Last month, the unwillingness of Singapore’s government to disclose the full salary of Singapore’s ministers caused much uproar. Singapore’s prime minister is estimated to earn as much as S$2.7 million from 2013 to 2017 but it could be more, because of a Special Variable Payment that the ministers can earn, which has no stated limit. In theory, the ministers can earn an infinite amount of salary.
Two weeks ago, I asked people how much they think the Singapore prime minister should earn. Here are the results.
[If you want to also take part in the survey, you can do so at the end of this article.]
More than 90% (93.84%) of respondents felt that the prime minister’s salary of an estimated S$2.7 million (or more) is too high.
On how much they think the prime minister should earn, more than 40% (42.37%) thought that the prime minister should only earn a salary similar to the average of how much the political leaders in other high-income countries earn (which would be about S$325,000), or similar to the average of the other top 10-ranking countries on the Corruption Perception Index (of about S$250,000).
The News Lens also pointed out that, “In fact, when you look at the other countries which rank similarly on the corruption perception index, their political leaders do not even earn close to the trendline – they earn lesser. It seems that the richer the country is, the less their political leaders need to earn to maintain a low-level of corruption.”
“Only the Singapore ministers have the fantasy that it is otherwise. Only the ministers in Singapore needs to earn so much more than their peers to be able to prevent corruption,” it added.
On whether there should be a limit as to how many times the Singapore prime minister should earn over minimum wage, again more than 90% (92.36%) of respondents agreed that there should be.
And when asked how much they think this limit should be, 65.64% felt that it should only be 5 to 10 times that of minimum wage, like in the Nordic countries or like the average in the other high-income countries, respectively. I met with two Norwegian friends recently, where their prime minister earns only about 5 times the lowest-wage worker. They were shocked to hear that Singapore’s prime minister earns more than 210 times more than how much a cleaner in Singapore earns.
In the previous article, I wrote: “It would take a cleaner more than 210 years to earn what the prime minister earns in a year, or more than 5 working lifetimes. The prime minister takes only less than an hour to earn what a cleaner earns.”
Also, “In the Nordic countries, a worker on a minimum rate wage only needs to take 5 years to earn what their prime ministers earn. However, in Singapore, a cleaner would need to work more than 5 lifetimes to earn what the prime minister earns. This means that low-income Singaporeans would never be able to earn even what the prime minister earns in a year.”
But do you know that Singapore still does not have a minimum wage, and is one of very few countries in the world not to have one? More than 90% of the countries in the world have a minimum wage. (Aside, Singapore is also one of very few countries in the world without unemployment benefits. When I was telling my Norwegian friend about this, he did a double-take and asked me again: “No unemployment benefits?” In most of the other developed countries, this is unheard of, and quite inhumane.)
So, I also asked people if they thought there needs to be a minimum wage in Singapore. Again, more than 90% (90.85%) thought that there should be one.
On how much they thought minimum wage should be in Singapore, more than half (57.46%) felt that Singapore’s minimum wage should be set at S$1,500 to S$2,000. Another close to 30% (29.11%) felt that minimum wage should be higher, at S$2,500 to S$3,000.
“In countries with a similar GDP per capita and cost of living, their minimum (rate) wages are as follows (rounded off to the nearest five hundred, for ease of comparison):
- S$5,000 (in Norway and Switzerland)
- S$4,000 (in Denmark and Sweden)
- S$3,500 (in Finland)
- S$3,000 (in Australia, Luxembourg and New Zealand)
- S$2,500 (in Germany and the Netherlands)
- S$2,000 (in Canada and Japan)”
Note that respondents had also voted that the prime minister should only be paid a limit of 5 to 10 times that of minimum wage. Oxfam pointed out that in Singapore, “there is no minimum wage, except for cleaners and security guards”. And for cleaners, this so-called “minimum wages” is only S$1,060.
Correspondingly, the prime minister should only earn S$65,000 or S$130,000, if his salary should be pegged to current “minimum wage”. This says two things: first, Singapore’s cleaners and low-wage workers are being paid much lower than how much they should earn corresponding to Singapore’s GDP per capita and cost of living. And second, Singapore’s prime minister is overpaid (quite obviously).
Thus, to sum up, Singaporeans believe that Singapore’s prime minister is overpaid. He should be paid a similar salary corresponding to the average salary of the political leaders in other high-income countries. His salary should also be capped at 5 to 10 times the minimum wage, as per that of the Nordic countries and the average of other high-income countries, respectively. Singaporeans also felt that a minimum wage should be set at a level of S$1,500 to S$2,000 (and perhaps to be later increased to S$2,500 to $3,000 – similar to that of other countries with a similar cost of living as Singapore).
Based on this poll, Singaporeans believe that the Singapore prime minister should earn only about S$250,000 to S$325,000. If minimum wage is increased to S$3,000, as Australia, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Nordic countries already pay, if the prime minister were to earn 5 to 10 times this level, then the prime minister’s salary should be about S$180,000 to S$360,000, which will correspond to the limit that Singaporeans think the prime minister’s salary should be capped at – at 5 to 10 times minimum wage.
In Singapore, there are still currently 43% of residents who earn less than $3,000, and when including for the foreign workforce, as many as 60% of the total workforce in Singapore are earning less than S$3,000, or less than the minimum wage level in Australia, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Nordic countries.
Clearly, the Singapore prime minister is overpaid. And Singaporeans are being severely underpaid. Ministerial salaries in Singapore need to be brought down by at least 8 times, and Singapore’s minimum salaries should be increased down the road by 3 times.
If you would also like to take the poll, you can take it below.