Singapore Ministers’ Salaries in Focus Again

MM Lee could have stayed clear of remark on Denmark, Finland and Switzerland

The salaries of Singapore ministers often touch a raw nerve with sections of the public in the country. Blogs have now become a vehicle for them to vent their anger.

I don’t have an issue with the salaries of the ministers. For one thing, they are highly qualified individuals who had held top positions in the private sector. Also, they give all their might to ensure that the Singapore economy keeps ticking. A tiny country holding first-world status is no mean achievement.

I agree that the salaries they get (with the prime minister’s pay package reportedly being more than S$3 million) are higher than even what the U.S. President takes home. But comparisons are often too distracting. In the Singapore context, it is not easy to attract top talent into the government. A couple of million dollars to woo them is not too much.

But where I have an issue with is that sometimes even Minister Mentor Lee and Senior Minister Goh drift away from statesmanship when handling tricky issues.

For instance, there was no need for MM Lee to undermine other governments in defending the pay structure for ministers in Singapore. Responding to an opposition leader’s comment on Denmark, Switzerland and Finland, MM Lee is reported to have said that their “systems and governments never produced the kind of transformation that we have … and their systems and governments have a broader base and can afford a mediocre government.”

I have always considered MM Lee a visionary leader who has been solely responsible for the stunning growth of Singapore. But running down other governments is not something we expect from statesmen.

I have also admired SM Goh for the cool charm with which he held the reins. But he also came a notch down when during an election campaign he told voters in Potong Pasir that the result would have a bearing on the opening of the MRT station in the constituency. Or something similar to that.

It is not unreasonable to expect leaders of the calibre of MM Lee and SM Goh to stay clear of polemics.

–G Joslin Vethakumar

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