Well, the Singapore parliament report will take a while to be published, so, for now, let’s take a look at the Straits Times coverage of yesterday’s sitting of parliament, and what the MPs have had to say on the ministerial pay review. As the most widely circulated broadsheet in Singapore, the Straits Times ought to have some credibility, right?

Before carrying on, I wish to establish my position on the ministerial pay review.  Of the three constantly parroted principles governing the review committee, my main gripe is with its stance that salaries must be competitive with the private sector, and the implicit assumption that they must be large enough to attract the right kind of talent. As PAP MP Denis Phua put it, pegging salaries to those of Singaporean top earners “smacks of elitism”. Under both the existing framework for ministerial compensation and the soon to be implemented new one, constituents are expected to swallow wholesale the baloney that capable political talent can only be drawn from the ranks of those who are capable of earning sackloads of cash outside of politics. By establishing the scope of the review committee through its three principles, the government has tried to cater to populist sentiment whilst still maintaining the position that politically talented people only work in fields where the big bucks are to be found: finance, top management, law, and accountancy, and definitely not in areas such as medicine, social work, or academia.

The review committee’s report can be found here. I am of the opinion that proposals it received to peg salaries to the median wage of Singaporeans, or that of lower-income Singaporeans (point 66b), is a better option that the one it has finally settled on. If the committee had taken on this proposal, and made the proportion of the National Bonus (dependent on indicators of employment, wage growth, and inequality) larger, it would reflect accountability of ministers to the well-being of residents, and should spur ministers to work towards across-the-board real wage growth as well as increased wage equality. While detractors have decried the option, stating that the value of the multiplier is arbitrary, it is useful to note that a 40% discount of the median wage of the top 1000 earners in Singapore uses two arbitrary numbers as well. Combined with the fact that the majority of the bonuses ministers can expect to receive comprise of automatic bonuses (13th month/AVC) and performance bonuses decided solely by the Prime Minister, we have a ministerial compensation policy that only pays lip service to the idea of accountability to the public and indicators of public well-being.

While a multiple of the median wage seems to be a better option (if one is willing to reject the unspoken belief that political talent only comes from the pool of people in top-earning professions, and that compensation should reflect this), even better (in my opinion) is the WPs proposal that compensation be pegged to that of MP allowances. This proposal is absent from the review committee’s list of proposals, for a perfectly good reason. And this is where the disingenuity of the Straits Times and the sheer stubborn boneheadedness of some PAP MPs comes into the spotlight.

The reason this proposal is absent from the review committee’s report is that MP allowances are currently pegged to ministerial pay. So, trying to implement that proposal would be circular, impossible, and quite ludicrously stupid. And that last one is how the Straits Times and those PAP MPs seem to appear right now. On page A12 of today’s Straits Times, under the headline “WP plans differ little from recommendations: PAP MPs”, PAP MPs reportedly state that the WP’s proposal is, in principle, no difference from the committee’s recommendations. Apparently, Dr Amy Khor sees no difference in the committee’s recommendations, that ministerial pay be directly linked to top earners (supposedly where all the talent is), and that of having it as a multiple of MP allowance, which is compensation for the political work expected of an MP.


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