Falling on their wallets
Politicians take a pay cut—poor things
Jan 7th 2012 | SINGAPORE |Clean hand
IT IS a proud boast of Singapore that this very small but immensely wealthy city-state is the least corrupt and best place to do business in the world. And a chief reason for that, at least according to the politicians, is that they themselves are by some way the highest-paid elected officials in the world. Why would a minister bother with corruption, so the argument goes, when he can take home S$1.6m ($1.3m) a year for just keeping on the straight and narrow?
Maybe. But most Singaporeans feel that their representatives have stretched that argument too far. Anger boiled over during last year’s general election, with many opposition candidates questioning whether it was really necessary for Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, to trouser up to S$3.4m a year (compared with Barack Obama’s $400,000), especially at a time when many Singaporeans were struggling with rising prices. Surely Mr Lee did not need that much to keep him honest? The salary issue helped to push the ruling party’s share of the vote down to its lowest-ever level.
After this unprecedented public reversal, bordering on humiliation, the government vowed to respond. Now it has. Mr Lee has promised to accept in full the recommendations of an independent review committee on salaries that he himself set up. The committee, which reported on January 4th, recommends that the prime minister take a pay cut of 36%, bringing his salary down to a paltry S$2.2m, and that ministers take slightly bigger cuts. The salary for the largely honorific president is to be more than halved. And from now on all ministers will lose their special pension schemes.
It is a victory for democracy, Singapore-style. The knack of responding to voters’ complaints while sticking to its basic operating principles is what has kept the People’s Action Party in power ever since independence in 1962. After all, despite appeasing the voters, Singapore’s politicians remain the best-paid in the world: a minister will still get S$1.1m a year. No one feels too sorry for these sea-green incorruptibles—just as no one suggests that they will be any less virtuous for their pay cuts.