Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Singaporeans do not accept politicians' revised pay - blame it on PAP and Gini

Dear Editor,

I feel some discomfort to see the government metaphorically pulling its hairs trying to understand why Singaporeans are still unhappy despite its offer to reduce ministers’ salaries to what it thought was by a significant percentage.

Parliament’s acceptance of this new pay package has not gained traction with the typical Singaporean who lives in the HDB heartlands as despite these cuts, Singapore’s ministers are still the world’s highest paid politicians by a wide margin.

I will just suggest two factors that account for this disconnect- the first one being created by the People’s Action Party (PAP) and the second due to how our world is structured.

1.PAP’s inability to attract the talented to its cause

The PAP as a political movement is not attractive to any idealistic Singaporean who views public service as an honor ala the concept of “Noblesse oblige”. (David Marshall on Noblesse oblige)

“Noblesse oblige” literally means nobility as an obligation and points to benevolent, honorable behavior considered to be the responsibility of persons of high birth or rank. In our context, it means our ablest must feel the privilege to serve. In any group, the ablest automatically steps forward to lead. It is expected. Period.

Unless the group has become dysfunctional with little sense of identity.

Hence PAP’s problem (and its solution with high salaries) has now become Singapore’s problem. Other political parties such as the Worker’s Party have little difficulty attracting talents even before it became fashionable to be associated with non-PAP parties. 

Expecting Singaporeans to accept PAP's logic is like trying to put square pegs into round holes!

2. Gini coefficient and the unfair world.

Bill Gates said in a speech at a high school that the first of 11 things they will not learn in school is 

“Life is not fair- get used to it!” (Bill Gates link)

The Gini coefficient is named after Italian statistician Corrado Gini, and measures the income distribution across a country and often used as gauge of the income gap. (Gini coefficient link)

The United Nation Development Program published an unflattering report that ranked us second only to Hong Kong in terms of income inequality ( see link here
 ) .

No matter if we blame globalization or our open economy, the fact remains our poorest and our richest might as well be living on different planets.

Unfortunately, the
Committee to Review Ministerial Salaries has referenced the top 1000 highest paid Singaporeans (albeit with some discount) for our leaders’ salaries.

Hence the remunerations, even after the review, remain unfathomable to many middle and lower income Singaporeans. Why does any Singaporean require so much before he can be coerced to serve his fellow citizens?

A colleague has very succinctly summarized our political reality-

“The government’s moral authority is inversely proportional to the ministers’ salaries.”

The dice has been cast, and the PAP dominated parliament has accepted the review, we should just leave it to the political parties to win over our hearts and minds.

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan