Friday 13 March 2015

Benchmark up since 2012 but no change in ministers' pay: DPM Teo Chee Hean at Committee of Supply 2015

By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Mar 2015

THE salaries of ministers have not gone up in the last three years even though the benchmark they are linked to has risen by around 3 per cent each year, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament yesterday.

The House had, in 2012, endorsed recommendations from an independent committee to link ministerial salaries to the median income - or the income at the midpoint - of the top 1,000 Singaporean earners, with a 40 per cent discount to reflect the ethos of political service.

Since then, this benchmark has risen in two out of three years, and dropped slightly in one year. Overall, it rose 3 per cent a year, said Mr Teo. "Because the changes in the benchmark have been moderate, we have not adjusted political salaries in these past three years," he added.

If it had been adjusted, a minister at the entry point of "MR4" grade, inclusive of bonuses, should get $1.2 million a year, but the Government has kept it at $1.1 million - the 2012 level, he noted.

The Prime Minister earns $2.2 million and the President earns $1.54 million.

The pay freeze applies as well to every office-holder, including ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries. MPs' allowances, too, have remained unchanged.

Mr Teo reminded the House that in the 2012 debate, the Workers' Party (WP) had agreed with the three key principles the committee used to derive political salaries.

They were that salaries must be competitive so that people of the right calibre are not deterred from entering politics; that the ethos of political service entails sacrifice and, hence, there should be a discount in the pay formula; and that there should be a "clean wage" with no hidden perks.

In particular, the WP's agreement that political salaries should be competitive "was a fundamental change from its past proposals", said Mr Teo. "This significant change helped the debate to arrive at areas of convergence."

He added yesterday that the WP's alternative formula of benchmarking ministerial salaries gave rise to a monthly starting salary of about $55,000, which is the same amount as the committee's recommendations.

The WP had proposed benchmarking the MPs' allowance to the starting pay of the "Superscale" grade in the civil service, and to make ministers' salaries a multiple of the MPs' allowance.

In 2012, Parliament also endorsed linking politicians' bonuses to the socio-economic progress of average and lower-income Singaporeans - rather than just the gross domestic product - and doing away with their pensions.

Mr Teo, who was replying to Mr Edwin Tong (Moulmein-Kallang GRC), said that since 2011, "the formula has remained stable and has worked well". "The Committee (to Review Ministerial Salaries) recommended that the salary framework be reviewed every five years. Given that things have been stable, we believe the framework remains valid, and we can continue to adjust salaries within this framework should there be a change in overall salary levels in the coming years."

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