DERRICK A PAULO
HE HAS spoken fiercely in favour of the market peg for civil service salaries. But when Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was quoted and referred to by Members of Parliament yesterday, they invoked the ideals he stood for rather than his hard-headed pragmatic approach.
As the final six MPs – out of 30 in all – spoke on the civil service salary revisions, the issue of how the ideals of a public service ethos square with a monetary emphasis came most sharply into focus.
Nominated MP Thio Li-ann argued passionately that Singapore, especially its post-1965 generation, needs a “unifying vision that transcends the joint pursuit of material wealth”. “Civic virtues like loyalty, sacrifice and perseverance sustain hope that a nation will endure and become great,” she said.
She cited how Mr Lee, on Aug 9, 1965, spelt out a vision of a country founded on the principles of “liberty, justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of a people in a more just and equal society”. So, in the “overwhelming, market-oriented” approach to public office salaries, she asked, are “intangible values for nation building” being discounted?
Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim also quoted Mr Lee on how “political leadership should have passion, commitment and share the same dreams as the people”, a comment to explain why foreign talent could not run Singapore.
While she agreed with him here, she questioned if the current salary benchmark for ministers is the way to achieve this. “If we’re seriously unable to interest good people in public office, we must ask why other countries can do it and we cannot. Is it just the money or the fact that we have not invested in creating a culture of high-public-spiritedness?” she asked.
It was not just non-ruling party MPs who spoke on the importance of ideals. Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Hong Kah Group Representation Constituency), asked: “How many lives and livelihoods are at stake if our policymakers become too comfortable and disconnected from the realities of ordinary Singaporeans?
“This post-65 idealist would like to see leaders coming forward with a heart to serve, honestly and compassionately, who will put aside personal interests for the interests of Singapore.”