31 October 1994:
Mr Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir): Sir, President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”. Today, we are in Parliament for exactly the opposite reason. The Ministers are not telling Singaporeans what they can do for them but are asking Singaporeans to pay them more money. It is not that long ago in this House, in January this year, that Ministers’ salaries were revised upwards to about $64,000 per month and the Prime Minister’s salary to about $96,000 per month. With that kind of salaries, most Singaporeans thought that the Prime Minister and the Ministers were already overpaid but apparently they thought otherwise. Now the Prime Minister and the Ministers want even more pay. Why do the Ministers want so much money for? People are already saying that to be appointed a Minister is like touching a lottery.
If we compare our Ministers’ salaries with those of the other developed countries listed in the table, which I have instructed the Clerk to distribute to Members, you will note that our Ministers earn about 2 1/2 times more than the President of the USA, 3 1/2 times more than the Australian Prime Minister, five times more than the Canadian Prime Minister, four times more than the Prime Minister of England, and nearly five times more than that of the Prime Minister of Sweden. If the Prime Ministers of those advanced countries can live on 1/5 to 1/4 of our Ministers’ salaries, why should our Ministers ask for more pay
How can our Ministers justify their salaries when we take the American President’s salary as a yardstick? The President of the USA is the Chief Executive of the country and is responsible for about 250 million people. Whereas a Minister in Singapore is not the Chief Executive of the country and there are only about 3 million people in Singapore. Can we say that our Ministers shoulder more responsibility than that of the President of the USA, or they do more work? Surely not. Whatever way we look at it, it is just not right to pay our Ministers so much more than that of the President of the USA.
The White Paper says that Singapore needs to pay our Ministers high salaries to attract competent men, to compensate them for the loss of their privacy and to prevent them from becoming corrupt. These reasons are faulty.
I do not believe that there are not enough competent men in Singapore who can qualify to be Ministers. The true position is that there are many good men out there who are of ministerial calibre. It is just that the PAP is unwilling to pick them for reasons of their own.
The Government could do the same by inviting good professionals with a record of integrity to become Ministers. Most professionals would be highly flattered and honoured when invited to become Ministers and would probably accept the invitation. I would think that most of them may not want to be Ministers for life, that is, until retirement due to old age but would certainly not mind doing a two term or two-and-a-half term stint.
In regard to the selection of Ministers, the Government should open its doors wider, as it did in the case of the selection of Judges and all the Ministerial posts would be quickly filled, instead of the situation now where some of the Ministers are made to take care of two Ministries.
As for corruption, I think the Government, after nearly 30 years in power, is now experienced enough, especially after the unfortunate appointment of past corrupt Ministers, like Tan Kia Gan, Wee Toon Boon and the late Teh Cheang Wan, not to appoint anyone who has the propensity to be corrupt. In any event, financial incentives cannot prevent a Minister from being corrupt. If a Minister is intent on being corrupt, the hefty salary will not satisfy him. It will make him only more greedy for more money. The high salary paid to him will allow him to enjoy a high standard of living, such as living in a nice house and purchase expensive cars which can be a veil of his ill-gotten money, if he were to be corrupt. So the argument that you pay a Minister well will prevent him to be corrupt is quite fallacious.
I am not saying that the Government should pay Ministers peanuts, neither am I advocating exorbitant salaries to make them millionaires once they are appointed.
I still believe that political leadership is a calling. Political leadership posts should not be turned into lucrative jobs. By turning those posts into lucrative jobs, we are not going to attract people motivated by a calling but people who are attracted to politics because of money.
The idea of setting benchmarks for Ministers’ salaries based on the top four highest private sector earnings in banking and amongst accountants, engineers, lawyers, CEOs of manufacturing companies and multi-national companies is objectionable. In principle, it is wrong. Ministers must at intervals of time come back to Parliament to ask for and justify their pay increases and also for the pay they are receiving. This principle of accountability of the Ministers in respect of their salaries must never be taken away. The day it is taken away, the seeds of corruption would have been sown.
How can we know for sure that once a benchmark, as proposed, has been set, the Ministers will not engineer to make sure that they get hefty pay increases every year by encouraging the private sector to increase the pay of its CEOs? After all, many of the big companies such as privatised Telecom and SIA are Government controlled. Also, many of the big manufacturing companies, banks and multi-nationals have close connections with the Government, as they can be influenced. If Ministers believe generally that they deserve pay increases and can justify them, what is there to be embarrassed or feel uncomfortable about. They should not be afraid to come to Parliament to ask for those pay increases. And if Ministers feel that it is not proper for them to canvass for their own pay increases which, in my view, is indeed not proper for Ministers to be asking for their own pay increases, they could get Government MPs or, even better still, get Backbenchers to do it for them.
Another way is to get an independent committee, like the National Wages Council, which determines workers’ wages, to study and recommend from time to time how much Ministers’ salary increases should be. Anyway, I think it is improper for Ministers to be asking for salary scales which would make them millionaires more than two times over in one term of office.
Ministers promote Asian values and Confucian teachings. Perhaps the Ministers in their more sombre moments, should take notice that Confucian teachings hold up yao and shan as models for other rulers to follow. They were unselfish and public spirited and believed that the position of the ruler should not be a source of wealth and personal benefit. I do not recommend that Ministers make big personal sacrifices like the Confucian models, neither do I advocate hefty pay increases as recommended in the White Paper.
What I am recommending is based on the principle that the Ministers’ job is a calling. It is a public service and cannot be anything else. If the Minister’s post is going to be another highly paid job, how can Ministers have the moral authority to lead the country? How can our Ministers be role models? How can they preach against materialism and warn of the decay of society once it wallows in materialism? The founders of modern Singapore preached against materialism. They called on the people to practise thrift, to sacrifice and to do hard work. Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself took a pay cut. That may have been the catalyst to Singapore’s success.
1 November 1994:
Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang)(In Mandarin): Mr Speaker, Sir, when I heard the Prime Minister’s speech in this House yesterday, I was very shocked. It seems like the future of our country will be determined by how much salary we give to our Ministers and top civil servants.
The logic of the Prime Minister is that the higher the pay the better we can attract the top talents to govern the country and there will be continuous growth in the economy, more safeguards to the people. Otherwise, the future of the country will be bleak.
He went on to point out that corrupt practices among politicians in the United Kingdom was due to their salaries being too low. The Prime Minister also said that the most important question is what kind of people we want to rule the country. This is indeed a question worth considering.
On this question, my intuitive reaction is that I do not want people who look to money to run the country. These people will be weighing their losses and gains in terms of money and the policy they embrace will surely be profit-oriented. Even if it results in huge economic growth year after year, and the Government coffer greatly enriched, the livelihood of the people need not necessarily be improved because the formulation and results of their policies will be determined purely from the angle of economic benefits only.
If the Prime Minister is presenting this White Paper to set a benchmark for the Ministers’ salaries based on the top earners in the private sector simply because the people with potential to be Ministers whom he contacted were not prepared to come forward to serve the nation due to the salaries being not sufficiently attractive, then I would suggest that he look again for some others who have the vision and are prepared to dedicate themselves to the nation.
If, after so many years of nation building, we cannot cultivate some talented people with dedication to serve the country, then I must say with great regret that our country is a failure.
If our country is facing this kind of problem today, the elites among our younger generation now would only look at money, then the PAP Government should make an overall review on whether their philosophy of running the country is out of balance, and whether it has been putting too much emphasis on utilitarianism and elitism.
The ancient Chinese philosopher Laotze said, “Do not esteem the wise so as to prevent strife among the people. Do not value the scarce goods so as to prevent robbery. Do not make desire visible so as not to disturb the minds of the people.” Of course, we are not saying that we should not value the wise. What we are saying is that we should not over-emphasize elitism and materialism so that the desire of the people becomes stronger and stronger, resulting in their being obsessed with the desire for gain.
The Prime Minister also mentioned about corruption in society. Corruption arises because of greed and because of greed they become corrupted and polluted. So if we over-emphasise money and the society becomes such that so long as you have money you can call the shots, then no matter how much you pay them, they will be asking for even more. I think the complexity of this matter is far beyond the question of salary, as suggested by the Prime Minister. It is not that simple!
Mr Speaker, Sir, as a matter of fact, the sacrifice made by those who enter politics and serve the people cannot be measured by money alone. Some former Presidents of the United States of America were assassinated. Even President Clinton has also faced an attempt made on his life. This is a matter of life and death, not something which can be compensated by salary. So to debate on how to reduce the sacrifices of people who enter politics by monetary compensation is, by itself, an insult to the politicians and statesmen. We should adhere to the principle that so long as the Minister can maintain a comfortable lifestyle, with adequate safeguards for his present living and life after retirement, it would be sufficient to keep him working with peace in mind.
Since the Government is insisting on measuring in the light of utilitarianism, and has published the White Paper to support its argument, do allow me to present my views on the contents of the White Paper.
First of all, let me look at the question whether it is equitable to peg the Minister’s pay with that of the private sector. The White Paper suggested taking the average income from six selected professions as the benchmark for the Ministers’ salaries. This figure is $1.217 million. This is based on the average income from the six professions in 1992.
The present salary of Ministers is more than $60,000 per month, and it will be further increased after it is pegged with the private sector. According to the annual report of the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), 141 residents of Singapore had income of more than one million dollars in 1992. But in 1993, some 394 people had income of more than $5 million.
So if we take these top four income earners in the six professions as the benchmark for the Ministers and top civil servants’ salaries, and the top earners’s income keeps on increasing substantially, then the salaries of the Ministers and top civil servants will be raised correspondingly. I fear that in future the salaries of Ministers and top civil servants will become a heavy burden to Singapore.
On the other hand, according to the 1990 Population Census, more than 70% of our workforce earn less than $1,500. So if you use the income of just a handful of super-high income earners as the benchmark, and ignoring the great disparity among the incomes of the people of Singapore in general, is it reasonable?
Secondly, looking at the nature of work and the motivation, the objective of the private sector is to make money. If an employee can make so much money for his company, he deserves to be paid a salary in accordance with his contribution. From a personal point of view, this is reasonable and just, seemly and fitting. But the motivation of the Ministers and the top civil servants is to serve the people. The nature of their work is to run the country with the power of the Government, and it is their job to run the country well. Just because the economy has been booming, the private sector has been reaping in huge profits, and their employees are getting high salaries, the Government wants to peg the Ministers’ salaries to the private sector. Do not tell me that the Government is suffering from the politics of envy Ž envious of other people’s high salaries.
With so much emphasis on the Administrative Service and the huge increase in the salaries of the top Administrative Officers, it seems that in future, the formulation and implementation of Government policies will rely substantially on these senior and superscale civil servants, and the Ministers will have these highly paid Administrative Officers to work for them, and their workload will therefore be reduced considerably. Why then are the Ministers getting a pay rise?
In order to show that they are “worth more than what they are paid” as mentioned by a Member in this House, these administrative elites sitting in the ivory tower will think of ways and means to make more profits for the Government. Yes, this will of course create more wealth for the country, but what will happen to the livelihood of the people?
Thirdly, work security. In Singapore, so long as the civil servants and Ministers do not make a serious mistake, their jobs can be said to be an “iron rice bowl”. With the huge pay rises in recent years, this “iron rice bowl” has become a “golden rice bowl”. This golden rice bowl, even in spite of an economic downturn, will be strong and stable, with no fear of being broken.
For instance, in 1985, when we were facing recession, many private sector employees were retrenched. They were completely helpless. But the Ministers and civil servants continued to get the same pay and they were enjoying themselves in the recession. Furthermore, so long as the Ministers have completed 10 years’ service, they will get a handsome pension for their retirement. The employees in the private sector will have to work until 60 years of age before they can retire, and after that they have to fend for themselves.
According to the World Bank report, in Japan, and some successful economics in Asia, including Singapore, when a successful official retires, he will get a lot of rewards, much more than their salaries, benefits and allowances.
In most cases, our Ministers and top civil servants, after retirement, will be invited to take up richly-paid positions in the public or private sector. As such, our Ministers and top civil servants enjoy certain security even after their retirement.
The White Paper makes no mention of the special status and safeguards enjoyed by top civil servants and the Ministers, nor any objective comparison of the nature and risk of their job with that in the private sector, but simply uses the average income of a handful of top earners in the private sector as the benchmark for the Ministers’ salaries. This, I feel, is an attempt to hoodwink the people. I do not think we should accept this kind of rash benchmarking.
If we want to set standards and benchmarking for top civil servants and Ministers, then it should be comparing like with like. We should compare ourselves with countries like Switzerland, etc, according to the land area, the population size, the income of the people, the economic growth and the complexity of politics. We must compare also with the pay given to the Ministers and top civil servants in other countries and then adjust them according to the circumstances of Singapore to fix this kind of benchmark.
The White Paper also mentions that in some countries, a larger part of their ministers’ salary is camouflaged by non-monetary rewards such as free housing, cars, expense account, overseas holidays, etc.
The PAP Government has all along been well-known for its effective use of statistics. They should have no difficulty evaluating the worth of these hidden perks in terms of cash value. Why does not the PAP Government do that? Why should you compare chickens with ducks? This is very unconvincing!
Mr Speaker, Sir, here I would like to talk about the basic argument of the White Paper “Competitive Salaries for Competent and Honest Government” and, that is, what the Lianhe Zaobao described as “High pay to keep the worthy and good remuneration to keep the honest”.
First of all, when we describe someone as being “a person of virtue” or a worthy person, we refer not only to his ability and wisdom but also his integrity and superior character. So if you suggest using money to keep the worthy and encourage them to look at money for whatever thing they do, then it is an insult to the bona fide worthy person. Even for an ordinary person, money is not the only factor of consideration when you come to work. If our country is to be ruled by the so-called “worthy” people who are money-oriented, then it would be disastrous for the country and the people!
“Good remuneration to keep the honest” is also a problem. In the past, there were some cases of corruption involving our Ministers and top civil servants. Does this imply that their remuneration was not good enough? Now with this huge increase in pay, do you think the Government can assure the people of Singapore that there will be no more corruption? Then, if there are junior civil servants being found to be corrupt, will the Government consider giving them a hefty pay rise because their remuneration is not good enough?
Human desire for material gains is insatiable. Do you really believe that you can keep the talented and the honest just by giving them high salaries? How high must their salaries be to be considered enough? Using the excuse of wanting to keep the talented and the honest to give the Ministers and top civil servants hefty pay rises will certainly leave us completely bewildered!
Of course, I am not asking the Ministers and top civil servants to serve Singapore for free. We all know that in Singapore, apart from the air and the haze we are having now, nothing is for free.
Mr Speaker, Sir, with the PAP having a commanding majority in this House, of course, this salary benchmarking will be approved. In future, the problem will be treated as solved, once and for all. There will be no need to debate the Ministers’ pay. Every year, on 1st July, their salaries will automatically be increased. There is no longer any need to wait for three to five years to get a pay rise. They can have their pay rise in a grand and imposing manner along with the big bosses in the private sector. The boat will rise with the rising tide and their pockets will be full.
If the PAP Government is sincere in wanting to get the feedback from the people, and to convince the people that the salaries of the Ministers are reasonable and appropriate to the situation in our country, then they should not be acting too hastily in wanting to have the White Paper forcibly endorsed in Parliament. They should provide all the information that I mentioned above to allow the people to make some comparative studies. They should also make this an election platform for the next General Election so that the people will have the opportunity of discussing it extensively, and showing through the ballot box whether they support or reject the recommendation of the White Paper.
Mr Chiam See Tong: Sir, the NMP has suggested that a referendum be held. A referendum would probably be the best forum to get public opinion on the issues that we are debating, ie, whether to peg the Ministers’ salaries to the private sector salaries based on the six professions and whether or not to do away with the need to come back to Parliament to review Ministers’ salaries. I think these two are important principles and members of the public should have a say.
Singapore holds Switzerland as a model. As Members know, in Switzerland, they often hold referendum on national issues, and even on local issues. But what does not suit Singapore, even if it holds Switzerland as a model, it would not follow what Switzerland did.
As far as I know, on record, the Prime Minister has never agreed to any referendum called by the Backbenchers. The next best thing, of course, is to have this issue decided at the elections. But there is a problem in calling for this issue to be decided at the elections because, inevitably, the PAP will be returned to power and the Government can give the excuse, “There, you are, we have the mandate.” But even if this issue were to be discussed and debated in the elections, I would say that if there is a loss of more seats to the Government or there is a further drop in percentage of votes, it would mean that the public has rejected what the Government proposes in the White Paper. I think that should be the true interpretation of election results. On that basis, I would agree that the recommendations contained in the White Paper be debated at the elections.
In the case of what the Government is advocating, the Ministers’ pay will be pegged to a salary scale, equivalent to a salary scale, and there is automatic increment. I believe one of the Ministers has said that the prospects look good for Singapore for the next 10 years. So the Ministers can be assured of pay rises for the next 10 years, unless the Deputy Prime Minister is saying that the economy is going to have a down slide within the next few years, which I do not think so.
An hon. Member: So?
Mr Chiam See Tong: So do you not agree with me that Ministers’ pay will be going up for the next 10 years? As the economy grows, the private sector businesses increase, their CEO will be paid higher. Therefore, when their pay goes up, Ministers’ pay will also go up. That is very simple.
An hon. Member: It is wrong.
Mr Chiam See Tong: It is not wrong. But where is the limit? As I have already brought up this point, why do Ministers need so much pay for? As long as they have got a pay for a comfortable living, I do not see why they should be paid an additional $100,000 – $200,000 more. Why do they need so much more money? We are discussing just now on the amendment motion anyway.
3 November 1994:
The Prime Minister (Mr Goh Chok Tong): I think Mr Chiam has suggested that we go on a decent lifestyle basis. I think he was supported, maybe innocently, by Assoc. Prof. Walter Woon. But a decent lifestyle basis is subjective. What is a decent lifestyle? Do you provide for children’s education in universities abroad? How much do you have to put aside for old age? And why should the Minister have such a decent lifestyle when the bulk of the population live in 4-5 room flats and some in 2-3 room flats? Why can the people not have the same lifestyle as the Ministers? So this subjective element will be difficult to use in deciding on how much a Minister should be paid. And I know of no company in Singapore – perhaps there are such state companies in Communist countries – which pays its employees on a decent lifestyle basis. In Communist countries where they pay employees in accordance with need, maybe they pay in accordance with decent lifestyle. But that decent lifestyle is at a very low level. For market economies, it is payment in accordance with the worth of a person, how much does he contribute, what is his ability, what is his performance.
But even on a subjective basis, Mr Chiam’s calculation is not far off the current pay of the Ministers. For the Minister, Mr Chiam thinks the Minister deserves $51,000 a month for a decent lifestyle. For the Prime Minister, $63,750. Let us round it off to $64,000. I was not sure whether this monthly pay should be multiplied by 12 or whether we should add in the 13th month payment, variable bonuses and so on.
Mr Chiam See Tong: Multiply by 12.
The Prime Minister: I checked with Mr Chiam outside and he told me that I could add in variable bonuses. I checked with him outside because I was busy taking down notes over here.
Mr Chiam See Tong: Income tax.
The Prime Minister: Never mind. Let us say that we multiply it by 12, I think it is not too far off from the current salaries of the Ministers. For the PM, multiply by 12, it is about two-thirds of what the PM is getting.
Mr Chiam See Tong: Will you take it?
The Prime Minister: Mr Chiam asked whether I would take it. If I can be sure that Mr Chiam will be around after the next elections, for the PM I am inclined to take it. Because then Mr Chiam cannot go around and say that what the PM earns in one day, a worker will take 30 days to earn. To the layman, $700,000 is a lot of money. Right? So if Mr Chiam goes around saying in future elections that the PM and the Ministers earn that much, I will say that Mr Chiam recommends it.
Mr Chiam See Tong: Mr Prime Minister, then I can keep my mouth shut!
(Note: Goh Chok Tong did not address Mr Chiam See Tong’s point further and left it at that.)
The Prime Minister: Some people have advised me against being too straightforward with the people. They think I am too open, too candid, too honest. So they said in this exercise of benchmarking salaries to the private sector and, even before this, when we had the debate on Ministers’ salaries in December last year, that I should not go for the total wage figure, what you call the clean wage system. Hide it under perks and privileges, give a car to each Minister, allowance for entertainment, maybe allowance for travel, gardener’s allowance, travel allowance, all kinds of allowances which would not appear in the book’s published figures, which you do not see. If you do that, I think we can massage the figure down to about 60% of what it appears in the White Paper. Because there is a range of variable bonuses which you cannot calculate in advance – performance bonus, bonus based on the economic growth of the country. This can be left out because we cannot actually fix it until the year is over.
But I decided that this would be hypocritical. This is not how I want to run Singapore. And my colleagues also agreed with me that we should be honest with the people. If this is what costs the country, this is what you will see. So the figures which you see are the cost to the country. We have no additional perks. Yes, there is a tax-free car allowance. But it is recomputed with tax imputed, and that figure also appears in the published figures. It is a part of the salary. No housing allowance, no holiday allowance, and we pay tax. As Tan Cheng Bock remarked, many people thought we do not pay tax. We pay tax on every cent of our salary. We pay our own PUB bills. We pay our own telephone bills. I changed the system when we moved into time-based system. I thought it is not fair if we pay for the telephones of MPs or Ministers now that we have moved to a time-based system, because we do not know who will be using the telephone at home. So I changed the system. We pay for our own telephone bills and we pay for our own hospitalisation bills. If DPM is so unlucky as to suffer a relapse of his lymphoma, he has to pay for his own treatment.
Are we wise in being so open with the people? Can the voters ever understand? Will the Opposition ever stop playing at politics? I do not think the voters can ever understand, if you look at issues in isolation. But you must have faith in them. At the end of the day, it is how their lives are affected by the Government. That will determine how they will vote. And that faith we must have. We must have faith that we can assemble a team both for Government, the political component, as well as for the civil service, to be able to give the people a better life.
I can expect the Opposition MPs to play this political game: put it to the people to decide.
The Prime Minister: Yes, Mr Chiam and of course Mr Low Thia Khiang say to let the people decide. Then the Straits Times also jumped in, banner headlines, “Let the people decide”. In the final analysis, it is the people who decide but they cannot decide on this issue in isolation. You got to give them alternatives. You got to give them the package. The issue to be put to the voters, because they will decide in the end, is what does it cost the country to have the PAP Government, and what are the benefits which they can get out of having the PAP Government. I am going to invite the SDP and also the Workers’ Party to tell me what it will cost Singapore if you have a SDP government or a Workers’ Party government. How much would you pay your prime minister? How much would you pay your Finance Minister? It can be lower than the $22 million which should be in place after a few years’ time. Would it be a $10 million, $5 million SDP government, or would it be $20 million?
Then we give the people three choices, and that should be the issue which should be fought in the election, which I will call in due course. State the price of your government. State your vision. What would you do for them? “Dare to Change” for the SDP? For Workers’ Party, I do not know what their slogan will be. Perhaps it is “Time to Go”. Then we decide. Dare to change, change to what? Our programmes, HDB upgrading, share-owning society, plus a host of other programmes which we will announce for the people. Then there is a meaningful choice for the people. You cannot just go to election or referendum on one single issue such as this.
Since we are talking about going to the people, I think just for our own satisfaction, we should perhaps go through the SDP’s shadow Cabinet list. Who would you have as your PM? I am not sure whether it would be Ling How Doong or Chee Soon Juan. Finance Minister, I think the Party treasurer is the most qualified to be the Finance Minister of Singapore, Cheo Chai Chen. Mr Chiam, you can put a question mark because I am not sure where he would be. That is the basis for the people to decide.
In fact, I think for the next election, perhaps I should start a convention, name the core list of your leaders. I will name five of my key people, SDP names five of the key people, Workers’ Party names five. Put the salaries against these people, we go for election. Then the people can decide. If they want to have a cheap government, by all means, it is their choice. They can choose a cheap government, or lowest tender, lowest cost, go ahead. Or would the people begin to think that that is a silly way of employing a government or a CEO for a company? The way to do so is what can the CEO do for me? Then he will start asking, not how much Ministers are paid, but what Ministers can do for them. And this is what I want to get Singaporeans to understand. What can the Government do for you?
There were a few other, I would say, silly remarks. I will dispose of them very quickly. Ministers have power, therefore, take less pay. I think this is a childish argument. Yes, we have power, but this is the power to do good, not a power to benefit ourselves. Privileges, shaking hands with Kings, Queens and Presidents. Come off it!
Prestige, yes. Ministers in Singapore have tremendous prestige. MPs in Singapore have tremendous prestige. But how did the prestige come about? Did it come about just because you are an MP or because you are a Minister? In the UK, I have read a survey where they asked the people to rank the prestige of the various professions, doctors, lawyers and so on. Ministers, MPs, are ranked at the bottom, except for journalists. In the US, I have read similar reports and politicians are ranked right at the bottom, except for used car salesmen. I did not know that lawyers are also ranked somewhere below the MP.
The prestige is not automatic. It is earned. It is earned because we have over the last 40 years run an efficient, clean Government. And that is the kind of prestige which I want to be able to maintain for the next generation and, hopefully, my successor will continue to maintain it – clean, competent Government. Then there will be prestige for all of the MPs in this House. And I think even the Opposition MPs acquire some prestige as a result of the PAP’s system.
Some people argue that most of the work is done by civil servants and hence you do not require good Ministers. They are wrong. The Senior Minister has given you illustrations from his generation of leaders to show that that was wrong. I will give you some illustrations to show that it is also wrong to come to that perception for today’s Ministers.
A competent government requires both good civil servants and good Ministers. In fact, it requires that the Ministers be better than the civil servants. Civil servants, I would say almost by definition, do not innovate. They are not entrepreneurs. They are there to manage and maintain the system. They help to formulate policies. They work out the pros and cons. They spell out the details and they implement them. From time to time, they do initiate policies. But by the very nature of the civil service, they do not make bold moves. They cannot make bold moves. Those must be done by the Ministers.
Lastly, to sum up, on the White Paper, the final test, whether what we are doing is right or wrong, will depend on whether we get good people for the public sector and for Cabinet and whether we can maintain our high standards of integrity and competence, whether we can deliver a better life for all Singaporeans, more homes, better homes, more funds in the CPF, more shares, and whether others can do a better job for us. In other words, is there a better alternative to what we are doing, and to our model of recruiting people for good Government? In the final analysis, the debate is not about Ministers’ pay, or benchmarking. It is about your future and your children’s future and how we can get a group of men and women to ensure your and your children’s future.
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