Straits Times: Sylvia Lim: Ministers will be out of touch with citizens

BY ZAKIR HUSSAIN

NON-CONSTITUENCY MP Sylvia Lim yesterday pointed out that ministers’ pay was likely to rise further in future, a rise she felt would put them out of touch with average citizens.

It would, she added, work against the national interest as leaders may face problems getting people to make sacrifices for the country.

A few years from now, she ventured, the benchmark “may require us to endorse each Cabinet minister’s pay for $3 million or $4 million annually.”

“As these pay packets are funded from taxes, including poor people paying goods and services tax, how far is the Government prepared to go with this? Does it have a threshold of unconscionability?”

The median monthly income of $2,170 was what a minister earned in just half a day, while a graduate’s median wage of $4,450 took a minister a day to earn, she noted.

As the salaries move up to 88 per cent of the benchmark by the end of next year, a minister would earn in two to three hours what the average worker made in one month, she said.

“Does the Cabinet not feel a tinge of discomfort drawing taxpayers’ money at such a rate?” she asked.

“At such rates, can ministers and Singaporeans share the same dreams?”

Ms Lim, chairman of the Workers’ Party, reiterated her party’s position that political office holders’ salaries should be benchmarked against what their counterparts in successful countries get.

It was a logical comparison, she argued, because similar skill sets and responsibilities funded by the public were being compared.

Public service had to remain an undertaking for which people are prepared to make sacrifices in exchange for the benevolent power to improve the lives of others, she added.

“If we corrupt this by money, we can be efficient but never a country of high ideals,” she said.

Nominated MP Thio Li-Ann expressed a similar concern with the emphasis on market-based pay, noting that leaders’ wealth could spawn discontent and alienation.

“One’s sense of duty must perhaps co-exist with other motives, but where does prudence end and avarice begin?” she asked.

“I appreciate the need to pay ministers well, but in devising an appropriate formula, there is a need to be vigilant, in the light of public unhappiness, to strike a median between austerity and excessive prosperity.”

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