Proposed salary cuts deeper than expected: analysts

Proposed reductions to the salaries of political appointment holders in Singapore, while surprisingly high, could be the first step towards “correcting” a contentious issue, political observers said on Wednesday.

However, they also reiterated that public service should still be the driving force behind every politician and that the pay cuts should not deter anyone from joining the political arena.

On Wednesday afternoon, the ministerial salary review committee proposed a 36 per cent reduction of the Prime Minister’s annual salary to S$2.2 million and a 37 per cent for that of entry-grade ministers to S$1.1 million.

Said Singapore Management University law lecturer and political watcher Eugene Tan, “It’s a significant pay-cut, reflecting the need to adapt to a new political mood and recalibrated expectations of Singaporeans.”

The “substantive” cuts, which hinted that some have been “overpaid”, are “an important correction, an important first step… (and) an example of greater accountability to the electorate,” added associate professor Bridget Welsh.

Noting that this is the first time ministers’ salaries have been cut for political and not economic reasons, Welsh welcomed the move and said “it shows that the PAP did hear some of the issues and complaints, and are at least making some responses.”

The report also proposed a 51 per cent cut of the President’s salary, to S$1.54 million, a move Tan calls a “correct(ed) anomaly”; since it is now lower than that of the Prime Minister.

“For the first time, the President is making less than the Prime Minister, and this is extremely important, because the President is a ceremonial post that does less than the Prime Minister,” echoed Welsh.

“The Prime Minister should be given more compensation because he’s doing more work,” she said.

Political observer PN Balji also pointed out that the committee’s recommendations come as “a real pleasant surprise”. Among them, he said the removal of the ministerial pension has been “a point of contention for a long time”.

Under the proposed cuts, the committee pegged ministerial salaries to the median income of the top 1,000 Singaporean earners less 40 per cent "to signify the ethos and sacrifice that comes with political service".

‘Top dollar needed to attract top talent?’

One question, however, that arose from the ministerial salary review is whether a pay cut will deter hopefuls from joining the political scene.

“I would say it’s an open verdict,” Balji told Yahoo! Singapore. “My hope is that people will join because salaries are still high.”

Added the media consultant and former newspaper editor, “And we now go back, in a certain way, to what politics is all about. You don’t go in just for the money… there is a major element of public service.”

“The government has always said that they need to pay very high salaries to recruit talent… do you really?” he questioned.

Agreeing with Balji, Welsh said that the pay cut – a difference of at least half a million dollars – should not have any impact on talent recruitment.

“From the perspective of these politicians, people who should be going in to government should be serving the people, not going in for money.” 

“And those that do go in for money, maybe that’s part of the problem,” she acknowledged.

Highlighting that the “pay cut debate was a debate of the past”, the political science professor emphasized the need for the government to address other issues such as “rejuvenating the party, engaging more diverse electorate, (and) changing the policies”.

“A pay cut cannot stand alone, it has to be part of a broader set of reforms,” shared Welsh.