a community of singaporeans

Damage control by the prime minister?

Posted by theonlinecitizen on April 12, 2007

By Andrew Loh

It is interesting to hear the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, declare that he will donate his salary increment to charity at a time when the government’s moral authority is being questioned. The prime minister said:

“To make it quite clear why I’m doing this, and also to give me the moral standing to defend this policy with Singaporeans, I will hold my own salary at the present level for five years. Whatever increases (I get), I will donate to suitable good causes.” (TODAY, front page, April 12, 2007)

The interesting part is his use of the term “moral standing”.

It was only a few days ago, also in parliament, that the minister in charge of the civil service, Teo Chee Hean, said :

“It is wrong to think that a bigger pay would undermine the moral authority of the government.” (channelnewsasia)

So, why did the prime minister suddenly announce that he will be donating his pay increment to charity in order to “give me the moral standing”? Did not minister Teo say that bigger pay would not undermine the “moral authority of the government”?

The government did not anticipate the outcry?

One reason could be that the government did not expect or anticipate the huge outcry that the issue has created among Singaporeans. Perhaps the thinking was that the economy is doing well with record jobs being created, that Singaporeans will understand and accept the rationale behind the move.

But as this article says, Singaporeans see it as a moral issue – and not simply as one of getting the best to be in government.

In short, Singaporeans expect those in public service to be judged on an additional set of criterias besides being good technocrats or bureaucrats.

Government underestimated the importance of moral authority?

The other reason for the prime minister’s action could also be that the government itself underestimated the importance of moral authority that Singaporeans place on those in leadership positions.

Although some, like the Straits Times, may term singaporeans’ reactions as “knee jerk”, there is a deeper reason for the outcry. And this is the perception that the ‘elites’ are reaping the fruits of rewards which are created by the effort of everyone – the poor and less fortunate included.

This is where I suspect the issue of moral authority comes in.

Giving the least in our society – those on public assistance – just a measly $290 per month (which is an increase of only $30 per month), compared to a minister’s increment of $33,333 per month, raises the questions of priorities, and the moral standing of the government.

The sharp contrast in the difference of the increment for public assistance ($30) and for ministers ($33,333) brings the question of moral authority into very acute focus.

Damage control

Thus, looking at the issue, it is not really surprising that the prime minister would declare that he is effectively freezing his own salary increase and donate his increment to “suitable good causes”.

It is a political move.

A political move to try and assuage singaporeans’ anger over the matter – and, as the PM himself said, to give him the “moral standing to defend the policy with Singaporeans”.

Whether this will work is left to be seen.

The PM’s move in fact has thrown up more questions such as: Why did he not do it earlier? What about the rest of the ministers? Will they donate their increment to charity as well? Even the president’s salary is now being brought into question (TODAY, April 12, 2007, Voices).

Where do we go from here?

There is no question of the government turning back or put this increment of civil servants’ salaries on hold. It’s a done deal right from the word go.

Parliament does not have to vote on the proposal.

How Singaporeans will accept – or not accept – this salary hike will depend on whether the government can deliver in the next 4 years or so. The same issues are still there – widening income gap, ageing population, foreign talents, rising cost of living, etc.

With this increase in ministers’ salary, the pressure is now on the PAP government to deliver. Singaporeans will – indeed, should – keep an eye on the performance of the government from now on.

And with this latest pay hike, the standards and results expected of the government have just jumped a few notches.

Damage control or not – with or without moral standing or moral authority.


PM Lee, at his swearing-in ceremony after last May’s General Elections:

“We must not allow ourselves to be divided between haves and have-nots, or winners and losers … if we let a politics of envy drive a wedge between us, our society will be destroyed, and all will suffer. That must never happen.”


Read also:

Public assistance for the elderly – where the ethics lie

The poorest in our society




17 Responses to “Damage control by the prime minister?”

  1. john'arc said

    It certainly is a political move. But i don’t see it as backing down to assuage public anger. They have foreseen the public outcry. I see it as carefully orchestrated wayang kulit to manage the expected outcry, and also to present the mini Lee as a leader in shining light.

  2. Sarek said

    Yes, it is damage control. It is bigger than the casino decision. It is bigger than the minority form saga u-turn. It is a huge and irreparable damage to the PAP’s standings.

    Million dollars income not enough for materialistic life style?

    Squeeze the maximum profit from individual talent instead of serving the people at a price tag of mere million?

    What kind of elite the PAP has raised? How do they inspire the people to serve?

    Average people don’t want to have more children. Talented people don’t want to serve unless they get the ‘right’ payment. By these two yardsticks, PAP fails badly in term of nation building. To build a nation, we build the people, not just the economy.

    The monister tries to donate the pay hike to give himself the moral standing. In other word, he acknowledged he does not have enough moral standing to speak to the people. It might have worked if he did it before the topic ever raised in Parliament. Now it is too late.

    The people will forever remember these monisters and remember that a million dollar is not enough to get them to serve the nation.

  3. Hey Sarek,

    Good to see you here again. 🙂

    Yes, it is a much bigger issue than any of the casino or the GST or the minority form saga, as you mentioned.

    Clearly, the PM is feeling the heat.

  4. Comment said

    To build a people, you need transparency and honesty. A materialistic society that values mercenaries cannot create such an environment that encourage such a people to florish. Since its principles and fundamentals are made of stocks and derivatives, the intrinsic content becomes a means to centralise wealth rather than a driving motivation of life, which can only produce an intricate mixture of indiscreet hypocrasy and dishonesty in its people. This is especially evident in the all encompassing marketplace, the house of representatives where this social dissease is most infective on the human condition. As such, the light it shines is one in which it slowly scorches those that it enfolds before it takes the life of his first born and collapses into oblivion.

  5. hammersphere said

    This is a typical case of PM Lee wanting to maintaining the moral authority to lead for the next 4 years until the next elections is called and more importantly, earning the political capital that has been lost since May 2006

    1. Upgrading

    2. GST

    3. Ministerial Salaries Hike.

    Time to start building up lost political capital. And now you start seeing ministers and ordinary MPs donating money to charities.

    I think next year Rev. Ming Yi of Ren Ci Hospital don’t neeed to do stunts liao.. Ask PM for some donations.. enough liao.

  6. uip said

    Just a political move to divert the attention.

    People will not focus on the unreasonable (or shall I say unnecessary) pay hikes. Instead, they will focus on his donations. If people continue to focus on the pay hikes and express their displeasures, things can spiral out of control. This issue will be etched permanently into many people’s minds and they will not forget this till the time comes for their votes. Guess what will happen then?

  7. Mad Salary said

    Singaporeans keep an eye on the government’s performance? my my.. even their numbers are cooked to make them look good. At the end of the day, ask yourself if you were better off than you were during the previous GE. If you were only marginally better off when you should have been a lot better off, or worse off, then vote according to that. Don’t be fooled into thinking ERS or some upgrading carrots really makes you better off. The ERS came from you tax dollars. THe upgrading costs you money because you co-pay and the increase in HDB flat value means nothing if all the other houses everywhere also go up.

    “There’s no free lunch”, Ho ching says. Yep, no free lunch for singaporeans, but guess who is having singaporeans for lunch?

  8. Jurong said

    Vivian B said that the PM decided to donate “quite some time ago”. So it was not pressure that forced him into this damage control maneuver. I’m not so sure if “quite some time ago” is true or not.

  9. Noah said

    of course it is true. No one doubt that, George Bush don’t doubt that, and the 82 cronies won’t doubt that either because quite sometimes mean 48 hours ago !!!! Anytime is quite sometimes for PAP. Last moment is any moment of PAP.

  10. kevin.l said

    Donating = being morally upright? Right…………. These people shouldn’t talk so much. Just do lah, whether they have our consensus or not doesn’t matter, they’re going to do it (eg. casino, gst hike, public transport hike) anyways.

  11. fenian said

    refuse to pay your taxes. make a point. dun just grouse.

  12. Jurong said

    Vivian B might end up as the next PM for support rendered during such trying period.

  13. Daniel said

    Look… as if we needed higher wages to retain bright talent such as PM Lee. Firstly, his salaries are high already. Secondly, it’s obvious from this he, too, thinks peanuts of his money.

    But don’t expect a turnaround in the next GE. It simply won’t happen. And the situation spiralling out of control? Who would dare lead that spiral?

  14. gouzai said

    Please note the PM’s exact words. He said “suitable good causes”, not “charity”.

    One reasonable interpretation of a “suitable good cause” to him could be the PAP party funds. After all, why shouldn’t he support a party that has done so much for Singapore?

  15. Pay & Pay said

    Hoho, Singapore is too High-End for me to live, in few years time i leaving here. 😀 What they are doing is s*ck up our hard earn money while they seat at offices shaking legs. thumbs up for Singapore. YAHOO!

  16. Cry Baby Talent said

    What “damage” to control!
    What is there to control?
    Everything is alreaded CONTROLLED!!!

    Maximise What Profit? and What Talent?

    From America, to Japan, to Taiwan to Thailand.

    What is the use of POLITICAL TALENT when you do not have the ECONMICAL PLATFORM to have NO FEARS to do it BIGGEST and make the BIGGEST MISTAKES at somebody else’s COSTS?

    POLITICS means PricePlay Overpromises Lies Incomes Taxes Controls Slippery-Slopes

    All over the World land prices are being priced upwards and there is nothing with land supply which is now Unlimited without FREEHOLD LEASES.

  17. Poor Citizens said

    In a Bi-POLAR Economy, Economy doing well is NOT EQUAL to Citizens doing well.

    In fact, it is the REVERSE in REALITY.
    In a Bi-POLAR Economy, Economy doing well is EQUAL Citizens doing POORLY.

    CHECK on Consumer Prices of every items in the markets.

    Set up the transparent Standard of Living Index.

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