Reform Party (RP) secretary-general Kenneth Jeyaretnam has said that Ho Ching should either “stay out of politics” or “resign from Temasek in order to contest the next election if her son does not beat her to it,” in a recent blog post.
Mdm Ho is Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife. She has served as the chief executive officer of Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek for the past 15 years, since 2004.
Mr Jeyaretnam’s blog post criticising Mdm Ho came on the heels of Mdm Ho’s remarks defending her husband’s seven-figure salary as head of government.
Two weeks ago, Mdm Ho shared an article on her personal Facebook page that attempted to deconstruct why PM Lee is the world’s highest paid political leader, earning an annual sum of S$2.2 million a year.
Linking to the article, Mdm Ho commented that although she has “no view one way or other about who deserves what,” she does have a view on comparison charts that compare her husband’s high salary to the pay earned by other world leaders.
Asserting that Singapore has a “big difference” from other countries since it employs a “clean wage system” where civil servants and political office-holders do not receive perks of any other kind except their salaries, Mdm Ho added that those in public service or social service must have the right heart, passion, commitment, wisdom, and foresight to lead.
She declared: “Having these qualities of excellence, we must not take advantage of them to underpay, or require them to wear hair suits for a show of sainthood.”
Responding to Mdm Ho’s comments, Mr Jeyaretnam pointed out that Mdm Ho should not be adopting a political position and should not defend her husband’s salary publicly since “she is effectively a civil servant.”
Asserting that Temasek is owned by the Government, the opposition politician said: “She should be bound by the civil service code of conduct and stay out of politics. Or else she should resign from Temasek in order to contest the next election if her son does not beat her to it.”
Mr Jeyaretnam also asked why Mdm Ho is talking about her husband’s salary when her own pay as Temasek CEO is shrouded in secrecy. Mdm Ho manages a S$300 billion company and is considered the most powerful woman in Singapore and the 17th most powerful woman in the world, according to Forbes. Despite this, her salary remains a mystery.
Asserting that the Prime Minister’s wife must be paid “several times” the pay that the CEOs of companies like DBS and SingTel are paid, he speculated:
“If Piyush Gupta is paid $12 million p.a. while the head of SingTel earns over $20 million (including share options), then she must be paid several times that. We cannot just be stonewalled in Parliament by the fiction that Temasek is a private company.
“I have said many times over the years that it is extremely likely that she is paid more than $100 million a year and has earned more than a billion dollars while she has been at Temasek. Yet her remuneration is treated like a state secret and guarded as closely as the size of our reserves.”
Earlier, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament Png Eng Huat asked the Government to reveal details on whether there is a remuneration cap for the management at Temasek and GIC.
He also asked: “what is the range of total annual remuneration, including salary, annual and performance bonuses, paid to the top three highest paid executives in GIC and Temasek respectively.”
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who also serves as Second Minister for Finance, replied to the parliamentary question saying:
“GIC and Temasek are commercially-run companies. The remunerations of their staff are therefore decided independently by their respective boards. The Government maintains an arms-length relationship with the companies and does not interfere in their operational decisions such as remuneration. Instead, we hold the boards accountable for their respective performances.
“Broadly speaking, both entities adopt remuneration frameworks that are based on performance and industry benchmarks. The salaries are benchmarked to the relevant markets and sectors where the entities compete for talent. This ensures that they can attract and retain capable people.
“The remuneration frameworks also aim to support and reinforce a prudent risk-taking culture. A portion of the remuneration in both entities is tied to long-term performance. This ensures that staff, including senior management, are rewarded for long-term sustained performance, rather than a focus on short-term gains.
“Ultimately, the Government evaluates the performance of the two entities based on their long-term returns, net of all expenses incurred. These figures are published in their annual reports, and they show that both GIC and Temasek have performed creditably under challenging market conditions.”
Mr Wong’s response drew sharp criticism and many Singaporeans lashed out at him for failing to provide direct answers to Mr Png’s questions. Mr Jeyaretnam slammed Mr Wong’s answer then as being “grossly arrogant and insulting to Singaporeans’ intelligence”.