Into the minefield of ministerial salaries

I hate to be in possession of scoops. Having heard from a source about five days ago — around the time the new cabinet was announced — that the dropping of several ministers was not the end of the matter, a review of ministerial salaries was also coming, I had to hold my tongue and not say a word until it was announced by the prime minister himself yesterday, 21 May 2011. It’s very hard keeping an embargo on news but I had to do so otherwise my sources would not help me in future.

PM Lee Hsien Loong appointed Gerald Ee, the chairman for the National Kidney Foundation to head the review committee. A day later, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office listed the other seven members as:

– Mr John De Payva, President of the National Trades Union Congress

– Ms Fang Ai Lian, Chairman of the Charity Council and Chairman of Methodist Girls’ School Board of Management

– Mr Stephen Lee Ching Yen, President of Singapore National Employers Federation

– Mr Po’ad Shaik Abu Bakar Mattar, a member of the Council of Presidential Advisers and a member of the Public Service Commission

– Mr George Quek, founder and chairman of Breadtalk Group Ltd, Vice-President of Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan, Chairman of Xinmin Secondary School Advisory Committee

– Mr Lucien Wong, Managing Partner of Allen & Gledhill LLP and Chairman of Maritime and Port Authority

– Mr Wong Ngit Liong, Chairman of the National University of Singapore Board of Trustees and Chairman & CEO of Venture Corporation Limited

What I notice about this list is that it is made up of people whose jobs include setting compensation for heads of large organisations. That already is a bit worrying because it seems to adopt the perspective that political jobs are tantamount to heading a large organisation. The Singapore Inc mindset is still there. You would notice for example that there is no one in the committee who is a political scientist, who can advise on what citizens expect of political office-bearers.

The Chairman of the committee reviewing ministerial salaries, Mr Gerard Ee, has revealed that his committee will adopt a very different model to assess how much ministers should be paid. Current salaries are benchmarked to two thirds of the median income of the top eight earners from six professions such as lawyers, in the private sector.However, the committee will use job specifications of ministers as a starting point.— Yahoo News, 22 May 2011, New ministerial salaries effective from 21 May

How does one arrive at “job specifications’ without involving political scientists?

Of course, this does not preclude the committee from inviting input from academics — or even public opinion. I certainly hope they do, but there it a risk that the committee may simply not understand what is being said outside the corporate or organisational field they have spent their lives in.

The other thing to remember is that the committee is bound by its terms of reference. Quoting from a Media Release posted on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office,

The Committee’s terms of reference will be to review the basis and level of salaries for the President, Prime Minister, political appointment holders and Members of Parliament to help ensure honest and competent government.

The Committee should take into account salaries of comparable jobs in the private sector and also other reference points such as the general wage levels in . [sic, as accessed 23 May 2011, 12:19h]

The Committee should also take into account the following guidelines:

  • while the salary of the President should reflect the President’s high status as the head of state and his critical custodial role as holder of the second key, it should also take into account the fact that unlike the Prime Minister he does not have direct executive responsibilities except as they relate to his custodial role.
  • the salary of ministers should have a significant discount to comparable private sector salaries to signify the value and ethos of political service.


There was something missing. There was no reference to political salaries in other countries. Yet, this was exactly the comparison that Singaporeans have been applying for years, with increasing rancour.

* * * * *

On Denise Phua’s Facebook page is posted a parliamentary speech she made on 9 April 2007. It’s worth a look.

She stressed that the spirit of giving is still very much alive, citing examples of people giving up highly paid jobs to do something worthwhile in social service. Her point was that the argument that nobody would take a top political job without sky-high salaries is founded on a misreading of people. She also reminded the House that job insecurity at top private-sector levels is extremely high, something that cannot be said for top political positions, especially in Singapore’s case. More importantly, she noted that one key difference between a private-sector position and political office is that the latter comes with power, and a nexus between power and money is potentially dangerous.

Now, I know the general argument is this: If we don’t pay leaders high enough, we will not be able to attract the right people. I ask the House to consider this contrarian view. I say that ‘If we do not balance and we concentrate too much Power and Money in top public offices, we might NOT attract the right people. On the contrary, we might attract the wrong people.’

Sir, public office holders and top civil servants wield the most power in our country. This power to swing national policies and even power of king-making does not carry a price tag that is easily written and is a very significant component of the position.

Besides power, money is the other top motivator behind many people. Put together, power and money can be potently addictive. As responsible leaders, we must be careful not to leave behind a structure that combines power and monetary rewards to such high levels that incumbents are so handcuffed by this lethal combination that they find it hard to let go. And worse, we create an office that potential candidates are so attracted to that they may go for broke just to get there, whether they are suitable or not. This potentially can do more harm than good to Singapore – something that does not augur well for our country.

— Denise Phua, from her Facebook note (22 May 2011)

Alas, this cogent point is not reflected in the terms of reference of the committee.

* * * * *

It’s too early to say what the recommendations will be, though we can guess that the President will be taking the biggest pay cut of all. Notably however, the Prime Minister promised to apply the recommendations retroactively to the date of wearing in of the new cabinet — 21 May 2011. That is a good sign.

Now, all that is needed is to remind the committee members that if they too do not want to be tarred and feathered by Singapore citizens, be bold.

* * * * *

Ministers lining up for a pay cut:

Top row (L-R): Heng Swee Kiat (Education), Lui Tuck Yew (Transport), Gan Kim Yong (Health), S Iswaran (Minister in PMO), Chan Chun Sing (Community, Youth and Sports — acting)

Middle row (L-R): Vivian Balakrishnan (Environment and Water Resources), Khaw Boon Wan (National Development), Yaacob Ibrahim (Information, Communication and the Arts), Ng Eng Hen (Defence), K Shanmugam (Foreign Affairs/Law)

Bottom row (L-R): Lim Hng Khiang (Trade and Industry), Teo Chee Hean (Deputy PM/Home Affairs), Lee Hsien Loong (Prime Minister), Tharman Shanmugaratnam (Deputy PM/Finance/Manpower), Lim Swee Say (Minister in PMO)

74 Responses to “Into the minefield of ministerial salaries”

  1. 1 Jo 23 May 2011 at 07:24

    How can they leave out Leong Sze Hian?

  2. 2 Anonymous 23 May 2011 at 07:34

    @”It’s very hard keeping an embargo on news but I had to do so otherwise my sources would not help me in future.”

    Relax lah, I think a delay of five days won’t make too much material difference on most of us, although it is a really juicy piece of news. Better to honour the confidence your sources have have in you.

    As for this pay issue, things will happen, when they happen, if they happen.

    I’m not automatically awarding any brownie points – already past that stage.

  3. 3 yuenchungkwong 23 May 2011 at 07:43

    “no reference to political salaries in other countries”; why should there be? these are hardly “alternative careers” that compete for potential singapore ministers

    however, I happen to believe that ministers’ salaries are indeed too high, and the assumption that politicians are all potential business executives is invalid; in fact few of them were recruited from the business sector; many may be more suitable as academics, voluntary organization and trade union leaders, newspaper columnists, etc

  4. 4 anony 23 May 2011 at 08:14

    George Quek of Breadtalk as a committee member? Is he not too lightweight for this role? Aren’t there more noble Sporeans who can take his place?

    I am rather bothered with the organizations that the members represent.

    Should they not have hired global professional compensation companies or consulting companies with breadth & depth of experience to do the review so that the review remains neutral, carefully scoped out & very thorough. They could have hired Mercer, McKinsey, Deloitte etc. Whatever reductions in salaries the Cabinet & MPs get can go to pay these professional consulting companies.

    PAP still sees itself as a profit/loss company and so the terms of reference are fashioned that way. Altruistic aims are thrown out altogether.

    If only we have more Chen Show Maos who are willing to step forward into the political arena. He has already made his millions in his litigation deals and money is definitely not the motivational factor for Chen Show Mao in joining politics.

    Chen Show Mao reminds me a lot of Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, who funded his own political campaign, and pays himself $1 per year for his public office role.

  5. 5 Tan Tai Wei 23 May 2011 at 08:42

    If there were to be “no sacred cows” and the review “leaving no stone unturned”, then surely even the terms of reference should be reviewed? The PM seems to have given Gerard the old set of terms, and therefore the thing seems in danger of degenerating into, in Jeya’s words, “a PR exercise”?

    It seems to be only to solicit an “independent” (even this is questionable, according to Yawning Bread’s critique of the composition of members?)second opinion about how well existing payments accord with those terms of reference?

    And so, the outcome might be only a token reduction, with Gerard’s effectively endorsing it all, but only asking for a further “sacrifice” by ministers to appease voters?

    We, of course, hope this isn’t so. It probably isn’t intentional even if so. But it may well become that in actuality, even if unintended!

  6. 6 Guest 23 May 2011 at 08:54

    PM happy happy say he is going to listen to the people.

    Then he fast fast go set up committee to decide pay.

    This committe has no endorsement from the people who demanded a review of ministerial pay.

    The least he could do is to have some opposition MPs in the committe. Otherwise, it is seen as another kara-oke session.

    Sometimes I think this PM wants to do things but he is really clueless how to do things.

  7. 7 Everest 2011 - Climbing for Humaneity 23 May 2011 at 09:04

    They should have included NTU professor, author, and blogger Dr Cherian George

    • 8 Anonymous 23 May 2011 at 15:56

      That might be a conflict of interest. Dr Cherian George’s wife is Zuraida Ibrahim and her brother is Dr Yaacob Ibrahim.

  8. 9 Zhoux 23 May 2011 at 09:24

    I am disappointed with the composition of the committee. Gerard Ee promised a committee with “independent-minded people who are known to speak their their minds” (see

    However, from the list of names shown, I don’t recognise most of them (and I follow local news very regularly), so how can it be said that these people are “known to speak their minds”? From their titles and positions it seems like these are establishment folks who are used to drawing high pay themselves as a matter of course. I doubt they would be keen to rock the boat and slash ministerial salaries too drastically.

    The committee desperately needs perspectives from outside business and the civil service. Where are the academics and political commentators? Where are the civil society representatives? You are absolutely right that the committee appears to have adopted a corporatist mindset to ministerial pay from the get go. This does not bode well for true principled reform.

    • 10 Whos afraid of the astroturfers? 23 May 2011 at 23:10

      Nevermind. Let their charade go on. 5 more years to kick their bucket. My guess is that the pay reduction will at most be a 25 to 35% cut. Will never go to the lows of 50%. Mark my words.

      I never thought pay was the all important factor in serving the people, though just enough to go by would be good.

  9. 11 Alan Wong 23 May 2011 at 09:32

    I think the committee is so similar in structure to that of the Public Transport Council who oversees fare increases for public transport companies. At the end of it, our public transport companies are still making or increasing their annual profits at the expense of their own unproductivities and inefficiencies.

    So if there is a pay cut, does it mean this time they cannot be held responsible any longer for any incompetency (not that they have been accountable before) ? So if something like that of TT Durai happens, will LKY say “I told you so” ?

  10. 12 hahaha 23 May 2011 at 09:51

    I have always said, the systems and policies in place of a country must first be good, ie., it must be able to take perpetuality into consideration. So that, in a situation as always described by LKY, when we have lousy leaders, Singapore can still run, not on auto pilot but only slower.
    However, in a bad system, we will not even be running, we will be in stationary! Add to that a bad team of leaders, we will be in gostan!

    I am always against sky high salaries of politicians.

    Especially if we have the useless GRC system, we have backbenchers who are basically milking tax payers monies. Why do we need backbenchers in the first place!
    Money cannot be the motivation, and in anycase, none of them will admit that!
    If it is a hidden motivation, then we are attracting the wrong peeople into cabinet.
    There will always be unhappy folks talking but of politicians, we must and should provide a fair basis of salary to them to justify their sacrifices and efforts.

    KPIs should include not just GDP but a more varied way of measurement of their work, such as high-low income disparity levels, citizens’ median income levels, citizens’ unemployment levels, citizens’ fertility rates, citizens’ happiness index, cost of living index, etc…

    Bear in mind that even when we talk about the top professionals, they are subject to a whole list of various KPIs, and not all of them are on Profit and Loss only.

    I hope our politicians can talk the talk, walk the walk.

  11. 13 Brian Lim 23 May 2011 at 10:11

    Agreed! the only comparables r those of elected govt in developed economies such as usa, japan, germany, uk, france… U can’t compare the honour n prestige of an elected office 2 dat of running an mnc or a commercial bank! n let’s b generous n fair…we can pay our ministers the top bracket of all countries! n btw, the PAP govt should rightfully return the purportedly high 8-mth GDP bonus in view of the numerous glaring mistakes made n the widespread discontent amongst the populace. the PM must do everything in hispower 2 restore the moral authority of the govt 2 govern. like they say, no sacred cows 2b spared…

  12. 14 Gard 23 May 2011 at 10:43

    I suppose it might be too much to ask if the decision to review pay took place before or after the election results – as I have my initial guess on the alternative outcome of 86-1:

    “Describing the issue of ministerial salaries as the Opposition’s ‘favourite flogging horse’, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday that the ‘majority’ of the population were not concerned about it.”
    – Majority not concerned about ministerial pay: SM

    Contrast with:

    “Singaporean voters are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the government’s handling of issues such as the cost of living (73% dissatisfied), the levels of ministerial salaries (68% dissatisfied) and housing affordability (69%).”
    – UMR Singapore General Election 2011 Pre-Election Study

    I am dissatisfied with the relationship between the mainstream media and the monarchy. Is the monarchy going to foresee ahead and deal with this today?

    • 15 yawningbread 23 May 2011 at 12:00

      Just a quick note to add. Gard’s referenced story in todayonline, quoting Goh Chok Tong, was dated 3 May 2011, in the middle of the election campaign season.

  13. 16 georgia tong 23 May 2011 at 10:46

    Great analysis.

    MIW cannot change their mindset. They are still trap in their habits and this affect the way their are implementing ‘changes’. Likely these changes will be minimum and not effective.

  14. 17 BrainTeaser 23 May 2011 at 11:03

    We dont have 6 times the land size of big continent namely USA, neither do we have six times the population to manage, we NEVER HAD sixe times the economy growth to justify six times pay cheques too!!!

    If pay lures candidates into the cabinet then we’ve to worry more as it is the real birth of initial bribery!!!

    Ironical isn’t it?

  15. 18 drmchsr0 23 May 2011 at 12:15

    To be honest, I’m not expecting too much out of this. The best I’m hoping for is the rollback of that 60% increase, and even then, it’s a very, very long shot.

    If anything, if they do replace the old pay system with something similar to how CEOs are paid, (Which is base salary + annual bonus (the usual 13th month) + deferred bonus based on economic KPIs (revised to national development KPIs that are not economic in nature) + stock options, disbursed as KPIs are met.) it’ll be a miracle. Well, assuming they modify the base pay to be on par with internationally-accepted ideals for the civil service, then if they want to treat MPs and ministers as CEOs, then they should have a pay system like them. Notwithstanding outliers like Apple and Google, that is. They get paid entirely in stock option, which, while tempting, is kinda risky AND would cause more harm than good for the nation as a whole, taking the old system as an example of what could happen.

    FYI, I got an overview of how CEOs are paid from the Money Section of The Straits Times. It’s the April 18 edition.

  16. 19 Kameson Lee 23 May 2011 at 12:21

    Ministerial salaries will be cut by 10%.

  17. 20 Robox 23 May 2011 at 12:32

    I second your insistence that at least one political scientist should have been included in the committee; it would have brought into place the best semblance of the very necessary objective academic criteria into this exercise.

    I would have preferred more than one academic, seeing that the social sciences, that political science is, are themselves not uniformly informed; any academic included in this exercise is likely to be informed by his or her own ideological bias.

    But I would have included more into this committee: those who are purely political, which would imply input into this on the basis of public opinion. That public opinion would be best represented by the various political parties who campaigned on this very issue at the elections campaigns.

    Why aren’t the leaders of the various opposition parties who campaigned on ministerial pay included in this committee?

  18. 21 TWOG 23 May 2011 at 13:22

    /// yuenchungkwong 23 May 2011 at 07:43

    “no reference to political salaries in other countries”; why should there be? these are hardly “alternative careers” that compete for potential singapore ministers ///

    Because that is the most relevant.

    You don’t want risk-taking type of private sector professionals to run your country. Yes, private sector talents in Singapore can try for political office, but are those who are successful in the private sector suitable for public office? Do you want Nick Leeson to be our Finance Minister? Or the former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn to run Singapore?

    You are still trapped in the fallacy that you need to pay private sector salary to entice private sector talents to take up political office. That was what the original white paper in 1994 set out to do. And it had failed miserably. On the other hand, you see many high-flyer and real talents joining the opposition for pittance, and having to face many obstacles.

    Do you want investment bankers to run Singapore? Where is Lehman Brothers now?

    • 22 Poker Player 23 May 2011 at 14:14

      Which claim of yuenchungkwong are you disputing?

    • 23 yuenchungkwong 23 May 2011 at 14:50

      using your logic: since you want to compare salary with foreign politicians, you probably want Saddam Hussein to be Singapore’s leader?

    • 24 Gard 23 May 2011 at 17:02

      I am afraid that exemplifying risk-taking private sector professionals to individuals such as Nick Leeson and Dominique Strauss-Kahn unnecessarily creates strawmen and weakens your argument – unless you intentionally decided so.

      yuenchungkwong’s comments has something to do the application of opportunity cost.

      Consider this puzzle and you know what I mean:

      “You won a free ticket to see an Eric Clapton concert (which has no resale value). Bob Dylan is performing on the same night and is your next-best alternative activity. Tickets to see Dylan cost $40. On any given day, you would be willing to pay up to $50 to see Dylan. Assume there are no other costs of seeing either performer.

      Based on this information, what is the opportunity cost of seeing Eric Clapton? (a) $0, (b) $10, (c) $40, or (d) $50.”

  19. 25 thetwophilo 23 May 2011 at 13:46

    Hi Alex,

    What about people like Tommy Koh?

    I am suggesting people should be given a say through a referendum. Would someone get a petition going on this?

    You would note that the govt has not changed at all in its MO. It is already back to its bad old ways of putting manipulating an issue in a manner that appeared to be objective and make it looks good in the eyes of casual and outside observers when the devil is really in the people it has cherry-picked to serve its ulterior purpose.

    My forecast is that the Gerard Ee headed committee would NOT go beneath a 20% to 30% cut in pay for these folks.

    My two-cents worth is at:

    • 26 Whos afraid of the astroturfers? 23 May 2011 at 23:18

      Hey! High-five! Our predictions are fairly close. Mine is 25-35% possible pay cut. But let us all wait and see lah.

  20. 27 CK 23 May 2011 at 14:08

    Let’s put it this way. If the salaries are not cut by 90%, it’s all a wayang.

  21. 28 xlandjy 23 May 2011 at 15:25

    I like to share two points:

    (1) It is extremely to recommend when one DOES NOT KNOW WHAT IS THE EXACT SALARY FOR OUR MINISTERS. To cut from where??

    (2) If Gerard Ee is serious in his job. He would be able to complete it in half a day by holding a two hour meeting. He needs to have only the raw material of the salary of the President or PM of USA, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong and Israel These are not Banana Republic. They are all first world countries. The duty/tasks of Singapore PM and Ministers cannot be more difficult or complicated than these countries. Total up the salary of these 7 leaders and divide by 7. That is the salary for Singapore PM and Ministers.

    One last point, the salary of political leaders is a POLITICAL DECISION. PM Lee should not assign it to private professionals. At most, PM Lee should meet up with the stake holders, i.e. the leaders of the various opposition party and make the decision himself.

    • 29 Robox 23 May 2011 at 23:59

      Re: “…the salary of political leaders is a POLITICAL DECISION.”

      True. How did the arrive at the current formula for ministerial salaries in the firt place.

      Another committee?

      Re: “PM Lee should not assign it to private professionals.”

      Especially those who may be even remotely beholden to him and his party.

  22. 30 Protons 23 May 2011 at 18:02

    SM Lee, during the boom years, said: ‘We are in an era of high growth, with fortunes being made by the enterprising. Do not believe that we have escaped the problems that have plagued the region . . . corruption, collusion and nepotism. Our market-based pay and allowances will give no excuse for any slippage.’

    Almost 15yrs later, singaporeans wake up to the rude shock that slippage in performance is across the board. Yet the kind (or foolish depends which side you’re on) electorate are prepared to give the MIW a second redeeming chance.

    Back then, GCT said that the Ministerial pay was costed at an extra S$11 per head which is equivalent to 5 plates of char kway teow (with hum!)per Singaporean. That he claimed was cheap.

    Fast forward to 2011. I think it won’t be the char kway teow now, but the math might look something like this instead= $3.8m/5.08m of population = $0.74 per head. That’s like 1 Breadtalk bun per citizen!

    • 31 yawningbread 23 May 2011 at 18:21

      Quality, quality in comments, please!

      1. Who is “SM Lee”???
      2. Why do you say slippage “is across the board”?
      3. In your third para, was Goh Chok Tong referring to a single minister’s salary or all ministers’ salaries together?
      4. …. and what is your point in the fourth para????

      Why do I have to play the role of school teacher here?

      • 32 Protons 23 May 2011 at 20:40

        (1) LKY was an SM back then mentoring GCT.
        (2) From housing, transport, security, gini-coefficiency etc… at least the overall perception of their performance delivery has not kept up with their high pay
        (3) Refer to (1) or transcript from parliament.
        (4) Breadtalk Founder/Chairman is on the selected committee chaired by Gerald Ee, if you haven’t already heard.

  23. 33 no-best-if-both-worlds 23 May 2011 at 18:26

    They’re reviewing MP’s allowance as well, although the main issue is minister’s pay. PAP will make sure oppositions will not stand to win, as cutting MP allowance will affect oppo MPs (& they must be prepared for more oppo MPs in future, so must make sure it is cut sufficiently). Minister’s pay cut will only affect PAP, but not oppo bcos oppo cannot be ministers so I guess the cut will just be marginal.

  24. 34 reservist_cpl 23 May 2011 at 18:37

    Am quite afraid that these people will recommend a pay cut of 10% and the populace will be satisfied with it.

    The solution in the future will then be raise pay drastically then cut it by a bit when the outcry grows too loud. They’ll keep trying to push the limit and find the breaking point.

  25. 36 shame! shame! 23 May 2011 at 19:35

    It is very clear that any recommendation coming out of the Salary Review Committee will be bias and sufficient for the current ruling party.

    Firstly, as the members of the Committee are appointed by the PAP elite it is hard to imagine that the Committee members will not be influenced by he inputs/suggestions from the elite themselves and

    Secondly, the Term of Reference appears to be driving the Committee towards a recommendation that has its basis reference with the private sector.

    So the starting point is considered questionable and therefore any recommendation will be tilted to favor of the sitting government.

  26. 37 Magi 23 May 2011 at 19:40

    Boys and Girls….

    Surely you do realize that in any review, there is an equal chance of the committee saying:

    IT’S NOT ENOUGH! They deserve more!

  27. 38 Chow 23 May 2011 at 19:43

    I’m willing to suspend judgement here, but I am beginning to believe that the PM is in a bit of a Catch-22 situation. Not being party to the kind of objections to a serious paycut the various Ministers are voicing, I can only say that he is probably thinking that by putting it to a third-party to set the pay will the public and his Ministers be at least slightly mollified. Of course there will always be objections so let’s hope they release how the formula was derived. They did want it transparent anyway! I’m willing to hold back a little, let them roll out more of their ‘reforms’ and, if it proves to be old wine in new wineskins, I’ll sadly have to write them off as an ‘also-ran’ in 2016.

  28. 39 Tanky 23 May 2011 at 20:26

    Let’s becareful of the “anchoring” bias, which is human tendency to be stuck with a reference point when making decision.

    After years of extreme high ministerial salaries, Singsporeans might be “happy” to see a 15-20% pay cut. But the actual fact is that the salaries are still unreasonably high (notice that I have my own anchor here, and thus ‘unreasonably’).

    The committee might also use some big US and European corporations CEO pay packages as references and then do a 50% discount from this packages. They will seem reasonable if the anchoring is sold well.

  29. 40 shame! shame! 23 May 2011 at 21:07

    Ok let me guesstimate what should be an ideal salary level for the Singapore political office holders:

    Prime Minister S$450,000-$750,000pa
    Ministers 250,000- 450,000
    Junior Ministers 100,000- 250,000

    President 300,000

    Member of Parliament 120,000

    It doesn’t matter if anyone disagrees. Let’s float out some numbers for every Singapore citizen to ponder on and agree on a set of numbers that everyone believes is representative!

  30. 41 TWOG 23 May 2011 at 21:49

    Yup. The point is, success in the private sector is no guarantee of success in the public sector. They are wired differently. Note that DSK is not even allowed to stand for political office here.

    Conversely, have any of our past so-called high-flying ministers been able to secure a private sector job of higher pay? (Excluding Amakudari postings to GLCs and government owned companies.)

    The question to ask – why in the whole wide world are politicians not paid private-sector pay? Why so many of these first-world countries are not riddled with corruption? How was it possible prior to 1994, there are very few instances of corruption in Singapore?

  31. 42 Paul 23 May 2011 at 22:13

    “At the end of the day, what matters is whether the committee’s recommendations can be robustly defended, when people question if the job is really worth that much, said Mr Ee.” (May 23,,-what-is-the-job-worth?)

    Forgive me if I seem cynical, but this is the line that really prevents me from expecting too much out of the review. If “at the end of the day, what matters” is convincing people that “the job is really worth that much” [thereby implying that the compensation will be high], then could the role of the committee in actuality be simply to manufacture for the government justifications for eventually settling on only a token paycut?

    Is it so naïve to expect that what really matters at the end of the day is whether the basis for setting ministerial salaries is *fair* and *justifiable*? As rancorous as public discourse has been on this issue, I don’t think S’poreans expect ministers to be paid a pittance; for goodness sake trust the people to be able to recognize when something is fair and justifiable!

  32. 43 Coern 23 May 2011 at 23:20

    Asking political “scientist” = asking a football pundit to run a football club

    Getting a Global HR consulting firm would probably end up with a higher benchmark than is currently in place.

    • 44 twasher 24 May 2011 at 01:26

      Disagree. Running a firm is disanalogous in important ways to running a country. For example, questions of ‘fairness’ of CEO compensation play a different role in the psychology of employees of a firm, since they are not the ones paying taxes to the firm to finance CEO pay. Furthermore, employees of a firm have far more choice with respect to leaving the employment of a firm than citizens of a country have a choice with respect to renouncing citizenship. The fact that taxes are collected with the threat of force from the state, and that tax revenue supports ministerial salaries, is very pertinent, and there is no analogy to this in the firm context. Furthermore, the notion of public service is also peculiar to the government context and not the firm context. Political scientists specialize in studying situations peculiar to countries, so they will be able to give advice that is specific to the governmental context.

      • 45 Poker Player 25 May 2011 at 13:25

        “Furthermore, employees of a firm have far more choice with respect to leaving the employment of a firm than citizens of a country have a choice with respect to renouncing citizenship. ”

        Citizens are shareholders, not employees.

  33. 46 Anonymous 23 May 2011 at 23:24

    I think the committee should just look at this chart and make their decision.

    I would say half the salaries. That would still be comfortable higher than most other countries (Singapore is exceptional 🙂

  34. 47 wikigam 24 May 2011 at 00:09

    In fact, if a person sincerely apology and honestly toward reform . He don’t to do set up a commitee to study does he need to apology or reform .

    Science sociology stated that the possibility root caused the failure Left Hander is too sensibility.

  35. 48 ahsoo 24 May 2011 at 00:19

    LHL has to be very careful. If the cut is perceived as being too insignificant and the committee is deemed as a justification for their high pay, the PAP will lose their credibility altogether.

    Is it worth the while for him to go through all these wayang exercises and remain unable to win back the trust of the people? He should know!

  36. 49 anon 24 May 2011 at 00:20

    My suspicion is that the cut would be quite radical. Otherwise, PM Lee wouldn’t bring up the issue at the cabinet swearing-in ceremony. For by making it such a big deal, he’s raised the people’s expectations that he’s serious about reforming. If the cut is superficial, not only would the disappointment and anger not go away, they could potentially intensify – the reverse of what he hoped to achieve.

  37. 50 WeiHan 24 May 2011 at 00:48

    My suggestion is that opposition party quickly form another alternative committee that come out with another set of “reasonable” set of pays for the ministers. In this way, it will become clearer and clearer to the public that with an alternative set of ministers pays, the quality isn’t going to be much worse. And by doing so, those (and with high qualifications) that subsequently join opposition will be declaring that they are accepting that set of pays. WE CAN THEN VOTE WHAT WE WANT 5 YEARS LATER!

  38. 51 Gazebo 24 May 2011 at 00:57

    seriously this pay revision stuff to me is probably just wayang. reason is simple. A substantial paycut will be very difficult to implement, as these ministers are likely to have committed themselves to long term acquisitions which they need the high pay to sustain. the PM would not want any of them to be publicly embarrassed.

    my best guess is that there will be probably a 20% pay cut on the base wage, by pegging to a broader group. for example, instead of top 24, they would probably change it to top 1% of wage earners. thereafter, they broaden substantially the bonus component, which would also include other variables apart from GDP growth in its computation. these would probably include things like unemployment figures, and “successful running of country” that sort of frivolous things. i highly doubt they will use measures such as GINI coefficient and median wages. these are VERY UNLIKELY to improve in the near term (or long term!) future and the PAP knows it. they wouldn’t risk using that as measures of performance as they would be held accountable to things which they know they can’t deliver based on our economic development path that is already set in stone to them.

    • 52 Robox 24 May 2011 at 08:43

      Seriously, why don’t we just name the problem for what it is?

      Isn’t all of this sceptism over this faux exercise what we expect based on what we already know: the chronic need, apparently demanded by an age old Chinese culture, nay civilization, to save face at all expense?

      Make no mistake: Even after this sham of a review, ALL of Singapore’s cabinet ministers, acting ministers, ministers of state, and what have you, are still going to earn the highest salaries paid to politicians in the world.

      For doing FAR FAR less than Obama.

  39. 53 prettyplace 24 May 2011 at 01:32

    Hahaha, finally it is taking place not just the ministerial pay cut but the civil service as well.

    The ministers can easily take up directorships to cover their short fall in their salary. Perhaps, perhaps, i am only speculating.

    However the targeted civil servants are going to suffer slightly. Looks like the civil service will want to go the Singaporean way after all.
    I hope they bite the bullet and work free and independent for the sake of Singapore.

    • 54 Anonymous 24 May 2011 at 06:16

      @”Hahaha, finally it is taking place not just the ministerial pay cut but the civil service as well”

      I am not sure that the review includes the civil service.

      The terms of reference directs the review committee to consider the compensations for the Presidents, Ministers (and Ministers of State), and Members of Parliament. That is, political appointments only. The civil service is not mentioned.

      I think a review including the civil service will be a massive undertaking that will probably take much more resources to complete.

      • 55 prettyplace 25 May 2011 at 13:00

        Gradually, it will.
        I think the first target will the top tier, civil and administrative services.

        I am not against the high salaries of ministers nor the civil service, in fact I am for it.
        However, there ought to be performance, what I am against is that their performance and their salaries do not tally.

        Thus, this unhappiness everywhere.

        Another important point to ponder is that, the ministerial salaries were just revisisted & raised before the GE.
        However, now its being reviewed. It seems strange that they made an issue out of it and now want a solution.

        In marketing terms, they created a problem and are looking for a solution, just to show that they are working and doing the right thing. While, the people are buying it as well. There seems to be, other important urgent issues being sidelined, which i hope, they don’t neglect in the near term.

        How popularity has become the tone these days, huh. 😦

    • 56 rglelin 24 May 2011 at 10:53

      @prettyplace. I’m confused by your post. Correct me if I’m wrong, but are you suggesting that civil servants should also have a pay cut if the ministers’ pay are cut? Are you suggesting that ministers and civil servants work for free? I seriously don’t think that should be the case right?

      On a side note. PM’s previous statements which erroneously linked civil servants pay to that of political office should seriously be questioned.

      • 57 Poker Player 24 May 2011 at 13:29

        “Are you suggesting that ministers and civil servants work for free? I seriously don’t think that should be the case right?”

        How did you get from “pay cut” to “no pay”?

      • 58 rglelin 24 May 2011 at 14:06

        Precisely. I couldn’t figure out what the post was talking about…

        Moving past the issue. No matter what the pay cut for ministers will be (hard to imagine there isn’t going to be one, considering the general mood now…) I think the manner in which people erroneously link the Party to the Civil Service is something we need to correct. This has lead and will continue to lead to many other problems.

      • 59 prettyplace 25 May 2011 at 13:09

        There will certainly be, decent salaries for civil servants lah, aiyo. who said, they won’t get any pay. omg.

        I think the top tier civil servants will take some cut, which they should. However, it might trickle down to the others.
        Which might or might not be the case, yet to be seen.

        I like your post below, there ought to be independence from the civil service & the party. I think many have already started working towards it.

  40. 60 stillinnewyork 24 May 2011 at 02:08

    Ministerial and top civil servant pay should be reviewed and reduced, but not for the reasons often mentioned – politicians serve the people so should work for less (free), politician pay is much lower in other countries, ministers are incompetent, Singapore cannot afford it, etc. The problems that too-high salaries engender are

    i) Skewing of incentives
    Politicians and civil servants focus on minimising career risk (rather than fighting for necessary changes) so you get a bunch of yes-men and entrenched groupthink.

    ii) Create poisonous atmosphere of envy and dissatisfaction
    At the national level, high pay means citizens expect nothing less than perfection. Nobody is perfect, not least politicians. At the civil service level, large pay disparity (between fast-tracked civil servants and normal-track peers) breed bitterness. The latter is not often discussed, but is a structural fault in the civil service.

    It is unfortunate some of the comments on this salary review. Many already cast it as a failure unless there is a large pay cut. Anchoring the discussions to arbitrary targets like this is not constructive. Do we actually care about the future of the country, or are we just trying to score points by thrashing the incumbents?

  41. 61 Fox 24 May 2011 at 03:05

    There are two problems which should be addressed in the salary review:

    1. The quantum of the pay package
    2. The formula to which the pay package is pegged

    Obviously (1) is a sore sticking point for many Singaporeans although many don’t really have a good idea what the actual quantum should be.

    However, I feel that (2) provides the wrong incentives to our policy makers. Since their salaries are indexed to the top wage earners, it is in their interest to preserve the widening income gap. Furthermore, one of the key KPIs is GDP growth. So, while Singapore has had impressive GDP growth the last few years, median wage growth has remained stagnant. Obviously, something is very unfair. A fairer KPI would be median wage or some other variable that reflects the welfare of the average Singaporean.

  42. 62 Erica 24 May 2011 at 21:34

    Politics is one of those professions that is supposed to be entered into out of a desire to do good, not the desire for power and money. But can corruption be avoided without huge salaries is the question. Or is giving extra large salaries to avoid corruption actually giving in to that corruption?

    BTW, how does the new line-up look regarding a more enlightened approach to the gay community?

    • 63 Poker Player 25 May 2011 at 11:38

      “But can corruption be avoided without huge salaries is the question. ”

      That question has already been answered. Look up Transparency International rankings – top ten – find out the salaries for the heads of governments.

  43. 64 Leonard Ng 24 May 2011 at 23:00

    Dear All

    for those of you who are expecting people who are earning a good income to forgo their income to take a lower pay to be a minister, i think you must be very naive.

    for those of you who are criticising, can i suggest you resign from whatever you are doing and take a lower pay to do charitable work for the next 5 years…just put your money where your mouth is

    don’t be so naive just go look at other countries’ ministers’ income…go look deeper to find out what is their exact incomes

    let’s get real – chen show mao has been earing expat pay for the last many years and will have made enough to retire now so this could be his retirement job.

    i will be interested to know what are the individual opposition candidates’ monthly income like. we know WP chairman’ as she was a lecturer in TP…her MP allowance is for your information higher than her TP’s pay

    please go experience other countries’ govt before you keep criticing on our govt

    grow up and be mature…

    • 65 rglelin 25 May 2011 at 07:14


      I appreciate that you would like people to be more balanced in their criticism. But may I suggest that its rather irksome to insinuate that people are immature as long as they criticize the government? True, there are times during the heat of criticism, that the tone comes across too strongly, but I would think that we are able to differentiate between the emotion and the content. Indeed we should look upon criticism positively as feedback to improve the government. I believe that one of the main reasons for swing against the incumbent was precisely because people felt that their feedback was ignored or worse off snubbed as immature.

      On your point of how we should “go look deeper to find out what is their exact incomes”, you seem to suggest that you know what is their exact income or how to go about finding it out. Maybe you would care to share with everyone some specific examples from EU states or America so that we can make a more balanced judgement? It would come across as disingenuous to make such a statement and yet not provide the specifics. Lets all help each other make better analysis.

    • 66 drmchsr0 25 May 2011 at 10:43


      The issue here isn’t whether these people should be paid a fair wage and all, but as to how much they should be paid to reflect their status as servants of the people.

      I’m also quite aware that in some countries, where MP and Senator pay is extremely low to begin with, these people would probably have at least ONE backup source of income, if not several, before joining their respective governments. While they are required to quit, by the time they do join, they’d have made enough to live off for a while. Or they were born into money.

      Let’s also get real here. Chen Show Mao, his occupation notwithstanding (insert light-hearted jab at lawyers here), has made tremendous sacrifices in coming back to run AGAINST the PAP. And this is a man who decided to serve NS even though it was not necessary for him to do so.

      And regardless of pay, by virtue of being in an opposition party, Sylvia Lim, Low Thia Kiang et al are already “marked”, at least for the duration of their tenure. They will be subject to criticism from the PAP MPs, not to mention under the scrutiny of a most cynical, hostile and selfish people (if Facebook is to be a good indicator of public opinion). So the matter of pay for them is irrelevant.

    • 67 laoshi 26 May 2011 at 01:11

      @Leonard Ng
      Every thing is relative, what is your idea of “a good income”? I would think a figure of say $10K per month is a good income for an average person, but if this wage earner has a family to feed I don’t it would be fair to tell him to take on a job of a social worker who might be paid say $2K a month. But for a person of ministerial calibre, I would think he might be earning say $100K per month. To ask him to take a cut in pay of say up to 50% to serve the country certainly will not make him poor. I think the problem lies with the PAP – where are the people who would willingly step forward to serve without the lure of the high salaries? Why must it almost always be the party inviting someone to join the party to stand as candidates? And pls don’t just talk about Sylvia Lim, what about the laughable TPL? Disregard what she currently earns, do you think she worth what she would be getting as a MP?

  44. 68 Robox 25 May 2011 at 00:18

    Already Gerard Ee has started to display the propensity for misrepresentation that members of the Establishment have:


    What about those who point out that Singapore’s PM is earning much more than the US president, arguably the most powerful man in the world?

    His reply was swift: “That’s not comparing apples with apples.”

    The US president’s expenses are all borne by taxpayers, including his housing, staffers and travel on Air Force One, the presidential private jet.

    Past commanders-in-chief like Bill Clinton can make lots of money even after they leave office, which is something that home-grown office holders do not do.

    “Our politicians travel on commercial planes and have to pay for expenses for their security guards out of their own pockets. It’s something that Singaporeans do not appreciate,”Mr Ee said.


    In his pathetic attempt to underscore alleged differences bewteen the US and Singapore, by claiming that the US President’s staffers are paid by the American taxpayer, is Gerard Ee implying that the staff assigned to the PM and other cabinet ministers are given are not? Worse is his claim that our politicians ‘pay for expenses for their security guards out of their own pockets’.

    Just how true is that?

    On the issue of the US President’s mode of transport, just to give readers a bit of an insight into American politics, one of the demands their electorate makes on the president is that he be home for the majority of the time to pay attention to the issues at home. And most of the time, his trips for which his private jet is required, are within the US. You can be sure that any American President who jetsets around the world like Singapore’s ministers do to live up to the image they have of themselves as a super elite group with opulaent lifestyles, will be voted out – it’s a guarantee. Americans have no tolerance if there were to be such a president.

    There is also a security element to this: American presidents are always a target for assasination. The private jet is the insurance that the American people are willing to bear responsibility for to ensure his safety.

    Can the same be said about the Nobodys that our politicians are?

    • 69 Fox 25 May 2011 at 14:28

      I find it hard to believe Gerard Ee. The Special Branch provides personal security for ministers in Singapore. The last I checked, Special Branch officers are employed by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

  45. 70 Not Again 25 May 2011 at 11:10

    Hi All

    The Minister’s salary review is only a decoy.Compare with other more pressing issues such as the HDB housing issue, Foreign workers issue, and Transportation woos these are much more important. Reducing the Minister’s pay is a given. PM Lee knows that this is one of the issues that the voters are baying for blood. Reduce he will, it is the easiest one of the many pressing fixes. But by how much? However the big…big…issue which not many people are aware off is not even the Ministers salaries. It is their pensions. No one else in the civil service have pensions except the top cabinet Ministers. Even at two thirds of their last drawn pay, and even if you were to calculate the cost of maintaining the pensions until their death – the entire group of pensionable people will cost billions in tax payers money. Add to this their performance bonuses peg to GDP – this state of affairs is out of control.

    I am in favor of paying top dollars for good and talented Ministers that perform. But not goofy Ministers that are unable to stand up even to public scrutiny like the Mas Selamat and YOG cost mismanagement scandal (we are not talking 15 – 25% cost overrun here, but 300%). Can our Government come out impartial, clean and transparent here!!! It is unacceptable when PM Lee said in his recent speech during the swearing-in ceremony that, and I quote, “politics is not a job or a career promotion. It is a calling to serve the larger good of Singapore”. Isn’t ludicrous that PM Lee uses high salaries as a carot to keep his Ministers honest. Does that imply that lesser paid individuals are not honest and likely to be corrupt. Even when the salary of PM Lee is brought down by 50%, it will still be higher than President Obama’s by 3 times.

    • 71 Fox 25 May 2011 at 14:23

      I absolutely agree with you. High ministerial salaries are not an obvious national problem. We have far more pressing matters at hand: very low Total Fertility Rates, the inadequacy of CPF to meet the retirement needs of Singaporeans, spiraling HDB prices, low productivity growth, etc.

  46. 72 Poker Player 25 May 2011 at 11:25

    “don’t be so naive just go look at other countries’ ministers’ income…go look deeper to find out what is their exact incomes”

    Ahem…what about doing the same for our own ministers? Now *that* is naive.

  47. 73 suggestion 25 May 2011 at 11:54

    If PAP reduces minister PAP by back dating to pre-1994 levels when the policy is first formulated, add increases in median household incomes x %, and factor in inflation using CPI by y %, then they will get a thumbs up from me.

    Anything less is a wayang.

  48. 74 Anonymous 8 June 2011 at 18:58

    Without prejudice to any facts that were highlighted, I would like to say how sad I am to see:
    1. The arrogance of individuals who already feel comfortable dictating a specific answer or approach and condemning all others (CK@23 May 2011 at 14:08 / suggestion@25 May 2011 at 11:54)
    2. The depth of cynicism regarding this review, with even some form of corruption being sinisterly hinted at, and all coming from people who may or may not have any basis to judge the integrity of the committee members (Gazebo@24 May 2011 at 00:57 / Poker PLayer@25 May 2011 at 11:25)
    3. Suggestions that politics should be the providence those that have already accumulated wealth, which sends chills down my spine (anony@23 May 2011 at 08:14)

    For the same job, would you be able to draw talent from a larger pool if you offer higher salaries? I should think this would be intuitive, assuming the targeted talent pool has sufficient depth in the first place. So it may come down to a risk management approach. Could you attract a good leader with a salary of $100,000 per year? Certainly possible. Could this be a sustainable talent strategy? Again, possibly. But I would venture that we would be able to pick the best from a significantly larger pool of potential leaders by having some form of market-based salaries rather than rely purely on altruism. This is an entirely separate issue from criticisms about the quality of our current leadership, which is more about how we, as a country, confer power on individuals.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: