Peg ministerial salaries to bottom 20th percentile of incomes: SDP

Faris Mokhtar

Ministerial salaries should be pegged to the pay of Singaporeans earning at the bottom 20 percentile instead of the private sector, suggested the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) on Wednesday.

This, the party pointed out, will ensure that the living standards of the low-income rise together with the rest of the population.

Speaking at a media conference where the party unveiled its proposal on ministerial salary, SDP member James Gomez explained the formula comprises of pegging a Member of Parliament's (MP) salary to that of a low-wage earner, who currently earns $1,400 monthly according to official statistics.

Currently, ministerial pay is benchmarked to two-thirds of the median income of the top eight earners in six professions: banking, accountancy, engineering, law, managing local manufacturing companies and multinational corporations.

The party recommends an MP's salary be 10 times the amount a low-wage earner gets, which adds up to $14,000 per month, while ministers should be paid three times more than an MP. The prime minister will then receive four times more than a minister.

This means that the prime minister could earn around $56,000 a month, with an annual income of $672,000, while cabinet ministers will receive about $42,000. In a Straits Times report last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was said to be earning more than $3 million annually following revisions of the salary benchmark in 2007.

Under SDP's proposal, the president's salary will be 4 ½ times that of an MP’s, coming up to $63,000 monthly and $756,000 annually.

Gomez said that one of the guiding principles behind SDP's proposal is to put more emphasis on public service.

“Yes, we welcome people to serve the nation and take part in politics and so on. But we want to attract people who are not motivated by monetary gains,” he said, adding that the salaries should not be tied to the private sector.

Although the proposed annual salary will see the prime minister take an 80 per cent pay cut, he will remain among the world's highest paid, said Gomez.

The base amount of $1,400 was obtained from a report by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) published in October this year, which showed also that real income for low-wage earners had stagnated from 2001 to 2010.

While a recent survey by the Institute of Policy Studies showed that 55 per cent of respondents felt the president should not earn more than the prime minister, SDP's proposal continues to see the president drawing a higher salary than the prime minister.

SDP's secretary general Chee Soon Juan said the calculations were based on “protocol”, considering that the president still carries out official duties and is the head of state.

Among its other key recommendations, SDP also suggested having an independent salary commission that is non-partisan and without government representatives.

This commission, which can comprise of those in civil society, lawyers or academics, should produce an annual report detailing the components which made up the salaries of government leaders.

The party also proposed that bonuses received should not be pegged to GDP growth saying that the methodology is flawed and figures can be artificially manipulated by raising the number of foreign workers.

“And even if your GDP growth goes up, it doesn’t mean the person is actually performing, because there could be other global trends and so on which could be pushing those numbers,” said Gomez.

Another recommendation is to provide allowances for ministers and allow then to make claims for expenses incurred while performing official duties. Such claims should be published by the salary commission and governed by a schedule similar to civil service regulations, SDP added.

To ensure a corruption-free political system, SDP further called for the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board (CPIB) to be moved out of the Prime Minister’s Office and answerable directly to Parliament as an independent agency. Its annual reports should also be available for public scrutiny.

SDP plans to forward the proposal to Gerard Ee, who heads the committee reviewing the ministerial salaries. The committee's findings will be announced by end of this year.