Wednesday 25 January 2012

What was said: Quotes on debate over political salaries

The recent Parliament sitting saw a heated debate over the hot topic of political salaries. Here are excerpts of what was said.
AsiaOne, 19 Jan 2012

"I do appreciate that many may still feel that $1.1 million is a very high figure. And it is. But I hope you will also see it from the point of view of a person possessing these qualities and also the passion to serve the country." - Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean saying that passion alone is not enough to run a country well.

"There are fundamental differences between Singapore and many other countries, including the size and make-up of the population, and the philosophy of governance. Capable and competent political leadership and good governance have been critical in getting us, in getting Singapore and Singaporeans, to where we are today." - DPM Teo on why pay was not benchmarked to that of foreign leaders.

"Political service is a calling; it is a privilege accorded by the electorate to serve the largest number of our fellow Singaporeans. It is primarily a privilege, not primarily a burden or sacrifice. The principle of political service should come first and not be treated as a discount factor." - MP Chen Show Mao arguing that political service is not a burden or sacrifice, but a privilege.

"Singapore is definitely not the place for corrupt politicians. My friends in Malaysia always tell me that they would rather have our ministers with our salary scale, than what they are having. They see value for money." - MP Lee Bee Wah noted that having low political wages with hidden perks has led politicians in other countries abusing their benefits and accepting bribes.

"We would all like our leaders to be not only honest, clever, hardworking, probably good-looking as well, but so public-spirited that they would take office regardless of the pay, regardless of whether they could provide sufficiently for their family, or for their own retirement...There are such people around, but are there enough for one to form a government, generation after generation?" - Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Alvin Yeo spoke about how Singapore must choose its own political remuneration system.

"I hold this glass of water in my hands. Is it half-full or half-empty? Some of us optimists will declare it is half-full. Others who are less positive will say it is half-empty. The cynics amongst us will wonder who drank the other half. I say it is both - half-full and half-empty." - MP Denise Phua uses the analogy of a half-full or half-empty glass to analyse the salary review recommendations.

"Can a future PM continue to get the best and most committed people to serve as his ministers?... How can our pay system support this important goal? And if we have a pay system which supports this, how can we get Singaporeans to accept that?" - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong argues that the right pay will help ensure quality leaders in future.

"Foreign leaders often privately admit to us that they wish they could have followed us. Unfortunately, their politics does not allow them to." - PM Lee explaining why Singapore has deliberately avoided following other countries' approaches to determining political pay.

"It cannot be that the entire Cabinet comprises people in their 50s. We want people who are younger, vigorous, for whom this is not just something you do after you've done other things in your life but the main commitment for the prime years of your working life." - PM Lee admits it's hard to recruit talent from the private sector.

"But (Mr Lee Kuan Yew), even after three hours of a bravura performance, couldn't settle the matter permanently," said PM Lee. It is not possible. And every few years, we came back to it and each time we had to argue the matter again." - PM Lee recalls wrestling over pay issues since the 1980s.

"You cannot go back to the private sector and rejoin your profession. Five years later or 10 years later, you're not as young. Five more years of bright young people have come along, filled up the places... So it's an irrevocable change of course." - PM Lee said that ministers faced 'very tough decisions' to join politics and had to leave successful careers for uncertain prospects.

"Running a company well is different from being able to run a country. Perhaps the government has treated running this country too much like running a business that we have often been referred to as Singapore Inc. So we also tie political work to that of running a very big company. I believe this is a flawed model." - MP Yee Jenn Jong argues that the government has over commercialised the nature of running the country.

"What this means is that each and every minister must show that he or she is truly indeed deserving of the high pay, and that the policies you initiate and implement must address Singaporeans' needs. Equally important is a minister's connection with people. People respond well to the ministers who are in tune with issues of concern to Singaporeans, who identify the solutions and take action on behalf of people. These are the ones that Singaporeans are happy to work with to achieve a better result for all. Singaporeans do not appreciate it if a minister talks down to them, or in a way which they feel is patronising or condescending, or who brushes aside their concerns or worries." - Ms Indranee Rajah on the key to public acceptance of high ministerial salaries.

"The job of a political appointee is fundamentally very different. It is not a position that we can apply to. First, there is no application form. You need to be first elected by the people. And we have seen how voters' choice can change a person's destiny overnight... I need to add that it is also not easy for a minister to resign or quit if he or she finds a better opportunity or he or she does not like the work. It is like a five-year contract with no exit clause." - Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC), on how entering politics differs from making a career change.

"I don't want someone who tells me his best quality is that he loves his country, or money is not important to him. Because these are the easiest things to say, and there will be no shortage of people who will say them just to win approval. What do I want from our leaders? I don't want them just to be smart and capable. I want them to be the smartest, most capable people in the room. I want them to be fair-minded, hard-working, compassionate and of unimpeachable character." - Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) arguing that people should not ask how much political leaders should sacrifice, but what they want from them.

"When anyone considers a career path, financial considerations matter. Let us not pretend it does not. We worry about mortgage payments, looking after elderly parents, providing for the family and saving for retirement, or a rainy day. Why should a bright young talent and potential political office holder be any different? - Mr Edwin Tong (Moulmein-Kallang GRC), on ensuring salaries do not become an obstacle to joining public service.

"I admire those who proudly proclaim there is no sacrifice in stepping forward to political service. It took me a long time to decide, even though I had been serving in our army. Political service is public service, but somewhat different. Does this make me a less-committed Singaporean? I am pained by the knowledge that I will miss the many moments when my children are growing up and time with family. My parents are not getting any younger. Those moments missed do not return." - Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin (Marine Parade GRC), on the toll that political office takes on his personal life.

"The Workers' Party has clearly made a fundamental change, and taken a new position, which I hope they will hold to in the next GE. I welcome this change. This change has helped this debate to move forward and arrive at areas of convergence." - DPM Teo wraps up three days of parliamentary debate on political salaries.

"But for Singapore, the basic challenge remains unchanged: That unless we have a steady stream of high-quality men and women to serve as PM and ministers, Singapore as a little red dot will become a little black spot." - Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote that Singapore cannot argue that ministers' sole reward should be their contribution to the public good.

"We have no need to share everything with the committee, as this is precisely what Parliament is here for. Parliament is the place where we debate the whole proposal." - WP's Mr Yee Jenn Jong

"They wanted to reserve some arguments for Parliament, and the only reason why you want to do that is because you want to... tell the whole world that 'I am clever because I've a better idea'." - PAP's Mr Hri Kumar Nair

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