationale: Inclusive growth imperative ~ guardian of vulnerable peoples

    Minister: Median wage
    Bonuses: Inversely related to the gap between the highest and lowest income earners.
    Rationale: Equitable mobility to precede inclusive growth imperative.

    In anticipation of (or rather to “argue against”) possible corruption in light of such modest salaries,

    A referendum might be held every year for each member of the public of voting age to agree, refuse or stay silent in giving $1 to the President/Minister. It will be made known that this $1 will be coming from investments using public monies (e.g. GIC, CPF)

    On another note, the issue of ministerial/presidential salaries has been debated for several years now. And it will always be good to look into alternative forms of appraisal. How much a leader is willing to forgo and how little he/she is willing to be content with can speak volumes about what are the motivations behind leadership in a country.

  3. 3 Gaba 12 March 2011 at 07:28

    Truly a waste of the public’s money for a person who is a figurehead.

  4. 4 sgcynic 12 March 2011 at 08:25

    Even should all non-government-nominated candidates be disqualified leaving the government-nominated one to win by a walk-over, the elections must still be held. We the people must have our say whether we disqualify that joker too.

  5. 5 Spock 12 March 2011 at 11:14

    The ruling party straw polls must show them way ahead of the other parties. Hence their confidence to raise the presidents salary before elections. Only in Spore!

  6. 6 anony 12 March 2011 at 13:25

    Yes Alex,

    The gall of the MIW has gotten so big that they are cocky enough to perpetuate such blatant ‘legalise’ robbing of the national coffers.

    The GE is the time and occasion to cut all of them at the knees to bring them down to earth. We all should, we owe it to the country and our children and future Singaporeans’ future.

  7. 7 Tanky 12 March 2011 at 18:01

    I used to think hedge fund managers are the most shameless people when renumeration is concerned. They get paid 2% of the money their clients let them manage. If they are right on the market bets (mostly lucky than clever), they get 20% of the prfits they generate with other people’s money. If they screw up, the clients fired them and take back their money. The hedge fund guys rest for a couple of months and start another company.

    Compared to the hedge fund managers, our President and our ministers have a far better deal. While they do not get a 2%-20% cut, their jobs are solid iron rice bowls. On the economic front, they blame global economy should the Simgapore economy slows or gets into recession; and its entire their great leadership should the Singapore economy does well. Nicoll Highway, blame the contractor; MAS Salamat, the Gurkas; high GINI, the world is flat; mini bonds, buyers beware; …. They get to keep their jobs whatever happens and we as clients can’t do much about it. Oh wait, we can. At the General elections.

  8. 8 andrew 12 March 2011 at 21:17

    The next President should donate a substantial amount (50%) to a charity each year. This will be the decent thing to do – it will show empathy and that he is not in for the money.

  9. 9 :) 13 March 2011 at 00:26

    how do i apply to stand for president?

  10. 10 Hopeless 13 March 2011 at 00:41

    Perhaps Yawningbread should start a Facebook page for the cutting of presidential salaries. I am sure that page will be “liked” by many people.

  11. 11 A Citizwn 13 March 2011 at 00:55

    this has been happening with the ruling party for many years now but the time has come to see real change coming very soon.

    the next election will really tell you what the general public think of the current government and their policies.

    over 4 decades the people had been putting their faith in the government with pay cuts, cpf cuts and lowering their expectations when the times are bad but the government continue to pay themselves with handsome margin.

    the income gap and the rising costs have made many Singaporeans suffer in silence but the time is nearing for them to come back down to earth to be walking with the people who put them in power,

    change is near and change is inevitable …… these must stop and the people must make a decent living with decent jobs.

  12. 12 Pearisme 13 March 2011 at 07:03

    Just 50% shouldn’t be donated to charity. I think it would be more appropriate to donate 90% to say the least. Gosh its appalling!! He can buy a hdb flat EVERY MONTH with his pay without taking a loan when there are people in Singapore who can’t even afford a house.

  13. 13 Netina 13 March 2011 at 08:36

    Alex, Why not start a FB petition to get everyone to sign to stop the president’s salary hike? Starting a FB page alone may not be good enough. Anonymous people may just “Like” it. But if we put our names down and stand by a common letter written….this may be more powerful.

    When the government refused to give single mothers maternity leave some years ago, I wrote a letter to ST Forum with 12 names and it evoked a response from the authorities.

    Why don’t you start a letter based on your article…and we can start a FB page where we allow supporters to put down their names and signatures.

    What do you think?

    • 14 concerned parent 13 March 2011 at 16:05

      this petition suggestion is a good idea..i have just only found out about the president’s pay increase today while surfing the TOC website (i do not read the mainstream media papers straits times and the today publications any longer, too pro govt). this sort of news should be highlighted and not buried among other news. there should be transparency and accountability, which is very lacking with this current govt. we all should not live in this present climate of fear, if we don’t start somewhere, nothing’s going to change.

  14. 15 Indecent...... 13 March 2011 at 10:06

    This salary increase is INDECENT !!

  15. 16 Chan Joon Yee 13 March 2011 at 12:20

    I think we all know the answers to some of the rhetorical questions here. It’s just not very “convenient” to answer them candidly. The sad fact is, the majority of Singaporeans have allowed this to happen and apart from the usual frivolous grouses, are not mentally sophisticated enough to identify the root causes of their problems and unhappiness.

  16. 17 DL 13 March 2011 at 13:50

    The president’s pay is used as the “virtual ceiling” for the “rest of them”. Once they increase the ceiling, they can easily raise the rest subsequently. The rule is simple: “Just need to keep below the limit”. That way, there is no way for the President to question the others about high pay simply because he gets the highest of them all.

    It is all part a “well oiled process”. Part one is completed. The question is not whether part two will follow but when?

  17. 18 concerned parent 13 March 2011 at 15:55

    oh my god, this is unbelievable! what the hell is going on? we have so many ordinary folks barely making ends meet on a daily basis, and here we have ministers earning millions, and a president getting a pay increase to $4 mil?

  18. 19 SHAMELESS 13 March 2011 at 18:02

    legally it’s not wrong as approved in Parliament (even our elected opposition does not object) but everyone knows that morally it’s not right.

  19. 20 13 March 2011 at 22:17

    The whole PAP system must be revamped. It is a mockery and smack of day-light robbery of the treasury. Singaporeans must show their anger and disapproval by voting the PAP down! There is no other alternatives if we want a democratic system. I believe Singaporeans are wise enough to make the right decision come this GE by voting in all the opposition candidates into Parliament!

  20. 21 Fullofnonsence 14 March 2011 at 09:42

    He’s got the cheek to ask the public for yearly donations to charity our celebs are risking their lives performing stunts while this guy sits around and does nothing

  21. 22 Ben 14 March 2011 at 12:22

    Can someone remind me why the President gets the highest wage amongst all the political appointees? The argument to pay top dollar to attract the best man for the position does not cut it since it is largely a retirement/figurehead job. The respect and honour that one gains from being the President (for himself and his entire clan) must be sufficient to persuade one to to take up the job. There is no sacrifice of having to attend MPS, staying awake through parliamentary sessions and of course the related stresses of being a minister.

  22. 23 Alan Wong 14 March 2011 at 13:24

    I suppose LKY and Gang can’t do it as corruptly as those Malaysian politicians do.

    So everything has to be legal, that’s probably the best way of doing it ie. to enrich themselves by their own merit. It’s called meritocrazy, you know.

    If the President don’t have a similar increase, what if he shows a sulky face everytime they have some official function sure spoil the party, isn’t it ?

    Long live PAP and its stooges, I hope.

  23. 24 chainsawieldinun 14 March 2011 at 15:12

    Well, I wonder if the incoming President (-elect!) has anything to do with the wage increase. I mean, if he/she/it is currently a top civil servant, and needs to be encouraged/persuaded/coerced into running for the position, the loss-of-income factor would probably be one of things the MIW can fix all too easily. 2c.

  24. 25 Charity 14 March 2011 at 15:48

    Now I know why the govt always screamed not enough budget to help the poor. We know who is getting the best welfare from the state funds, squeezing off the last drop that can easily feed many poor families. If I am the president, I would feel embarass to solicit donations publicly via TV charity show, because I am getting more than the whole week of pouring sympathy from donors.

  25. 26 Kute Steiner 14 March 2011 at 17:29

    With this increase…

    the flood gates to increase other ministers “salaries” will now also be allow to be increase…

    The irony is the increase comes directly/indirectly from the general public/citizens/PRs of singapore.


  26. 27 Francis 15 March 2011 at 07:45

    Has anyone thought this might be possible? Has the salary been increased to prepare for LKY who might be the next president?

    • 28 ape 19 March 2011 at 10:16

      That is not possible. A presidential candidate must not be affiliated with any political party for the last… 3 years? So no. LKY cannot run or be the next president until he quits PAP. Certainly not on time for the next PE

  27. 29 Ben 15 March 2011 at 14:06

    Just wondering if that $4.26 mil figure is a topline performance based pay or the actual pay the P will receive. Presumably, it is also benchmarked to the 2/3 pay of the private sector top dogs? If performance-based, who appraises the P and on what yardstick? Likewise, who appraises the PM? Surely not peer appraisal?

    It seems the benchamark system creates as much ambiguity as it tries to make it more transparent.

  28. 30 SK 18 March 2011 at 10:25

    It is really injustice of the extremes.
    Gone are the days when the leaders are doing national services for the nation. The present bunch are in for money only. Many are very undeserving. Many office bearers are always waiting for LKY to speak and then repeating what he has said. Surely such “polishers” do not deserve the millions pay. Shame on them. They will receive their judgement one day. So do not be to work up.

  29. 31 ape 18 March 2011 at 18:25

    Perhaps those extra money will be better spent to employ a team of Reserves Auditor since the previous President had a hard time getting the answers.

  30. 32 apen 6 May 2011 at 01:07

    If george yeo loses his seat and the pap is still the government he should be considered for the presidency. he has a good world presence and he would be a working president,not a ceremonial office bearer.even the opposition will accept this i believe.

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