4 or almost 12 months bonus? PM Lee artfully deflects question on total bonus ministers received from 2013-2017

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On Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appears to have artfully skirted parliamentary questions on the total bonus ministers received between 2013 and 2017. Workers’ Party Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera had filed this question, posed to the head of government:

“To ask the Prime Minister in each of the past five years, what has been the bonus paid to Cabinet Ministers in terms of (i) the average total number of bonus months (ii) the highest total number of bonus months paid to an individual Minister and (iii) the lowest total number of bonus months paid to an individual Minister.”

Choosing to answer the question via a written reply, PM Lee revealed that political office-holders received an average performance bonus of 4.1 months in 2017. He shared these figures in his response:

The performance bonus is awarded by the Prime Minister to political office-holders based on their contributions to their immediate portfolios and the Government as a whole. The performance bonus differs from minister to minister depending on their contributions throughout the year.

The performance bonus, however, is only a part of the bonus package political office-holders receive each year.

PM Lee actually acknowledged that the bonus framework for political office-holders involves four components but did not reveal the total average bonus that was paid out to political office-holders under the three other components.

Besides monthly pay and the performance bonus, political office-holders also receive a 13th month non-pensionable annual allowance, an annual variable component (AVC) as paid to civil servants and a National Bonus linked to Singapore’s economic growth

It is unclear why PM Lee did not include the 13th month bonus, AVC bonus and National Bonus and provide Perera with the total average months bonus, highest months bonus paid to an individual minister and lowest months bonus paid to an individual minister.

It is also interesting to note that Perera had asked for the bonus figures that were awarded to ministers. It is curious that PM Lee chose to use the term “political office-holders” since political office-holders also refers to elected politicians who are not yet full ministers.

While it may be difficult to deduce what the highest months bonus paid to an individual minister and lowest months bonus paid to an individual minister over the past five years were since those figures are not available, it is perhaps possible to calculate the average months bonus political office-holders received.

Adding the average performance bonus, 13th month bonus and the AVC (taken from the Public Service Division’s annual announcements), political office-holders appear to have received over half a year’s bonus consistently over the past five years.

This calculation does not include the National Bonus, which is linked to real median income growth rate, real growth rate of lowest 20th percentile income, unemployment rate and real GDP growth rate.

Socio-political website The Online Citizen has released estimates of the National Bonus it believes were awarded to political office-holders from 2013 to 2017. Adding these figures to the 13th month, average performance bonus and AVC shows that political office-holders may have received nearly a full year’s pay as a bonus over the last five years:

PM Lee may have received a higher average bonus over these years since his bonus pay structure is different than his colleagues.

According to the Government committee’s 2017 Review of Salaries, “As there is no one to assess his individual performance, the Prime Minister receives a higher National Bonus in lieu of Performance Bonus. His variable pay comprises AVC ranging from 0 to 1.5 months and National Bonus ranging from 0 to 12 months.”

Meanwhile, PM Lee said in his written reply to Perera yesterday that the Government will maintain the current pay structure since a committee he formed to review the salary framework found that the pay structure “remained sound”.

The PM’s reply that revealed the average performance bonus political office-holders received from 2013 comes weeks after Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong declared that ministers are not paid enough, sparking a renewed outcry over high ministerial salaries.

Political office-holders receive 4.1 months performance bonus even as GDP slumps