Never has the might of the people's power manifested itself so strongly in Singapore as in the last General Election. This was acutely felt by PM Lee Hsien Loong and his Cabinet colleagues when the People's Action Party (PAP) was overwhelmingly defeated in Aljunied GRC resulting in the loss of two heavyweight ministers and a prospective Speaker of Parliament. The PAP also saw its share of valid votes drop to 60.1 per cent compared to 66.6 per cent in 2006, the lowest since independence. There has been a considerable amount of soul-searching in the party and PM Lee has since shown that he is going to give more priority and importance to the people's financial and social woes. He may be gung ho in his revivifying effort but whether some of his more tardy ministers are up to the mark is another matter. There is a Chinese saying: He who gains the people's heart gains the country; he who loses the people's heart loses the country (得民心者得天下； 失民心者失天下）. In a microcosm, the Workers' Party fits into the former.
It is because of the widespread criticisms of the astronomical ministerial pay that PM Lee now feels the heat and compunction to do something to assuage the people's anger. He has now decided to form a special committee to be headed by Mr. Gerard Ee, National Kidney Foundation Chairman, to review the basis and level of Ministers' salaries. It is preposterous when the prime minister's salary is six times that of the President of the United States of America. Even a minister's salary exceeds that of the USA President several times.
A discomfited and comical SM Goh Cok Tong had described the issue of ministerial salaries as the "opposition's flogging horse" and said that the "majority" of the population were not concerned about it. He was either day-dreaming or was misled by his feedback people. In fact he was the blurry-eyed Prime Minister who introduced these infamous ministerial salaries in the mid-1990s, so how could he be be aware of the people's wrath now? Even if he were aware, it would reflect badly on his reputation to admit to this animosity of the people. In fact at that time, the famous author Catherine Lim sent a long letter to the Straits Times highly critical of the astronomical salaries but the then PM Goh Chok Tong, true to his hubristic character, dismissed Catherine Lim's letter offhand, chastised and warned her that if she wanted to engage the Government politically she would have to join a political party to do it. What impertinence! Any citizen has the right to criticise the Government in his own capacity. In fact by his high-handed action, PM Goh was trying to intimidate Catherine Lim not to criticise the Government on this issue.
The fact that PM Lee Hsien Loong has now decided to form a special committee to review the ministerial salaries flies in the face of Emeritus SM Goh Chok Tong's complacent assessment of the ground feelings on this issue. The ball is now in the court of the Review Committee to see if it has the courage to recommend a drastic pruning of the absurd ministerial salaries to a level commensurate with their duties and responsibilties to the satisfaction of the people (rakyat).