TODAY: How well is well-paid?

MPs discuss altruism, better salary benchmarks

TAN HUI LENG AND JASMINE YIN
huileng@mediacorp.com.sg

THEY expressed support for the need to pay top dollar for top talent in the public sector. But Members of Parliament (MPs) who took part in yesterday’s parliamentary debate on the pay hike also spoke passionately about what many Singaporeans believe to be the heart of the issue: The benchmarking formula used to determine ministerial pay.

Ang Mo Kio MP Inderjit Singh noted that Singaporeans could not expect their leaders to serve based on altruism alone. “Are we willing to leave the future of the country to chance, that we will get good people who will give up their competence without caring about their salary?” he asked.

Some MPs, however, saw problems in benchmarking ministers’ pay to the private sector, pointing out to disparities in the risks taken by company chief executives and ministers and top civil servants.

Marine Parade MP Lim Biow Chuan said: “I struggle to understand what a top Admin Officer aged 32 at grade SR9 has to worry about that will justify him receiving $363,000 a year … From many people’s perspectives, they take no personal risk and are at best, paid employees.”

Opposition MPs Mr Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir) and Hougang’s Low Thia Khiang took issue with the fact that Singapore’s ministers are paid more than their counterparts in developed countries.

MPs like Bishan-Toa Payoh’s Mrs Josephine Teo, however, pointed out that ministers in other countries may make more money after their term in office ends, such as through public speaking.

Some MPs voiced concerns about the timing of announcing the pay revisions, especially with the Goods and Services Tax (GST) due to rise to 7 per cent in July.

Mr Singh said: “How do we answer the man-in-the-street when we’re told that about one-quarter to one-third of the expected revenue increase this year from the GST is going to be for the proposed ministerial and civil service salary increases, about $240 million, I was told?”

Mr Low also referred to the recent debate on increasing the amounts for public assistance. “It’s also ironic that we are consuming taxpayers’ money and … discussing how much more of a fraction of a million to pay civil servants and ministers while we haggle over additional tens of dollars to hand out to our needy and disadvantaged citizens,” he said.

Some MPs who supported the pay hike also suggested that the salary benchmarking could be finetuned, such as pegging ministers’ salaries to more realistic markers such as top men in private equity firms and top companies based on market capitalisation.

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