S’pore refutes article’s remarks on ministerial pay

Singapore’s High Commissioner to Malaysia, Ong Keng Yong, has refuted the points on ministerial pay made by a veteran Singaporean journalist in a Malaysian English news daily.

In a letter dated Monday to Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai, group chief editor of The Star, the commissioner gave a response to the opinion piece “PAP mood turns sour over pay cuts” written by Seah Chiang Nee and published by the paper on 7 January.

Below is a copy of the response by Ong in full:

1 In "PAP mood turns sour over pay cuts" (The Star, 7 Jan 2012), Mr Seah Chiang Nee interpreted the ministerial salary cuts recommended by the independent Review Committee as a repudiation of the policy put in place by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to pay competitive salaries to political leaders.

2 But Mr Seah is mistaken. In fact, the Committee explicitly upheld the principle that ministerial salaries must be competitive with what successful Singaporeans can earn in the private sector, so that people of the right calibre are not deterred from stepping forward to serve the country. While the Committee adjusted the specific formula and absolute level of the salaries in response to a new environment, it also reaffirmed the underlying principle and the reasons for maintaining competitive salaries.

3 Mr Seah is also incorrect in claiming that previous salary revision in 2007 gave ministers in Singapore an average pay rise of 60%. Actual salaries since 2007 have varied with the sharp up and down swings of the economy, and in 2010, the last full year under the previous structure, actual salaries were in fact slightly lower than in 2007. The reduction recommended by the Committee would take salaries about one third below this 2010 level.

4 Mr Seah acknowledges that "the public is moderately supportive of the measure". However, he goes on to quote several comments from online discussion boards, which he himself admits are "anonymous", but describes them as being "apparently written by unhappy insiders". As a very experienced Singapore journalist, Mr Seah surely knows that he must check his facts and sources, and not take anonymous online chatter at face value. His specific quotation from the Senior Minister of State Grace Fu, whom he wrongly identified as a former Senior Minister of State, in fact, contradicts his claim. Ms Fu was supporting the recommendations of the Committee, but merely cautioning against going too far, lest it makes it harder for a person considering political office.