$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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


8 thoughts on “$715,000 too much for a ministerial office? Nah.

  1. One of the problems as I see it, is that the ministers are not performing, i.e they are are worth the amount being paid to them.
    Secondly, they are reactive instead of proactive. They react to problems only after the problems surface and Singaporeans cry father cry mother.
    Simply put, they cannot empathize with people at the grassroots level. By having such high salaries, the divide between them and ordinary Singaporeans will widen. I’m not saying they should be paid peanuts, but for them to step off the high pedestal and stop bench marking to the top earners.

  2. Andrew Loh,

    “…the office should be accorded the appropriate respect and prestige, and also to recognise the difficult and complex work they do…”

    Are you implying that a high salary is needed in order for the people to respect a minister? If so, are you implying that the leaders of other developed countries are NOT respected by their peoples (because their salaries just a fraction of our ministers’)? Are you also implying that leading countries such as the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia are less complex than managing S’pore?

    “If they are incompetent, kick them out at the ballot.”

    This is highly naive thinking! Why was GRC created? Why are the boundaries re-drawn just weeks before the general elections? Why are votes tied to HDB upgrading?

    “We do not want to see our politicians being viewed as nothing more than “second-hand car salesmen””

    We also don’t want leaders that are motivated by money! How is it that other developed countries can get the leaders they have without paying them obscene amount of salaries?

    Ministers enjoy power, prestige and status not only in S’pore, but abroad. Surely these 3 attributes are by themselves worth a lot of money? They enjoy special police protection. They can get primary 1 places in any schools of their choice for their kids and relatives. Their spouses and relatives get highly lucrative jobs to stat boards and GLCs. The benefits-in-kind are HUGE for our ministers…..yet they still demand top private sector salaries.

  3. This is one issue that is impossible to please everyone as different people will hold on their own views, bias and perspective. Instead of complaining, those who are able and unhappy with the Ministers should make a bid for the job and do it better themselves. If not, let’s just try to be objective enough to recognize that Ministers should be paid not too far off comparable to MNC & big corporation senior management.

    We should also at least give due recognition to the work, effort and time that the Committee has put into this thankless task to do what they deem and know best.

    1. See, that is the problem first and foremost. The government is trying to run the country like a company. Everything boils down to GDP , growth rate, etc. By attracting ‘talents’ who are so used to running a company with an eye on the bottom line, this vicious cycle will continue.
      Furthermore, if you read the Today papers (January 9, page 14) you can see an example of how GDP numbers do not tell the whole story, and can be fudged.
      Point is, do not run the country like a company and that a ‘talent’ in a multi national company may not be a talent as a minister .

  4. For most people, problem with the pay is when the level of performance is not commensurate. We don’t want Ah Meng to lord over us so we won’t pay peanuts (definition here can be a problem because there was once we paid a lot before Gerard Ee took over, but we got a monkey as defined by the then PM’s wife).

    I don’t really care about the amount but I worry that our GINI is going to continue widening because our Masters will continue making policies to benefit those to which their salaries are pegged to.

  5. Whatever indicators or KPIs we use – whether it is bottom 20%, unemployment rate, GDP growth, etc – can be artificially tweaked or manipulated. Just like GDP growth – where the govt can just increase the number of foreigners to up the growth rate.

    So, there’s no magic bullet. Lets accept this.

    1. ‘So, there’s no magic bullet. Lets accept this.’

      So, are you suggesting that those who think the pay and the method of calculating it should be changed, should just bend over and spread their cheeks and say ‘oh’?

      I understand that there is no way to satisfy everyone, but when the majority think that there is something wrong with how the figures are derived, then it’s time to take a step back and reformulate.

      So, do the majority think the formula needs to be tweaked, or are we the minority? I leave you to come to your own conclusion.

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