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Politico: “Do higher government salaries actually pay off for Singaporean citizens?”

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Eight years ago the PM justified the high salaries as necessary for the greater good of Singapore. "... ministers should also be paid properly in order that Singapore can have honest, competent leadership over the long term," said PM Lee during his swearing in ceremony

Singapore—American political journalist site Politco recently published a series of articles entitled “HOW TO FIX POLITICS These Five Places Tried Bold Political Experiments. Did They Work?” The series takes a look at what five countries have done in order to have political systems that work well, including the high salaries that government officials in Singapore receive, starting with the Prime Minister, of course.

It’s an accepted perspective, especially in Western countries, that higher pay for elected or appointed officials is frowned upon, as the article mentions examples such as 2.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment on the pay of US Congressmen and Senators being shut down, as well as Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister refusing a three percent increase on her own salary.

The writer of the article, Amelia Lester, writes,

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“But what if the way we think about paying our leaders is all wrong? What if giving them more money results in less corruption, higher public trust and better government all round?

There’s some evidence, from Singapore, that it does.”

And the answer given to this is Singapore’s example. PM Lee Hsien Loong currently has the highest salary among world leaders by a wide margin, earning S$2.2 million a year in comparison to his runner-up, beleaguered Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s S$788,000 annual salary.

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PM Lee brings home nearly four times more than the salary of the US President, making him 2018’s highest-paid leader in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

However, as the article points out, it’s not just the Prime Minister who enjoys an attractive salary, with ministers making over S$ 1.1 million annually, and with civil servants also “very well paid by international standards; a career in the bureaucracy is regarded as so secure, it’s sometimes called an ‘iron rice bowl.’”

But what are the results? Ms Lester continues,

“And on almost every metric, Singapore is thriving. It ranks first in the World Bank’s most recent Government Effectiveness index; the Corruption Perceptions Index gives it an 85 out of 100, whereas the United States is at only 71; and Singapore comes in second, just after the United States, in the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index.”

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Because Singapore is a small country with new natural resources, it was a necessary step to offer civil servants salaries that would be competitive with those in the corporate or private sector, if not actually equal to them. The report says that the difference is around 40 percent.

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“Salaries for ministers are based on those in professions they could have pursued: banking, accounting, engineering, the law. Still, these salaries do not fully match the private sector, ‘to reflect the ethos of sacrifice that political service involves,’ as a 2012 government white paper affirming the policy put it.”

The Prime Minister and the cabinet also enjoy a yearly “national bonus” and ministers get a “performance bonus,” without the perks that other world leaders enjoy, as the Prime Minister’s wife, Ho Ching, recently pointed out.

Politico reached out to Lutfey Siddiqi, a visiting professor in practice at the London School of Economics’ IDEAS think tank and an adjunct professor in risk management at the National University of Singapore, to ask him of people ever got “annoyed” that officials receive a high salary?

He said, “As long as the social contract keeps working, there is not that resentment you see in other places.”

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The article also quotes Marie dela Rama, a lecturer in management at the University of Technology, Sydney, as having said, “High salaries are part of the meritocratic civil service culture where talent is rewarded, not underappreciated.

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If senior leaders emphasize transparent, accountable and trustworthy actions, then the acceptable scope for bribery and other malfeasance is narrowed.”

The article ends with a quote from the Prime Minister from his swearing in eight years ago. “Politics is not a job or a career promotion. It is a calling to serve the larger good of Singapore. But ministers should also be paid properly in order that Singapore can have honest, competent leadership over the long term.” -/TISG

Read related: Compared to PM Lee, how much do other heads of state earn?

Compared to PM Lee, how much do other heads of state earn?


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