Sunday, 8 July 2018

Hot-button issues: Ministerial Pay.

This is a hot button issue: ministerial pay. And our neighbour across the causeway is pressing it. They are taking a pay cut of 10%. 

Mahathir said: "We are concerned about the country's financial problems. We find that ministers' salaries are lower than (that of) high ranking civil servants. (But) we will reduce ministers' salaries by 10 per cent."

He added: "When I was first appointed PM way back in 1981, the first thing I did was to cut the salaries of ministers and senior civil servants."

Well, as it is, our counterpart are not earning much, comparatively speaking. 

It reports that "the Prime Minister of Malaysia makes RM22,826.65 a month, while a minister earns a monthly salary of RM14,907.20".

Alas, this always brings us back to the moneyed elephant in our own cabinet room. 

It is a fact that our ministers' pay are the highest in the world. They are like international CEOs running Singapore Inc driven by the profit/ economic motive or ensuring their stakeholders are properly compensated. 

But then, who are their stakeholders then? 

If it is the hoi polloi, then it can't be denied that there are old folks amongst us still pushing carts and selling discarded cardboards in public to make a living and families struggling to make ends meet after being fired from their jobs. 

Am I being sensationalistic with anecdotal evidence here just for effect? Maybe, but my point goes deeper than that. 

The late opposition politician J. B. Jeyaretnam once said that "public office should never be compared to the private sector because the former is an honour, duty, and service that must not be demeaned with a price tag."

However, our founder Lee Kuan Yew rebutted that with this: -

“But they are of a different generation, and I am not saying that they would not have made the same sacrifices. I could still pay them on the old rates, but would I be doing the right thing by them and by the country? For my generation, it does not matter.”

Lee added:-

"For the generation that knows my colleagues and I, I do not have to prove anything. But perhaps for the younger generation I ought to mention that I do not believe Singapore is wise in demanding of my younger colleagues that same total, absolute dedication to a cause. I am not saying they are not, but I am saying I do not want to put them to that stress.”

Mm...maybe it is time to review the above statement in the light of our 4G leaders' recent unwavering commitment and manifesto to ensure that they do their earnest part to bridge the income gap and social divide? 

Maybe, action speaks louder than words and the first thing our ministers should consider or reflect is this:-

"How are they going to bridge the gap (as an example) when the income they take home is much more than they will ever need, the houses they own and stay in are in neighbourhoods that are generally exclusive to the rest of the population, and their children gets the best tuition and the most conducive and protected environment for growth with the education their kids receive, whether local or overseas, amongst the top?"

Now, let's be fair, none of this is their fault. 

They are an industrious lot, smart and sincere. They are competent administratively and work the ground quite tirelessly to bridge the gap. And generally, I choose to believe they are principled leaders. 

But surely, they are principled not because they are paid handsomely right?

In other words, it doesn't mean that once you shave off the creamy portion of their pay, they lose their ethics and morals right? 

Mind you, I am not saying that they ought to reduce their pay to the "pathetic" level of the Malaysian leaders. 

However, I do admit that that's a simplistic equation, that is, equating ethics with pay. 

So, here's the more deeply-reflective one and it is hidden in the words of the fiery David Marshall. 

He once said: "I've got nothing against money. I'd like to have money myself. I'd like to have a house and a garden and dogs and a car and a chauffeur, but look, I've got a flat. I've got a swimmmg pool attached to the flat. I do not have a car but I use taxis. I have a dignified way of life without being wealthy."

That's the word I am looking for: Dignity. Mr Marshall had a dignified way of life without being wealthy. 

The point is not so much about wealth and its corrupt effect on the unsuspecting, but it is about dignity and the character that no money can buy. 

And incidentally, in the papers today, it is reported that million of dollars of bribe money were allegedly offered to investigators of the 1MDB to entice them to drop the case against Najib. 

But the investigators refused the honey trap. They rather stand by what is right and reject wealth and its corrupting effect. Surely, they are not handsomely paid as officials of their government, right? 

So, that is what dignity looks like. 

It is therefore not about being wealthy. Not about living large in exclusive estates. Not about bringing home the bacon that can feed their own generations after generations. 

And it's definitely not about promising the country that they will bridge the income and social gap, but alas, the only gap that is closing for them is that golden retirement nest gap where they have been building up so that they can live a life beyond their wildest dream while the rest can only dream about.

Like it or not, there is always a discernible disconnect when a rich man standing on the podium promising the poor man that he has got his back and then, he walks away taking the last tattered shirt off his back. 

This is a hyperbolic example, but I think you get the point about living a dignified life free from the alienating effect of accumulated wealth beyond one's needs as compared to a less than dignified one because one is presumed to be unable to be motivated to serve with "honour, duty, and service" if he or she is not paid commensurate market rates. 

So, I think more debate has to be carried out on this point because our government is not without self-awareness. 

Recently, the recommendation was to raise their pay by 9%, but they rejected it and insisted instead of a pay freeze until 2023 (when our raised GST to 9% may just kick in). 

Let me thus end with an extract of LKY's statement quoted above. 

He said: "But perhaps for the younger generation I ought to mention I do not believe Singapore is wise in demanding of my younger colleagues that same total, absolute dedication to a cause. I am not saying they are not, but I am saying I do not want to put them to that stress.”

Actually, there is a lot of Singaporeans who are put under a lot of stress. 

The high cost of living, the unrelentingly competitive and elitist meritocratic high road, the uncertainty of employment prospect and the issue of not having enough for old age with their flats becoming a market liability are enough to rob many of the soul and confidence to fight on. 

So, compared to that, I think our well-endowed ministers can cope with a little minor adjustment, right? Cheerz.

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