Here’s a question that a noted academic posed to me last night: Does Tony Tan, now President, continue to collect his pension that came from his days as Deputy Prime Minister?
A follow-up question would be this: When he retires as President, will he get double pension?
Two laws are relevant here: The Parliamentary Pensions Act and the Civil List and Pension Act.
The former regulates salaries and pensions for members of parliament and office-holders whose jobs stem from being members of parliament. Such would include ministers and the Speaker of Parliament. Section 4 says that for an office-holder to be eligible for an office-holder’s pension, he must have served a cumulative eight years as an office-holder and have reached 50 years of age.
Tony Tan meets both these criteria, having been born in 1940 (which makes him 71 years old in 2011) and having first become a senior minister of state in 1979. He was promoted to a cabinet minister a year later, in 1980.
He left for the private sector (but still remained a member of parliament) in 1991, returning to the cabinet in 1995 as Deputy Prime Minister, a post he held till 2005. He thus spent a total of 22 years as an office holder, which entitles him to the maximum pension of two-thirds of the highest annual salary he was entitled to. This is stipulated in Section 4(2A) of the Parliamentary Pensions Act.
Section 4(3) says:
Subject to sections 13 and 15, a pension granted under this section shall continue for the life of the person to whom it is payable but shall not be payable in respect of any period during which he is again an office-holding Member;
You may think, at first sight that this means his pension will be suspended while he is President, but it’s not so, because the operative term is “office-holding Member” where “Member” means member of parliament. A president is not a member of parliament.
There is no other provision for suspending the Deputy Prime Minister’s pension.
The president’s salary and pension is governed by a different law, the Civil List and Pension Act. Section 2 says:
There shall be paid for the civil list of the President so long as he holds office the yearly sums specified in the Schedule.
. . . and the Schedule stipulates that the salary (known as “privy purse”) shall be S$4,267,500 per year.
As for the president’s pension, the amount is not stipulated (the better to intimidate any recalcitrant president into compliance?) since Section 8 only says:
Subject to the provisions of this Act, any person who ceases to be President (referred to in this Act as former President) shall be granted a pension of such amount and on such terms as Parliament may by resolution determine.
However, it does appear that the intention is to pay a pension, since other sections of the law provide for pensions to go to widows of deceased presidents, and even deal with paying gratuities to dependents if a president or former president dies.
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As was recently announced, the recommendations of the Ministerial Salary Review Committee is expected before the end of the year. When it comes out, we should scrutinise the report not only with respect to salaries, but also pension arrangements.
For example, not long ago, there was a biggish controversy over the fact that ministers reaching age 55 are entitled to start receiving their pensions even while they are still ministers and receiving a minister’s salary. This comes out of Section 5 of the Parliamentary Pensions Act:
5.—(1) Where an office-holding Member has —
(a) not less than 8 years’ reckonable service as an office-holding Member (whether continuously or not);
(b) attained the age of 55 years; and
(c) not previously been granted a pension under section 4,
he may be granted a pension under that section notwithstanding the fact that he has not ceased to hold office.
It will be ridiculous if this is not promptly amended to align with the natural meaning of the word “pension”, which is a payment after retirement. Moreover, the age of eligibility should follow along with the steadily increasing age (62, going on to 65) that is being imposed on all other Singaporeans.