Spore; People Question Million Dollar Minister Salaries On Radio.
- Singapore: People Question Million Dollar Minister Salaries On Radio.
May 16, 2004
Insight: Down South
By SEAH CHIANG NEE
IT is direct and fast, with minimal self-censorship. This is Radio
FM93.8, which is steadily becoming Singapore's favourite channel for
Started in 1998, the city's only all-news station has been running an
8am-9am Talk Back programme (Monday to Friday) during which listeners
can call to discuss a chosen current topic.
In its early days, the callers were mostly housewives or retirees
chatting on a mundane, narrow range of subjects.
Many of today's phone-ins are from better-informed professionals who
are more articulate.
These younger callers are ready to speak out. On many days, the
topics reflect the troubled times and some of them are controversial.
The station's pre-eminence is aided by two factors.
Firstly, it fills a need among Singaporeans who want a medium to air
their views, uncensored by overzealously "play safe" editors.
Secondly, the newspapers have neither sufficient space nor
inclination for frank public discussions on controversial subjects.
To avoid getting into trouble, editors often prefer to publish
letters that are least controversial or critical of the government or
Newspapers cannot react as fast as radio. Talk Back can put on a
debate almost immediately when interest is fresh.
Last week, it started a discussion on the new controversial wage
reform aimed at pegging salaries partly to economic conditions and a
Called flex-wage, it makes 30% of pay variable for rank-and-file
workers, 40% for middle management and half for top management.
The government wants to implement it by year-end but many workers are
worried they will lose out.
One emotional caller said: "Our high-paying ministers should
implement it on themselves to set an example to citizens. It is
hypocritical if they exclude themselves."
Probably wishing to dilute it, the radio host asked: "So you think
the scheme should apply to top business executives and ministers?"
The caller wanted none of this. "No, I said ministers. In the past
they had set their action as an example for others to follow. Why
can't they do it now?"
Such attacks on high Cabinet pay will unlikely find itself in The
Straits Times' forum pages.
In the past, the programme had featured other controversial subjects,
including the influx of foreign professionals, and rising cost of
public services and public transport.
Compared to radio forums in Hong Kong, Taiwan or even China (on
certain subjects), Talk Back may be mild but by Singapore standards,
it is an achievement.
It lends some weight to government claims of an opening process.
People who want to take part are first screened by the host who asks
broadly what he or she wants to say. It is not known if anyone has
been denied access.
Once on air, it is rare for a speaker to be cut off because of what
Every Friday, FM93.8 runs Opinion between 9am and 10am in which the
public can also call in to join discussions with an invited panel of
guests to discuss local and foreign affairs.
"We take the show on the road once a month and broadcast "live" from
polytechnics, junior colleges and universities," said a spokesman.
These shows are proving popular among Singaporeans who want to let
off steam or to voice their antagonism towards policies but have no
public means to do so.
The primary objective of the major newspapers the Straits Times and
Lianhe Zaobao is to disseminate and explain government policies to
The other role, of distributing people-to-government views, is much
less evident. This enables radio to override the print media in a
crucial aspect of journalism.
One journalism lecturer puts it this way: "If you want to know what
the government wants to tell the people, read the newspapers. If you
want to hear what the people are telling the government, tune in to
Another growing provider of public feedback is the Internet.
Opposition and anti-establishment individuals, plus a dozen or so
vocal forums, serve a diet of wide-ranging, largely un-moderated,
discussions 24 hours a day.
Termed as the alternate media, the online challenge to the mainstream
newspapers remains relatively feeble. It hasn't reached the impact of
its peers in other advanced cities.
One reason? Many participants are anonymous, ill-informed and very
young (many are teens) who use it to let off emotional steam against
opposing views rather than participate in reasoned debates.
However, with some 2.247 million or 56% of the population (last
count) having access to it, the Internet has the biggest potential
As surfers mature, the worldwide web will one day become a powerful,
more credible, tool to mould public opinion. Its influence is growing
A new phenomenon is appearing on the scene weblogs. There are
millions of individual sites operated by bloggers (as they are
called) to comment on current issues.
Most writings are shorter, less formal and readable. Some are diary-
like, motivated by a cause or a desire to communicate ideas to
others. Their readers range from a few close friends to a wide
audience of tens of thousands of visits a day.
Many Net-savvy Singaporeans have joined in the fun but, unlike
elsewhere, not many care to talk politics.
The Straits Times (circulation about 390,000) will likely maintain
its top position but as the others grow, its influence among the
population will decline.
Despite its monopoly as the only broadsheet English national daily in
Singapore, its penetration rate of 45% remains surprisingly poor. The
major Chinese-language daily, Lianhe Zaobao, takes some 29%.
For more liberal-minded youths, the media scene does not reflect
Singapore's image as a First World cosmopolitan city.
Its media policies cause a ranking equivalent to many developing
Asian and African countries.
Recently, Information Minister Lee Boon Yang, warned journalists not
to mix commentary with news reporting which, if followed, will be a
further deviance from the global democratic practice.
DPM Lee Hsien Loong, who will soon become Prime Minister, frowned
on "crusading journalism". He said: "Newspapers are to report the
news, explain what is going on and take a national view and not a
o Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the
information website littlespeck.com (e-mail: cnseah2000@
Commentary on Ministers pay cut
Singapore Review, 2 May 2003
By Mellanie Hewlitt
The headlines blared loudly in the 2 May 2003 issues of the Straits Times and
Business Times "Pay cut? Ministers ready to lead by example: DPM", announcing
to the entire world this selfless act of leadership by Singapore's Ruling
In what appeared to be an initial move to reduce severely inflated salaries, to
more reasonable industry standards, Singapore's Ruling Elite have bowed to
public pressure and hinted at accepting a pay cut.
Or have they?
What exactly does "Leading By Example" mean? Lets try to put some substance
behind those brave words. As of last count, average take home pay of a
Singapore minister was well in excess of SGD100,000/- a month.
The below table puts things back in proper perspective: (these are basic
figures as of July 2000 and did not include last year's pay hikes or other
benefits. Otherwise the updated numbers may well be much larger)
1. Singapore Prime Minister's Basic Salary US$1,100,000 (SGD1,958,000) a year
Minister's Basic: US$655,530 to US$819,124 (SGD1,166,844 to SGD1,458,040) a
2. United States of America President: US$200,000 Vice President: US$181,400
Cabinet Secretaries: US$157,000
3. United Kingdom Prime Minister: US$170,556 Ministers: US$146,299 Senior Civil
4. Australia Prime Minister: US$137,060 Deputy Prime Minister: US$111,439
5. Hong Kong Chief Executive : US$416,615 Top Civil Servant: US$278,538
Financial Sec: US$315,077
Source: Asian Wall Street Journal July 10 2000
In relative terms, less then 20% of Singaporeans here have take home salaries
exceeding SGD100,000/- A YEAR.
In stark contrast, BASIC SALARY FOR A MINISTER STARTS AT SGD1,166,844 A YEAR,OR
JUST UNDER SGD100,000 A MONTH.
What these ministers earns in just ONE MONTH exceeds the ANNUAL TAKE HOME
salary of 80% of Singapore's income earning population. Lets not even begin to
compare annual packages which will exceed SGD1 million easily.
With the above numbers and figures now in perspective, it is easier to give
substance to the words "leading by example". Several facts are noteworthy here;
a) That the ministerial salaries are grossly out of proportion, even when
compared with their counterparts in much larger countries (US and UK) who have
far heavier responsibilities.
b) That these salary reductions were long overdue. In the past, such handsome
remuneration were "justified" on the back of resounding performance. However,
Singapore's economy has been in the doldrums of a recession for several years
now (with beginnings reaching as far back as the 1997 Asian economic crisis).
This economic barometer is a rough measure of performance and implies that
ministerial salaries were due for review at least 3-4 years ago.
c) That adjustments should be made to bring them back within the industry
benchmarks. Taking the salary of US vice president as a rule of thumb, the
percentage for reductions should start at 50% of current pay. Even if a
Singapore minister takes a 50% pay-cut, he would still be earning much more
then the US vice president.
d) The percentage reductions should greater then 50% if the intent is to bring
the salaries within the perspective of Singapore's domestic scene.
With such inflated figures, it is understandable why the local government
controlled media (Singapore Press Holdings) have taken pains to exclude mention
of actual numbers for the world to see. The numbers would be too glaring and no
amount of window dressing or creative writing could have reconciled these
numbers with a sane figure and restored credibility.
It is unlikely that Singapore's Ruling Elite will accept such huge salary cuts.
Exactly How much and when the ministerial pay-cuts takes effect is not
revealed. Ask any man on the street and 9 out of 10 responses indicate many
agree the current ministerial salaries are grossly inflated, especially in
these lean and difficult times.
Said a long time forumer from an internet political chat group:
"First of all the Ministers are NOT leading on pay cut. Workers' salaries have
been drastically reduced since the beginning of the recession while thousands
have been unemployed. so the Ministers are NOT LEADING. they are only CATCHING
UP. And they have several decades to catch up on."
"Secondly, how much of a pay cut will Ministers take? 10%? 20%? unless its a
cut that will affect their lifestyles, it is merely symbolic and they would
still not know what it feels like to be a normal worker. as such, this is not
Leading by Example. Its just another bogus political propaganda stunt"
A 29 yr old executive who requested to remain anonymous admitted
sheepishly ; "The numbers (ministerial salaries) are a national embarrassment
really, because it reflects the underlying materialistic value systems of
Singapore Ministers. No matter how you look at it, the fact remains that our
ministers are money faced, and these are supposed to be Singapore's leaders,
with value systems that Singaporeans should follow." "It (the ministerial
salaries) puts Singapore in a bad light in the eyes of the world. The rest of
Singaporeans really put in an honest days work for every penny they earn. And
the process for review and approval of the ministerial salaries is also a joke.
Imagine sitting on the board and approving (on White Paper)your own salary
increments! Its all a wayang show".
This also raises the question as to the authenticity of the actual process for
review and approval of cabinet minister's salaries. Who decides on these
numbers? Is there independence and transparency?
Veteran opposition figure J.B. Jeyaretnam on Wednesday, Nov 20, 2002 challenged
Singapore government ministers to take a pay cut to show they understand the
economic hardships faced by the public. And the over-riding concern is that
Singapore's Ruling Elite are unable to appreciate the economic hardship that
the masses face in these tough times.
The growing public resentment comes afew months after PM Goh's careless
comments that "lay-offs were not all bad", drew a backlash from the public with
a flood of e-mails being sent to the foreign press to register public
Source Sg_Review group
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