$715,000 too much for a ministerial office? Nah.
Seems that most people online are disagreeable with the S$1.1 million salary for ministers which has been recommended by the Gerard Ee committee.
To be clear, this S$1.1 million for a MR4 grade minister includes the bonus components.
The basic or fixed salary for a minister at the MR4 grade is S$715,000 annually.
This comes to about S$55,000 a month. (S$715,000/13 – 13 being the 13th month payment.)
It only adds up to S$1.1 million if the variable/bonus components are factored in. These are dependent on the minister/government meeting some key performance indices, as you can see from this illustration.
Interestingly, in 2000, Mr Chiam See Tong suggested that ministers be paid S$50,000 a month – “a level enough for them to maintain “a comfortable life”, with a bungalow, servants, two cars, annual holidays and funds for their children’s education.” (See here.)
In 2006, Mr Chiam changed his mind about the figure and said it should be higher.
“At the last debate in this House, on the revision of Ministers’ salaries, I suggested that at that time, we pay our Ministers SGD $50,000 a month. This time round, I suggest that we pay our Ministers SGD$70,000 per month or $840,000 a year.” (See here.)
Also interestingly, former Nominated Member of Parliament, Siew Kum Hong, writing on his personal blog, agreed with what Mr Chiam said back in 2000:
“One way to do this is to figure out what a reasonable salary for a minister would be, such that he/she can maintain a reasonable lifestyle. And by reasonable lifestyle, I would think that the salary should be enough to comfortably cover mortgage payments for a reasonably-priced landed property in a reasonable location; payments for 2 cars for the family; education for a minister’s children (including overseas education); some retirement savings; and so on.”
Siew also said that he does not “necessarily think that S$1m a year is excessive.”
It is a figure which another former NMP Viswa Sadasivan agrees with. He said “Singaporeans were reacting on an emotional level” and that “no amount will be satisfactory” to the public, or some quarters of it. (See here.)
Other opposition parties have made different suggestions which I shall not go into. But I do want to point out two fallacies which Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam made on his postings on Ms Grace Fu’s Facebook page:
- He had posted that: “Entry level minister pay plus 13.5 months bonus is more likely to be $2.3 million.” As you can see from the above chart from the Straits Times, this is false.
- Mr Jeyaretnam also asked whether a minister would receive two salaries and thus accordingly two bonuses if he held two portfolios. The answer was given by Gerard Ee and in his committee’s report. No, a minister only gets one salary, one bonus, no matter how many portfolios he handles. [It is surprising that Mr Jeyaretnam would asked such a question given that his party had issued a statement on the revised salaries the previous day and that surely Mr Jeyaretnam must have had read the report, he being the secretary-general of the Reform Party.]
But coming back to the issue of absolute dollars and cents.
I do not want our ministers (even if in future the opposition comes into power) to be paid so lowly that the office of minister is seen as just another office job. It is not.
A minister is at the apex of being the people’s representative, besides the President and the PM. He represents the country and its people in many ways. Thus, the office should be accorded the appropriate respect and prestige, and also to recognise the difficult and complex work they do.
We may never agree on an absolute number but I think we all can agree on the value of the office – even if we do not accept that some ministers are not worthy of them. This, however, is a separate matter. If they are incompetent, kick them out at the ballot.
But do make a distinction between the office and the person, which is an important one to make.
We do not want to see our politicians being viewed as nothing more than “second-hand car salesmen” – to reference a once-used term.
I do agree that S$55,000 (or even Mr Chiam’s latter suggestion of S$70,000) a month, or S$1.1 million a year for a minister is not excessive and is acceptable.