Friday, April 06, 2007

The Minister Mentor Speaks.

SYDNEY - MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew called for a sense of proportion yesterday, pointing out that the annual wage bill for ministers and all office holders is $46 million - or just 0.022 per cent of Singapore's total economic output.

It was an 'absurdity', he said, for Singaporeans to quarrel over whether ministers collectively should be paid $10 million or $20 million more, when an economy worth $210 billion was at stake.

'The cure to all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government,' he said in his first comments on impending salary increases for ministers and top civil servants.

'You get that alternative and you'll never put Singapore together again.'

Singaporeans' asset values would also disappear, he warned, adding that 'your apartment will be worth a fraction of what it is, your jobs will be in peril, your security will be at risk and our women will become maids in other people's countries'.

He was speaking to the Singapore media at the end of his visit to Australia, and four days before Monday's debate in Parliament on a revision of ministerial salaries.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed on March 22 that public service salaries had fallen to 55 per cent of the private-sector benchmarks to which they are pegged. He said the Government had to close the gap.

According to the benchmark or formula, ministers should be drawing $2.2 million or more a year, but their actual salaries are now $1.2 million.

Minister Mentor Lee was the first to raise the idea of a benchmark by which to peg ministers' pay to top private-sector salaries - which he did in January 1994.

Later that year, Parliament approved the benchmarks, which were set out in a White Paper on competitive salaries for a competent and honest government.

Yesterday, MM Lee asked Singaporeans to consider how it was that a resident population of just over three million people could support and provide jobs for another 1.3 million foreigners.

'How does that happen? Why can't the 1.3 million people get jobs in their own countries? Just ask yourself that question.

'It must be something that we're doing which is right, that creates economic prosperity and growth.'

He said the present system of benchmarking ministers' pay to top private sector salaries was 'completely above board' and allowed the Government to recruit 'some of the very best' to lead the country.

It was an 'absurdity' to argue over whether or not ministers were being paid too much, he added, as their total salaries came up to $46 million a year, or 0.13 per cent of government expenditure. This was 0.022 per cent of gross domestic product.

These figures are before the revision that is expected to be announced on Monday.

'We are quarrelling about whether we should pay them $46 million or $36 million, or better still, $26 million. So you save $20 million and jeopardise an economy of $210 billion? What are we talking about?' he said.

As Minister Mentor, he said his pay of $2.7 million a year was lower than the $4 million a year that today's top lawyers earned.

It was also a fraction of the earnings of the top managers in the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), which he chaired.

When it was put to him that people hoped for leaders who were willing to make sacrifices and who were not there for the money, he replied that these were 'admirable sentiments'.

But he added that 'we live in the real world'.

It had taken a lot of persuasion to get three doctors – Ng Eng Hen, Vivian Balakrishnan and Balaji Sadasivan – to leave their lucrative practices to enter politics in 2001. Even with the benchmarks in place, the decision meant huge pay cuts for two of them, he said.

His bottom line: if the Government could not pay competitive salaries, Singapore would not be able to compete and 'we're not going to live well'.


Apparently, MM Lee has decided that the S$10-20 Million difference in pay for the ministers really is peanuts. Nice.

Meanwhile, spending $250 a month to improve the lives of the poor and destitute (of which we can help with said 10 mill, about say...40,000) isn't really all that important.

And you also have to love the way that he argues for it. IF we don't pay the ministers this salary, Singapore WILL plunge into aforementioned destitution and civilisation as we know it will collapse.



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