PM Lee sets up committee to review ministerial pay

PM Lee acknowledges Singaporeans' concerns with ministerial salaries. (Yahoo! photo)
PM Lee acknowledges Singaporeans' concerns with ministerial salaries. (Yahoo! photo)

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has acknowledged Singaporeans' concern about Ministers' salaries, and has formed a committee to review them.

Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony on Saturday night, he revealed that the committee will be headed by National Kidney Foundation (NKF) chairman Gerard Ee.

He said: "One important area for review is political salaries. We will always need committed and capable ministers. Politics is not a job or a career promotion. It is a calling to serve the larger good of Singapore.

"But ministers should also be paid properly in order that Singapore can have honest, competent leadership over the long term. I know that Singaporeans have genuine concerns over the present salaries.

"Hence I am appointing a committee to review the basis and level of political salaries. The committee will be chaired by Mr Gerard Ee, Chairman of Changi General Hospital and Chairman of NKF."

Ee said that his committee will work on PM Lee's point that holding political office is about serving the public.

"PM has said in his speech that salaries must reflect the values and ethos of public service. That means that whatever we work out, the final answer must include a substantial discount on comparable salaries in the private sector and people looking at it will say, 'these people are serving and making a sacrifice'," he told The Sunday Times.

Ee added that his team has been handed a very serious task, as the issue of Ministers' pay resonates strongly with Singaporeans. He expects his committee to do an in-depth study of comparable salaries in the private sector, and to factor in other points of reference such as general wage levels.

"We must be seen to be very fair and transparent. We must be able to robustly defend our recommendations," he said.

The Prime Minister's current salary is estimated to be over S$3 million while ministerial-grade officers are paid more than S$1.5 million.

Opposition politicians attacked Ministers' salaries in the recent election campaign as being far removed from the wages of ordinary Singaporeans. They also indicated that the policy has failed to achieve its aim of attracting top private sector talent into the government.

Newly-appointed Education Minister Heng Swee Keat showed his support for the salary review "so that we get an agreement on this important national issue".

Cabinet Ministers take the oath at the swearing-in ceremony (Yahoo! photo)
Cabinet Ministers take the oath at the swearing-in ceremony (Yahoo! photo)

President S.R. Nathan inaugurated PM Lee's new Cabinet comprising 15 ministers -- a reduction from 21 of the previous cabinet -- and 10 Ministers of State.

The average age of the new Cabinet was brought down from 59 to 53, which includes newly-elected Member of Parliament (MP) Heng as Education Minister.

Speaking at the ceremony, President S R Nathan said: "The General Election saw a full airing of views on a wide range of issues. Now is the time for everyone, whether from the government or opposition, to work together to serve the nation, and do their best for the good of all Singaporeans.

"In its new term, the government must reach out and work together with Singaporeans from all backgrounds, and address their needs and aspirations.

"It must put in a special effort to better understand the younger generation when shaping policies that affect them and the future of Singapore. At the same time, it must attend to the concerns of the senior generation who have helped build the Singapore of today."

PM Lee added in his speech that he promised to engage all segments of society - offline and online.

"I pledge to work together with all Singaporeans to create a just and fair society, which gives all citizens the best start in life, and leaves no one behind. A Singapore which is open to the world yet puts Singaporeans first. A Singapore which excites our young and respects our old. A society that nurtures and inspires the human spirit, beyond material success," he said.

"Rich or poor, young or old, men or women, Singapore is our home. Here we all belong. Here we can work together for the common good, and share our pride in being Singaporeans."

PM Lee also commented on the new Parliament that will see nine opposition members in the House. He said that with more diverse voices, Singapore politics should not become confrontational or divide the society.

"Our politics cannot remain static either. More interest groups and alternative views have emerged, competing for support. Our political system can and must accommodate more views, more debate and more participation.

"At the same time, it is absolutely crucial for Singa­poreans to stay united on the big issues, understand the fundamental realities facing a small country in Southeast Asia, and work together to develop and implement the best solutions for our country," he said.

The ceremony was attended by about 700 guests, including newly-elected and former MPs, students, social workers, unionists, doctors, nurses, teachers, businessmen and soldiers.

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