SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and opposition Workers’ Party (WP) members Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Leon Perera engaged in a back-and-forth in Parliament on Monday (Oct 1) over the exact salary earned by Singapore’s ministers.
Mr Singh, who is WP chief, pointed out that DPM Teo’s response to a question by Member of Parliament Alex Yam provided a range and asked instead for details of the “absolute dollar amount”.
Mr Teo replied: “I think I’ve answered the question, and the most important aspect of my answer is that all the components are within the framework of the S$1.1 million (salary for entry-level ministers) that was put in place in 2012.”
Mr Singh also asked if in its response to Mr Perera’s written question in early September on bonuses, the Government could have pre-empted the misinformation that later occurred online “had a fuller and more expansive reply been given”.
These “falsehoods” prompted a post on a Government website aiming to debunk them, six days after Mr Perera’s question.
Mr Perera added that his original question had asked for total and not only performance bonus. “Would that not have been an opportunity to ... also disclose and publish the national bonus level in addition to performance bonus level?”
He then asked if the Government would publish quantums of bonuses on an annual basis, going forward.
Said DPM Teo: “He asked for what each minister gets. For the national bonus and AVC (Annual Variable Component), it’s the same for all ministers … so if that was what Mr Leon Perera wanted, he could have filed an oral question and followed up, and we would have provided him the answer as we would today.
“There’s nothing secret about it ... I’m answering all the questions today.”
Mr Singh then returned to his initial question on providing exact sums, while pointing to recent recommendations made by the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, which he is a member of.
“Recommendation nine says, a helpful way for the Government to move forward is for public institutions to, wherever possible, provide information to the public in response to online falsehoods in a timely manner,” said Mr Singh.
“It should also seek to pre-empt vulnerabilities and put out information in advance where appropriate to inoculate the public.
“I would suggest to DPM, if we put out the dollar value, the prospect of more misinformation can be reduced.”
“I think Mr Pritam Singh is being slightly disingenuous here,” said Mr Teo. “Mr Perera asked for data and the next day the data was misinterpreted and became the widespread basis for false information.”
Mr Teo also asked Mr Perera to reaffirm WP's 2012 endorsement of the principles of salary determination, as laid out by a White Paper on government salaries. Mr Perera said there were no grounds for him to disagree on, though he noted he did not participate in the debate then. Mr Singh, too, said his party agreed.
Mr Teo then said the WP and government proposals for ministerial salaries were, in fact, "very close" to each other in principle and quantum. “Indeed if, if there were a WP government in power today, by their own formula, a WP minister would be paid essentially the same as what a minister today is paid.”
ON REMARKS BY PUBLIC FIGURES
Wrapping up his speech, DPM Teo described ministerial salaries as a “difficult” and “emotional” subject.
“There are misconceptions sometimes deliberately propagated. It is easily politicised,” he said. “Even knowledgeable, well-meaning people who have a deep interest in politics can be susceptible to this.”
He then referred to Mr Ho Kwon Ping’s interview with Channel NewsAsia, where the Banyan Tree Holdings founder suggested pegging ministerial salaries to the median salary of Singaporeans, as well as an independent commission to decide the actual quantum.
DPM Teo also pointed to another Channel NewsAsia interview - this time with MP Louis Ng - who had suggested public consultation for ministerial salaries.
“There was an independent committee - not one but two,” said Mr Teo. “The independent committee did have extensive consultation in 2012, and a significant part of minister salaries are pegged not just to growth of average salaries, but to the lowest 20th percentile of salaries and to the unemployment rate - issues which are important to every Singaporean.”
Returning to Mr Ho, DPM Teo noted the claim by the founding chairman of Singapore Management University that his salary was lower than ministers’.
DPM Teo noted that “fortunately the interviewer had checked and done her homework…”
In fact, Mr Ho’s salary “including benefits and bonus, is significantly higher than that of ministers.”
“Otherwise this misrepresentation could have been carried widely and spread more disinformation.
“Ministers are responsible for tourism development or air transport … which contribute to the growth of the tourism industry in our region in which Mr Ho’s company operates.”
Mr Teo concluded that a “fair, open, honest and transparent framework” was needed to continue to attract “committed and passionate people with integrity” to serve as political leaders.
He said that beyond the impending 4G leadership, the future fifth generation of leaders would be people in their late 30s and 40s, and at the “threshold where they have a good chance of reaching the peak in their chosen careers and professions”.
“So let us agree to agree,” said DPM Teo. “This is what politics is about also - not just opposing for the sake of opposing, but a matter where whether one is opposition or government … We need a fair framework to bring in the best team to do the best for Singapore and Singaporeans.”