In the wake of Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh’s decision to give 50 per cent of his additional pay increase to charity, some observers online are pointing out that his gesture comes 35 years after a ruling party politician challenged opposition veterans J.B. Jeyaretnam and Chiam See Tong to donate their salaries.
Back in 1985, Mr Jeyaretnam, Singapore’s very first opposition parliamentarian, asked the Government to cut ministerial salaries by 25 per cent given that the nation was undergoing a financial recession. In response, People’s Action Party (PAP) heavyweight Wong Kan Seng demanded that Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Chiam donate from their own pay to show solidarity with workers.
Asserting that he had donated half his MP allowance and half his ministerial salary to the Community Chest, Mr Wong demanded that Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Chiam to do the same.
Not only did Mr Wong challenge the opposition politicians to donate half of their MP allowance to charity, he also expected them to donate half of their salaries from their legal practices to “show their sincerity in feeling for the less fortunate”.
In a letter to the Straits Times, Mr Wong added that he was not blowing his own trumpet like Mr Chiam suggested nor was his act a ploy like Mr Jeyaretnam claimed.
Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Chiam were the only two opposition politicians in Parliament at the time. Mr Wong, who often attacked the opposition, was a Minister of State at the time. He was later promoted full Cabinet Member and served as Deputy Prime Minister before he retired from politics ahead of the 2011 general election.
35 years after Mr Wong challenged the opposition MPs to give up a hefty portion of their pay, Mr Pritam Singh has decided to give back a sizeable sum from his parliamentary allowance back to society.
The 2020 general election was the first election that the WP contested under the leadership of Mr Singh. The party that was founded by Mr Jeyaretnam won an unprecedented ten seats in Parliament and secured an additional multi-member ward, on top of defending its Aljunied-Hougang stronghold.
A day after the election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong formally designated Mr Pritam Singh as Singapore’s very first Leader of the Opposition (LO). On Tuesday (28 July), the Government revealed that the WP chief will be given parliamentary privileges, access to government data and briefings on issues of national interest, staff support, and an LO allowance.
As the LO, Mr Pritam will receive double the allowance of an elected MP and his annual package will be S$385,000, inclusive of his allowance as an MP.
Hours after his new privileges were announced, Mr Pritam announced that he has decided to give half of his additional allowance to charity. In a Facebook post published just before midnight, he revealed that he and his wife both felt that a portion of his LO salary should be used for a “greater purpose.”
He wrote: “After putting the girls to bed, my wife and I knew there were some things we wanted to talk about arising from the LO appointment. Amongst other things, we spoke about what the salary increase would mean for our family. Both of us felt strongly that a percentage of the salary should be used for a greater purpose.”
50 per cent of Mr Singh’s additional allowance, after taxes, will go towards assisting low-income residents in WP wards through the WP Community Fund (WPCF) and/or the WP Grassroots Committee, community programmes in WP wards, other charitable causes or towards the WP’s specific needs.