Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Ministerial Musical Chair

The antics of ex-ministers going on a musical chair are not an uncommon phenomenon. The latest caper is the taking over from Mr. Lim Chee Onn as non-exectutive chairman of Keppel Corp by Dr. Lee Boon Yang, until recently Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts from July 1.

Ministers are equated by the government with chief executive officers (CEO) of multi-national corporations (MNC) in ability if not in status. But then in the history of Singapore politics, has there ever been any ex-minister who is considered a sufficently qualified and viable candidate for any reputable MNC? They can only be suitable for absorption by government-owned or sponsored corporations. MNC's are down-to-earth people and much as they would like to respect the government's evaluation of its ministers, they owe it to their share-holders to ensure that they do not take any unnecessary risk to their corporations by taking in CEO's of unproven quality. The consequence is that one finds ex-ministers being placed in government-owned or sponsored undertakings such as Singapore Press Holdings, Capitaland, Keppel Corp and the like as no reputable MNC's would want to risk employing them.

Which brings us to a pertinent point. The government has often crowed about the intrinsic calibre of its ministers and equated them with the highest echelon in the corporate world. So they pay themselves astronomical sums to give the skewed impression that they are really worthy of their whopping salaries. But the harsh realities of the corporate world give a lie to the government's position.

What the ordinary Singaporeans cannot stomach is that while the rest of Singaporeans, especially those on the poverty borderline and the retrenched, suffer from the economic downturn, the opulent ministers still hung on to their sinful whopping pay. And was it not a sickening joke for the Prime Minister to say that he and his ministers were suffering together with the masses? Like the writer Patriot said in his sarcastic reply to Dr. Lee Wei Ling's letter to the press which mentioned her mother's vaunt that suffering and deprivation was good for the soul. Patriot replied pointedly and sarcastically that Dr. Lee's mother's suffering and deprivation was like utopia to the ordinary Singaporean.

That the Singapore ministers are filthy rich, especially MM Lee's family, is obscenely plain for the people to see. In spite of his opulence, MM Lee is drawing a whopping salary and jetting around at taxpayers' expense to spout poetries to a gullible world audience. As he says when the coffin is closed, you will have the verdict. We all look forward to the day, especially those who survive him.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Uniquely Singapore

Is there any fundamental difference between a minister without portfolio and a minister in the Prime Minister's Office(PMO)? As far as can be seen, both are holders of minister's post but without ministerial functions like being in overall charge of a ministry. Would any right-thinking person describe these ;as sinecures? And would such a person be branded as an iconoclast?

There is no other place in the world, except Singapore, a small country where you have three ministers in the PMO. As has been said they do not have any portfolio to take charge of and yet they draw a minister's pay out of taxpayers' money. More than two million dollars a year is no peanuts. In fact nowhere in the world, not even in America, an economic superpower, is a minister paid such an astronomical salary. And their minister has a responsibility far exceeding that of the Singapore minister.

Another unique feature of the Singapore government is that you have two Senior Ministers(SM) and one Minister Mentor(MM) (actually a SM by another name to justify his whopping salary of three million dollars a year). Quite frankly, two are out of job former prime ministers and one a deputy prime minister who are re-employed at the taxpayers' high expense to tap on their prestige and so-called invaluable experience once in a while. In other developed countries, especially in America, their retired presidents have the dignity of eschewing the crutch mentalityof relying on the government for glorified sinecure appointments.

A shining example of dignified personality is none other than Mr. Bill Clinton, the renowned past president of the United States.He not only did not rely on his successor to any job handout to keep him from unemployment, on the contrary he is such a charismatic personality with inimitable oratorical skills that his erudite lectures are performed to captivated audiences not only in the United States but in Europe and other parts of the world earning him enormous sums of money not to mention international prestige.

Surely our SM and MM, especially the latter, do not lack similar charisma and oratorical skills and could easily give Mr. Bill Clinton a run for his money if they really want to be self-supporting. With their resourcefulness there is no dearth of opportunity for them to secure a lucrative niche in the business world. Again with their age and enormous fortunes, do they really have to work for a living? They could gain the respect of the rakyat by offering their services gratis to the country.

People are wondering why a small country like Singapore requires two deputy prime ministers (DPM).Apart from helping the PM in some of his duties, the DPM is required to stand in for the PM in the latter's absence. Surely the PM is expected to be judicious enough to ensure that he and his deputy are not unavailable at the same time. If this is conscientiously adhered to, does it not follow thaty the second post of DPM becomes redundant?

The plethora of sinecure appointments involving the SM, MM, the three ministers in the PMO and the two posts of DPM are all very perplexing to the ordinary people who, as the Chinese saying goes: "Dare to be angry but not dare to speak up" for obvious reason - they want to avoid incurring the wrath of the government. The renowned Chinese sage, Confucius, would have expressed it with his famous saying: "I do not want to see any more".