Former MM Lee on political salaries


Lee Kuan Yew speaks up by letter.  No public appearances lately?  Today:

I listened to several of the speeches in Parliament on ministerial salaries and read the rest in the newspapers. With a different generation, political attitudes change. 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.

I was PM from 1959 to 1990 and Senior Minister in PM Goh Chok Tong’s cabinet from 1990 to 2004.

To find able and committed men and women of integrity, willing to spend the prime of their lives, and going through the risky process of elections, we cannot underpay our ministers and argue that their sole reward should be their contribution to the public good. Every family wants to provide the best for their children, to go to a good university. We were pragmatic and also paid competitive salaries in order to have a continuous stream of high calibre people to become MPs, and then ministers. They put their careers at risk and undergo an uncertain and unpredictable election process.

A PM and his ministers carry heavy responsibilities for the nation. If they make a serious mistake, the damage to Singapore will be incalculable and permanent. Their macroeconomic policies will decide the GDP of the country, which was more than S$300 billion in 2010, with per capita GDP of S$59,000.

We did not get Singapore from the Third to the First World by head-hunting ministers willing to sacrifice their children’s future when undertaking a public service duty. We took a pragmatic course that does not require people of calibre to give up too much for the public good. We must not reduce Singapore to another ordinary country in the Third World by dodging the issue of competitive ministerial remuneration.

One Response to “Former MM Lee on political salaries”

  1. 1 Ricky Kan

    I understand MM Lee’s reasoning for paying top dollars for high calibered people to make sure that they will be continue to be committed to a greater cause without too much sacrifice. I admire that.

    But there needs to be a limit. And something that is palatable to the general public. I’m glad that we had that forum to address this.

    Let’s set something up and move on. We should have no problem accepting top dollars for exceptionally capable people that can hold office for the better good of the people and in turn the country. Let’s first agree on that! I think they are worth every dollar. In terms of ROI, it’s paid off handsomely.

    But what about the lower end of the financial spectrum? They’ve put in work too. How are they able to share in the country’s wealth?

    Hence, the GST.

    I think there needs to be good discussion on what’s the right balance. We can’t keep succeeding in financial strength and leave the cultural fabric out.

    I am ashamed when I hear foreign worker being mistreated. Has our success turned us into slave drivers? That foreign workers are just commodities? Is that what we’ve become?

    I think that we have such a great opportunity here with the next generation. We can make it anyway we want. So what do we represent?

    That’s also why I am such a great admirer of Lee Kuan Yew. How he enabled us second or third generation Singaporeans to build it as we want, and the resources to do it. What a gift!

    And so the debate. How are we going to take this precious gift and make it into something better? Through in-squabbling between political parties or about the future of Singapore?

    I thank you PAP under Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership and his guiding principles, engrained in the current government ministers. How do we make sure that this is protected and not squabbled? That’s for the next generation to decide…


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