The long held narrative of the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) led Government has always been that it has to pay high salaries to ministers and top civil servants in order to get the best. This belief has been justified that high salaries would attract the best talent and also prevent corruption. While that argument is not without merit, it may well be that this train of thought has its limitations and may be one sided.
According to Dr. Richard Chua, an arts researcher, artists in Singapore have been “disempowered by excessive state funding” to the point where artists are unable to survive without state patronage.
While money is an important source of support that cannot be underplayed, it is certainly not the be all and end all of success. Singapore’s model of supporting any particular initiative is to throw money at it.
Let’s take the example of the Government’s attempts to encourage more people to have babies in Singapore. The Government has introduced all manner of financial incentives to have a baby.
Most recently, it has even announced a once off pay out to married couples who have a baby during the COVID-19 period in a bid to encourage more babies. While the effects of this latest initiative is yet to be seen, it is safe to say that its earlier monetary incentives have had limited success. What this shows is that money alone does not solve the underlying problem.
Another example would be the reliance we place on paying armies of cheap labour to keep our country running.
This was raised by the Workers’ Party in Parliament with Member of Parliament for Sengkang GRC, Raeesah Khan saying : “The question of who will take ownership for good quality of public health comes to mind……During the pandemic, we saw how dependent we are on foreign labour as a country to keep Singapore clean. Is this model sustainable? What happens if there is another situation that arises where we don’t have access to them?”
The Government may therefore have to think of more innovative measures apart from money to solve certain issues. A perennial question flowing from this is whether or not our current ministers have been disempowered by their eye watering salaries?
After all, if the narrative is that you have to pay more to get more, wouldn’t it only recruit people who may think along those lines – that any problem can be resolved simply by allocating funds? Has this led to a crop of leaders who are unable to think outside monetary initiatives?
Flowing from that, it is also arguably possible that some in power may also not think outside the box in a bid not to rock the boat so as to protect their healthy salaries?
Late top civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow famously said:
“When you raise ministers’ salaries to the point that they’re earning millions of dollar(s), every minister — no matter how much he wants to turn up and tell (PM Lee) Hsien Loong off or whatever — will hesitate when he thinks of his million-dollar salary,” he continued. “When the salary is so high, which minister dares to leave, unless they decide to become the opposition party? As a result, the entire political arena has become a civil service, and I don’t see anyone speaking up anymore.”
In turn this disempowers the people too?