Public misunderstood my comments: Grace Fu

(UPDATED Thur 7:10pm, adding Grace Fu’s quotes)

Senior Minister of State for Ministry of Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu said the public might have misunderstood the remarks she made on her Facebook page on Wednesday.

In her latest Facebook post made at about 5pm on Thursday, she responded to the barrage of comments critical of her earlier remarks by saying she is “honoured” to be given the opportunity to serve the people.

“Thank you for all your candid views. I respect all of them. I realise my last posting could have been misunderstood. The committee has done a thorough job with a substantial recommendation over a fairly emotive topic. I accept and respect the recommendations,” she wrote.

However, she also maintained her position about the tradeoffs of further lowering ministerial salaries.

“I am honoured to be given the opportunity to serve the people. However, it may not be wise to call for the tradeoffs to be tilted further to an extent that it dissuades good people from coming forward in future,” she added.

In her previous remark on Wednesday in response to the proposed salary revisions, Fu, who is also Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Communication, Information and the Arts, hinted that further reduction in ministerial salaries might deter anyone from considering political office.

“When I made the decision to join politics in 2006, pay was not a key factor. Loss of privacy, public scrutiny on myself and my family and loss of personal time were,” Fu had said.

She added that, “The disruption to my career was also an important consideration. I had some ground to believe that my family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though I experienced a drop in my income. So it is with this recent pay cut.”

However, she reiterated that it may not be “wise to call for the tradeoffs to be tilted further to an extent that it dissuades good people from coming forward in future”.

Prior to joining politics in 2006, Fu was CEO of PSA Corporation (Southeast Asia and Japan). During her 10-year career at the Singapore port operator, she steadily rose through the ranks, holding various appointments in finance and marketing before becoming regional CEO.

As of Thursday afternoon, her post had drawn over 730 comments with more than 821 shares. Most criticised her, questioning if local politicians were motivated by public service or by million-dollar salaries already deemed to be the highest in the world

Unveiling its report on Wednesday, the Ministerial Salary Review Committee proposed a 36 per cent pay cut for the Prime Minister, a 51 per cent cut for the President and a 37 per cent cut for entry-grade ministers.

Facebook user, Raziff Hamid, wrote on his Facebook wall that in past decades when former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the first generation leaders were in charge, people entered politics driven by their altruism, unselfish regard or devotion towards welfare of its citizens.

“However the same sentiments did not cascade down to the next generation either by the folly of their own policies or this is just an exception... sad day for politics,” he said.

Another user Ivy Tan said she finds it “disturbing” that local politicians are not motivated by public service.

She said, “You can have all the paper qualifications and impressive work experiences in the world, but if you’ve got no inherent passion for your job, you’ll never be able to make a big difference.”

Jia Jun Ng also noted on his Facebook post that the main objective in participating in politics is to be the bridge between the government and its people.

“If one has the passion for it to make a difference, why will this affect their decision to join? The pay cut is not that ridiculous judging from the current economy we are in,” he said.

‘Fu’s comments reasonable’

On the opposite end of the discussion, netizens have defended Fu’s remarks which they said were fair.

User Joshua Hoe Tian Ming pointed out that none of the posts critical of the minister’s comments have refuted her point that politics is a career in the public eye and that loss of privacy for the politician and his or her family is a huge price to pay.

The term "public service" also does not mean one must be poorly compensated, said Hoe. “Just because politicians are supposed to be serving society at large, including the poor and unemployed, does not mean their pay should be pegged to that,” he wrote.

“If they fail to serve, punish them by voting them out, not by a misconstrued notion that they only deserve what their poorest constituents are getting,” he added.

User Kai Li Tan also defended Fu, who is also MP for Yuhua, saying she was only voicing out her honest opinion. Tan noted that only an “idealist and simpleton” would expect those joining politics to serve solely for passion or the public.

“As much as I do not think it (is) justified to overpay our ministers or political office holders, I do believe passion alone cannot feed the stomach. Political figures or not, everyone has a family to care for and personal dreams and desires to achieve,” said Tan.

User Thian Beng Yap also took issue with the way some fellow citizens criticised MPs on every front without “any wisdom”.

While the government does commit mistakes, he believes in its sincerity to serve the nation, and that ultimately this same value will help win the country over, he said, adding, “Like some would say, politics is a thankless job.”