We cannot afford to underpay our ministers: Lee Kuan Yew

Jeanette Tan

Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said Thursday that Singapore cannot afford to underpay its ministers and expect their sole incentive to be “contribution to the public good”.

In a letter sent to the media on Thursday evening, Lee said that because all families want to ensure the best for their children and to allow them to go to good universities, he and his government had to be “pragmatic”, paying “competitive salaries in order to have a continuous stream of high calibre people to become MPs (members of parliament) and then ministers”.

Otherwise, Singapore would quickly transform from a little red dot to become a “little black spot”.

He added that in standing for public office, these people put their careers at risk, undergoing an “uncertain and unpredictable election process”.

“To find able and committed men and women of integrity, willing to spend the prime of their lives, and going through the risky process of elections, we cannot underpay our ministers and argue that their sole reward should be their contribution to the public good,” argued Lee.

Singapore’s founding father also asserted that the Republic did not develop from a third- to a first-world country “by head-hunting ministers willing to sacrifice their children’s future when undertaking a public service duty”, saying instead that the course he and his government then chose “does not require people of calibre to give up too much for the public good”.

He said having less than the very best people at the helm could have disastrous consequences for Singapore.

“A PM and his ministers carry heavy responsibilities for the nation. If they make a serious mistake, the damage to Singapore will be incalculable and permanent. Their macroeconomic policies will decide the GDP of the country, which was more than S$300 billion in 2010, with per capita GDP of S$59,000."

“We must not reduce Singapore to another ordinary country in the Third World by dodging the issue of competitive ministerial remuneration,” he concluded.