4 Apr 2007

Singapore's 'fat cat' ministers to get fatter

I know there are a lot of articles and commentary out there about the decision to increase the ministers pay but I had to print this one as the title is the best yet. Yet again Alex Au of Yawning Bread manages to put every 'so-called' Singaporean journalist to shame.

It is a detailed and well argued dismissal of the supposed 'reasons' for the ministerial increase in pay.
By Alex Au at Asia Times Online

Singapore's 'fat cat' ministers to get fatter

SINGAPORE - Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently recommended an 83% pay increase for all his cabinet ministers, a proposal that would up their current annual pay rate of S$1.2 million (US$784,300) to S$2.2 million.

Singapore already pays its senior ministers better than any other Asian country and most Western ones. For instance, Prime Minister Lee's S$1.94 million is currently three times the US$400,000 US President George W Bush takes home in salary per year. Lee's salary is currently about 1.6 times that of his cabinet ministers.

Lee said on March 22 that ministers' current S$1.2 million salaries represented only 55% of the government's benchmark for standardized politician pay rates. Details of the new salary scales will be announced to Parliament on Monday. It is not yet known whether the government intends to adjust the pay packets to the benchmark in one leap or in a series of steps.

High pay for Singaporean government officials has historically helped curb corruption, which compared with other Asian countries ranks favorably on international graft rankings kept by such organizations as Transparency International. But many here feel that the upward adjustment, which will indirectly benefit Lee's ruling People's Action Party (PAP), which currently dominates Parliament by controlling 82 of 84 seats, is in poor taste at a time that many middle- and lower-class Singaporeans face a declining standard of living.

The benchmark Lee referred to - code name "MR4" - is a comparable measure based on private-sector compensation in six fields: law, banking, accounting, engineering, multinational companies and local manufacturing companies. Cabinet ministers' pay is equivalent to two-thirds of the midpoint between the 24th and 25th top earners in any of these fields.

"For the public service to remain an attractive employer," said Lee in his March 22 speech, "our terms must keep pace with the private sector. That is why our policy is to pay public servants competitive salaries, commensurate with private-sector earnings."

However, one would arguably be hard-pressed to find many Singaporean voters who would agree to the exponential salary increase, judging at least by the steady stream of criticism over the proposal published in Singapore's free-wheeling blogosphere.

"I think the biggest problem with the entire issue is that we have no check and balance. When ministers make the decision to increase their own pay, who approves?" asked Aaron Ng in his weblog known as Hear Ye Hear Ye.

Letters from readers published in the mainstream press have expressed more measured skepticism. "By saying that we need to pay top dollar for top talent we are saying that certain people are indispensable. This may breed complacency," wrote Dr Anne Chong Su Yan on April 3 in the government-linked Straits Times.

Benchmark for controversy
Beginning in 1994, the benchmarking formula was established precisely to avoid such political controversy, by providing a transparent way of moving ministers and top civil servants' salaries in line with market rates. At the time, it was argued that the responsibilities of managing a small country and a civil service that employed hundreds of thousands was roughly equivalent to the responsibility of leading a large business organization.

to continue reading