In a country where so many citizens work full time jobs and cannot make ends meet, something has to be wrong when you need to pay the ministers the highest salaries in the world. You cannot understand the underlying problems unless you understand why this is so.
"He also explained that the option of benchmarking local ministers’ pay to that of foreign leaders was
rejected because salaries at foreign countries may not correlate to Singapore’s situation, and that it was more appropriate to peg ministerial salaries based on local factors." - Yahoo! News[Link]
After the salary review, Singapore ministers are still paid the highest salaries in the world. Teo Chee Hean tried to explain this:
"But Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, explained that salaries of foreign office-holders look smaller but exclude such perks or benefits that such leaders enjoy."
If you look at other developed countries, they too are very transparent about salaries and benefits. If they are getting anything they are not suppose to, their political adversaries and the independent media will be all over them. In fact the recent ministerial pay review reveal many things Singaporeans did not know about bonus, pension and benefits of our office holders. We should not be comparing ourselves with 3rd world leaders anymore where leaders do many things "under the table".
It is true the PAP govt cannot peg its ministers' salary to those of leaders in other countries but not for the reasons given by Teo Chee Hean. Singapore has a political economy and its scholarship system created a power elite structure from which the PAP has to recruit its ministers. We often hear our minister say they can get better pay "elsewhere" - this elsewhere is often a position in the GLCs, law firms or banks. You would think that years of investing in scholars and nurturing them would result in a sense of public duty and these people would like to "give back" to society but that has not happened. PM Lee has a difficult job persuading them to enter politics. Singapore faces numerous challenges and social issues yet he has a hard time finding capable people. A large number of these people don't want anything to with the PAP because they don't share its ideology and, until recently, they won't join the opposition due to fear of political repression. The rest would rather build their careers in "cushy" high paying positions in GLCs away from public scrutiny.
Gerald Ee and his committee try to solve PM Lee's problem by not going too low on ministerial salaries. Ee said he went around asking his friends and they told "under 1 million, don't bother me". The need to peg minister salaries to the top 1000 earners in a country with the biggest income gap among developed countries reflects the distortion in our society's wealth distribution. The imbalance needs to be fixed not mirrored. These high salaries along with corporate profits which are at historic highs as a percentage of GDP are build on top of low stagnant wages of the ordinary Singaporeans and the import of cheap labor from 3rd world countries that is pushing the bottom 20% of Singaporeans towards poverty.
We had good ministers in the past without having to push salaries to these astronomical levels. We should be asking ourselves how even ended up with this problem and why 4 decades with the scholarship system in place and sending thousands of our best minds overseas to the best universities has resulted in a dearth of good dedicated political leadership willing to serve without such sky-high salaries. Our situation is different from other developed countries but not for the reasons cited by Teo Chee Hean. The real reason is the PAP system which has resulted in a political economy with extremely unequal distribution of wealth. Elitism and a sense of entitlement has crept in to public service and selected talents believe they deserve their millions as much as they believe the bottom 20% of our society deserve their slide down to poverty. The belief that these high salaries are fair is as distorted as our income distribution....you accept it and you accept the widening inequality in our society and leaders with this belief will never be able to hold our society together.