The Reform Party too did not put a concrete figure to the salaries. Instead, it said it had “called for a much lower basic salary and a variable component which was based on a much wider set of Key Performance Indicators than the GDP growth rate.”
As for the Workers’ Party, it has offered some suggestions on how salaries should be determined: “Rather than an approach that assumes top earners are also top talent, WP recommends a whole-of-government, people-up approach to determining ministerial salaries.”
“WP proposes that MPs’ allowances should be pegged to the salaries of divisional directors in the Civil Service (excluding the Administrative Service).”
“WP is supportive of a variable component which takes into account both national objectives being achieved through a whole-of-government effort, as well as the individual performance of ministers.”
Former Nominated Member of Parliament, Viswa Sadasivan, agrees with the pay cuts and the S$1.1 million figure for entry-level ministers but recognised that "[no] amount will be satisfactory" to everyone.
Another former NMP, Siew Kum Hong, wrote on his blog that he didn’t “necessarily think that S$1m a year is excessive. "I don’t know what number would or should work, but it probably won’t be a small number," he said.
Wider on the Internet and on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, views also differ - from the absolute amount which ministers should receive to what should constitute an acceptable formula for bonuses, from whether salaries should be pegged to the top 1,000 earners to whether a clean wage is the way to go or perks should be given. Views also differ on whether ministers should be gleaned from the private sector or from the top performers from there, or whether the net should be cast wider into the public sector. Also, questions have been raised about why the discount is an arbitrary 40 %. Why not more? Why not less?
These differences in views are to be expected. This is perhaps why the job of any committee to create a universally acceptable formula is a near-impossible one. The variables and expectations are just too many to accommodate into an all-encompassing magic formula.
One suggested that the matter be put to a national vote.
As Viswa said, Singaporeans are reacting emotionally. But this is to be expected too. After all, one would – perhaps naturally or instinctively – compare the million-dollar salaries with what oneself is earning. So, a million or two would be astronomical to the average man-in-the-street.
It is good that Singaporeans are reacting to the matter, sentiments which have been kept under the carpet for 17 years. It shows they do feel strongly about how our leaders should be paid and the considerations which should go into this.
However, I would also agree with Siew Kum Hong that “Singaporeans should be more mindful of wanting ministerial salaries that are so low, that only rich people will run for office.” And that “Singaporeans should be careful about cutting salaries so much that our office-holders become distracted from the all-consuming job of running the country by personal financial needs.”
Despite the disagreements over the details, opinions seem to agree on two broad principles:
1. That ministers should not be paid too low a salary.
2. That they must first and foremost serve because they want to. In other words, that it is because of public-spiritedness.
And therein, really, lies the difficulties. What is “too low”? What is “too high”? Where is the balancing point?
The second point is also rather nebulous. How does one ascertain that a minister is doing it because he wants to serve? Is (lower) salary the only determinant? How about the number of hours he puts in? How about the personal sacrifices he undertakes?
One would suspect that there won’t be universal agreement on these two points either.
But perhaps the most important point Singaporeans should consider in this whole exercise is this: how much importance and value do we place on those who hold public office and the job they do? Except for the facetious, most would agree that running a country is not an easy task by any means. Indeed, one person posted on his Facebook page that with the constant brickbats thrown at our politicians, he would not want to be an MP.
And this is worrying – that in our desire to want the best people for the job (which in itself is not a bad thing at all), we may end up hurling so much abuse that those who would serve, and indeed they may even be those whom we would want to serve, end up stepping back instead of forward – no matter how much we would pay them, or no matter how much we emphasise the laudable ideal of wanting them to serve out of public spiritedness.
The reaction to Grace Fu’s Facebook post is an example. Where is the civility even as we disagree?
It is something which we should take a moment or two to ponder on.
Perhaps more will be made clear when Parliament sits to debate the White Paper which the government is expected to table on the 16th of January.
In the meantime, the jury is still out on the fundamental questions:
How much salary is adequate for a minister?
How much do we want to emphasise on the public service ethos?
And how much value do we place on national leaders and the jobs that they do?