Ministerial pay debate: ‘Singaporeans know quality costs money’- Goh Chok Tong

FILE PHOTO of Singapore’s Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong: REUTERS/Remo Casilli
FILE PHOTO of Singapore’s Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong: REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong has again spoken about the issue of ministerial pay, saying that “Singaporeans know quality costs money” in a Facebook post on Wednesday (8 August).

In a post on his MParader page, Goh said that he is heartened by the “heated reactions” from Singaporeans to the comments that he made in a dialogue with South East District residents last Thursday (2 August).

Goh said then that ministers are “not paid enough” and that if it continues, Singapore will face the problem of getting the best people to join the government.

Citing the example of Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong, 48, who was previously a senior partner at law firm Allen and Gledhill, Goh pointed out that Tong’s annual salary has fallen from more than $2 million when he was a lawyer to $500,000 currently.

“But now we dare not pay Ministers a good wage. To anyone of us here, $1 million is a lot of money. So where do you want to get your Ministers from? From people who earn only $500,000 a year, whose capacity is $500,000 a year?

“So (when) I look for Ministers, anybody who wants to be paid more than half a million, I won’t take him. You are going to end up with very very mediocre people, who can’t even earn a million dollars outside to be our Minister…Is it good for you, or is it worse for us in the end?” Goh told residents at the dialogue.

Addressing the issue again in his Facebook post, Goh said, “It shows Singaporeans care deeply and hold leaders to account for their words and performance.”

When looking to choose the right people to become ministers, salaries is not the “starting point”, said Goh, who was referring to his reply in an exchange with an overseas university student.

“Character, motivation, commitment, selflessness, practical abilities, competence and proven performance are the main attributes we look for,” said the former Prime Minister. In his previous capacity as PM, Goh stressed that leadership was key in bringing the country forward.

Nonetheless, he added, “Singaporeans know quality costs money – from durians to clothes to football players to military weapons.”

Goh also pointed out that a circulated audio clip of his reply at the dialogue has “distorted” his message by omitting the full discussion. He reproduced the full transcript of the discussion in his Facebook post.

“I do not mean nor believe that Singaporeans at whatever level of income are mediocre. Those who have worked with me know people matter the most to me. That is what I am in politics for.”

Goh concluded by saying that he hopes more Singaporeans will “think deeply” about the issue.

He said, “I welcome diverse and dissenting views. I hope to engage them, perhaps through a forum in due course. Singapore deserves the best”

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