Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Stand-up Comedian

A stand-up comedian performs by standing before an audience and telling jokes putting his audience in stitches. Whether the comical performance of Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing (aka Kee Chiu in social media) of Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports at his ministerial community visit to Jurong Spring Ward in Jurong GRC resembles that of a stand-up comedian is not difficult to imagine. Let's examine what he said about ministers' pay at this gathering. Pay is not an issue for the team in government when asked whether the expected pay cut in ministerial pay would make ministers less motivated. He does not think they come here for the money but to provide a better life for the next generation. One of the reasons he stepped forward was because he knew he was joining a team that was not here for the money. The key is to find the right balance and money should not be the one factor to attract them which also should not be the bugbear to deter them.

Well said but perhaps with tongue-in-cheek. Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing was in fact trying to say that PAP ministers, including himself, are selfless politicians dedicated to the service of the people not because of the money and certainly without any thought of ennriching themselves. If they become multi-millionaires in the process, this is a just reward that Singapore taxpayers owe them for their so-called dedicated selfless service to the people. They are such talented and indispensable species that they consider their salaries must be commensurate with the top earners in the private sector. Their profession of selfless service to the people must be taken with a large pinch of salt. So Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing could be expected to speak with tongue-in-cheek to defend an untenable position. Perhaps the recent Straits Times crystal ball gazing that he could be the future prime minister could have caused a little swollen-headed on his part for him to rant about PAP ministers' selfless service.

An article on 22 July 2011 on this website titled "Are the 3rd generation PAP leaders really not self-serving?" (still available on this website) extolled the first generation PAP leaders like Dr Goh Keng Swee and S. Rajaratnam who really served the people without thought of money drawing modest salaries. Lee Kuan Yew led by example as the then prime minister but he later degenerated into a mercenary politician. In fact he was instrumental together with the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for the introducation of the present astronomical pay for the ministers in 1994. The point is if the first generation PAP ministers could be so noble and selfless in serving the people without enriching themselves with taxpayers' money, why is it so difficult for the third generation of PAP ministers to follow the selfless example?

True, PM Lee Hsian Loong has shown some compunction and tried to mitigate the people's wrath by appointing a Ministerial Salary Review Committee to look into ministers' salaries and recommend suitable cuts. People say this is just a wayang because the Committee's recommendations for cuts are not deep enough to satisfy the people and can best described as cosmetic. The recommended annual salary for the prime minister is still set very high at $2.2 million which is five times the annual salary of US$400,000 of the American President Barack Obama. The recommended annual salary for a junior minister is set at $1.1 million which is more than two times the annual pay of the American President. Presumably, the comical Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing will be getting this amount and it will take a lot to convince the people that he is not in it for the money. Anyway, ministerial salaries will once again certainly be a hot button topic in the 2016 General Election.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Serving the People or Self-serving?

PAP leaders are the first to assert vehemently that they are in politics to serve the people. But are they really or is it because of the astronomical salaries they pay themselves out of taxpayers' money? They can holler till the cows come home but few, if any, of the politically-conscious Singaporeans will swallow that they are in it for altruistic reasons.But then they can come round to say that majority of Singaporeans have returned them to government at every election. That seems to be a conundrum as in the last General Election (GE) in May last year 60.1 per cent of the electorate who cast their votes voted for the PAP. This was despite the massive disillusionment about the PAP in the run-up to the last election. The erratic mood of the electorate had even stumped the predictability of the psychologists. But the next GE in 2016 may see a greater watershed performance by the opposition parties, especially the Workers' Party (WP) .

When the Ministerial Salary Review Committee under Mr Gerard Ee was formed after the GE, the initial response of discerning Singaporeans was one of scepticism that it could really recommend drastic cuts of ministerial salaries considering the composition of the Committee. "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" which saying aptly sums up what the Review Committee could do or was willing to do. With due respect to them, if they recommend too drastic a cut of the ministerial salaries they probably fear that they will incur the wraths, if not displeasures, of the PAP wallahs. It will be less onerous facing the wraths and displeasures of the ordinary Singaporeans.

Can Mr Gerard Ee and his committee honestly say that the recommended annual salary of $2.2m for the Prime Minister, which is five times the annual pay of US$400,000 of Mr Barack Obama, the American President, is a fair charge to the Singapore taxpayers? Or the recommended $1.1m for the junior minister, which is more than two times the annual salary of the American President? The accusation that the ministerial salary revision is merely a perfunctory cosmetic exercise of the Ministerial Salary Review Committee is never too far-fetched. To all intents and purposes this is now a fait accompli and since the recommendations have been accepted by the Prime Minister and his government, there is virtually nothing that the disgruntled Singaporeans can do now to reverse the process except to wait patiently for the next election in 2016 to show their dissatisfaction. The ministerial salaries will once again be a festering topic in the next GE.

Singaporeans are not unfamiliar with the highfalutin figure of Ms Grace Fu, Senior Minister of state in the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts and the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources. Apart from being highfalutin, she appears to be also narcissistic. She was reported to have audaciously said that when she entered politics in 2006, pay was not a key factor for her. The more considerations for her were the loss of privacy and personal time, public scrutiny and career disruption. She further said:"I had some ground to believe that my family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though I experienced a drop in my income. So it is with this recent pay cut. If the balance is tilted further in the future, it will make it harder for any one considering political office."

It was not surprising that her adverse comments swiftly went viral and there were around 1000 critical comments from netizens. She tried to salvage the situation by claiming that she had been misunderstood. There is a Chinese saying: When a word is spoken even a four-horse carriage finds it difficult to chase.(一言既出,驷马难追).

Ms Grace Fu has not proven herself to be exceptionally outstanding in her work. If anything , she comes across to the public as a run-of-the-mill type and not any talent to be crowed about. She should consider herself extremely fortunate to be appointed a senior minister of state and should not behave like a spoilt child just because of a minor pay cut. Considering the humongous salary she enjoys, if she has any compunction she should be serving the people and not be self-serving. A very good example for her to emulate is the inimitable selfless Workers' Party MP Mr Chen Show Mao who gave up a lucrative profession to serve the people of Singapore as an MP. He is what I would call a true patriot. Mr Chen Show Mao is not only an exemplar for Ms Grace Fu to follow but for the whole PAP leadership as well.

Finally, Ms Grace Fu could gracefully choose to go back to her former profession if she thinks that it would satisfy her ego.