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.
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.