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April 6, 2007
Ministers' salary increase: Can it be delayed until there is more public consultation?
THE views expressed so far on this difficult issue rightly deserve attention, even as Singaporeans await the Government's presentation of its case in Parliament next week.
Given the unhappiness, it is hoped that the Government will do more to soothe this feeling during the Parliament sitting, and address this issue beyond the offer of relevant statistics and other pragmatic arguments.
This issue is not new. So too the attendant shock that many Singaporeans react to when this pay scheme was publicly goaded in the early 1990s and hotly debated in Parliament in 1995.
Let us recap the two sides of the argument. To the Government, we are fooling ourselves if we want to lure top talents but refuse to pay them top salaries, and that moral counter-points must give way to pragmatic ones.
The cost of living, the competitiveness of the market place in a global economy, the high standards of integrity and performance expected of ministers and the equally high cost to their private lives are imperatives that must be taken into account.
MM Lee even once argued that 'moral values on pay are good only for textbooks on socialism and political tracts on social justice'.
However, to many Singaporeans, other factors must be given consideration. To begin with, is it right to compare jobs in the public and private sectors since there are obvious fundamental differences between the two?
Secondly, while many have no problem with raising ministerial salaries as a matter of principle, the quantum of the raise seems to be unduly high, making our Cabinet ministers among the most highly paid in the world.
Thirdly, while we must credit the political leadership for securing Singapore a sterling economic position in the world - our Republic's GDP growth rate and foreign reserves are among the highest in the world - such a remarkable achievement could not have been attained without the contributions and sacrifices of an equally productive workforce.
Finally, this increase of ministerial salaries may convey the wrong signal that money is actually the bottomline, even in such a nationally important issue of political contribution and service.
What about other redeeming intangibles such as honour and sense of duty, dedication, passion and commitment, loyalty and service?
It may be difficult for many to believe that the talent pool is so small and that the able are so money-minded that the best way to get them to come forward is to give them more money.
Hopefully, the Government will do more to appease this unhappiness. What about delaying this proposed increase until more public consultation is done and a better way of compensating the ministers and senior civil servants be found?
Otherwise, many Singaporeans will feel the sheer helplessness that however unhappy they are about matters that are close to their hearts they will have little chance to be redressed, both outside Parliament and inside - and this is not good for Singapore's future.
Dr Hussin Mutalib
Elia Diodati has also published a letter from someone working in the US about his thoughts on the issue. A good read on the views of a brethren on the outside looking in.