warning: long rant

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

So I've been mildly annoyed by the issue of raising civil service pay, but not outraged enough to actually feel anything about it. Until now.

The price of the pay rises for Singaporean taxpayers - who, hey, will very soon be paying even more tax - is close to $1 million per minister and millions of dollars more for the 60,000 other civil servants that will benefit.

From what I understand, the powers that charge a million-dollar fee to be have cited three main justifications for the pay hike.

Reason 1: To remove the temptation of corruption

I don't understand why we have to pay our civil servants more to prevent the corruption that isn't taking place now and didn't take place when the pay was lower. And I don't know yet how much the pay rises will amount to in total, but if you add it all up there's a good chance that the bill for corruption would be cheaper.

In any case, I don't think this is really a major reason. As it is, our PM earns six times that of Finland, which ranks above us in transparency and corruption-free-ness. And when Low Thia Khiang head-butted MM with that in Parliament today, MM's non-sequitor response was that the "mediocre" governments of Finland, Denmark and Switzerland would never have been able to do what his "extraordinary" PAP did in bringing Singapore from third world to first world. And anyway those governments could have fallen back on the resources of the other European governments, unlike us in the Asia-Pacific who are surrounded by incompetence.

Thus did he insult several governments in one breath. For that, we're increasing his salary to almost $4 million a year. For a senior citizen whom we should be scared to let out in public because almost every time he opens his mouth Singapore has to apologise for it later.

But that brings us to:

Reason 2: To reward the civil service - in particular the ministers - as they pat themselves on the back for single-handedly creating a $210 billion economy

I have nothing to say to this. Clearly I am too inferior to even argue this point. More importantly, better people have already pointed out that this mentality implies that some people are indispensable and breeds complacency. Hopefully one day MM will wake up and realise that Singapore is not his pet project - before he gets us into a war with someone.

Also, it turns out our president - yes, that guy, you know, who doesn't really do anything except live in prime real estate - gets paid more than the PM. What exactly has he done to boost our economy again?

3. To prevent civil servants from leaving to higher-paying pastures

As MM keeps insisting, "A top lawyer, which I could easily have become, today earns $4 million. And he doesn't have to carry this reponsibility." His current salary has been reported at $2.7 million.

The question is then: why didn't he go become a top lawyer? Why, instead, take on this thankless task where the only adequate reward appears to be hard cash? There must be something about being a minister or a top civil servant that attracts people. (Possibly the huge pensions or guaranteed GLC seats after their political careers.)

Also, this justification begs the question: how many top civil servants have actually left the civil service, and how many of those have cited pay as a reason? I find it hard to imagine that more than 5 per cent of top civil servants would have left, and probably none because of the pay.

So, then, what should be done? One suggested solution is to give out rewards commensurate to an individual's marketability to the private sector. So PSC scholars nearing the end of their bond; over-performing civil servants; brilliant ministers and MPs that may actually be, if not indispensable, hard to replace - if these people got pay rises, I don't think anyone would quibble over them.

But the reason we have no choice over this - NO CHOICE - is that we voted in this government, whose pseudo-proposed pay rises don't extend to opposition party members. Because, as everyone well knows, you're either for the PAP or you're against it. And if you're against it, better transfer your money to a Swiss bank account now.

The worst thing is that by the time the next elections come around, everyone will have forgotten about the GST increases, the public transport fee hikes and the massive pay rises for civil servants, barely months after the government protested the cost of becoming a welfare state and pursed its lips over the emerging dual economy.

SO DON'T FORGET. They say we get the government we deserve. Maybe we deserve better. Or maybe, as MM says, we deserve a good dose of incompetent government. But the truth is, we'll never know until we get it, right? If MM was the benevolent patriarch he likes to paint himself out to be, shouldn't he let his ignorant kids learn from experience rather than through high-handed preaching?

Btw I'm not the only one outraged, as is apparent from the headlines around the world. The New Zealand Herald carried the story under "Singapore PM demands boost to $2 million salary". The Bangkok Post summed it up in "Singapore's millionaire ministers". Most other news agencies used "Singapore PM to earn five times more than Bush". The International Herald Tribune, of course, one-upped everyone else with "In Singapore, it pays to work in government", and started the article by asking, "How much money does it take to keep a Singapore government minister happy?"

The IHT report contains other gems like:

"In this nation where the bottom line is truly the bottom line..."

"Defending the system last month against an unusual yelp of pain, he (Lee Kuan Yew) painted a horrifying picture of a Singapore governed by ministers who earned no more than ministers anywhere else. 'Your apartment will be worth a fraction of what it is,' he said, 'your jobs will be in peril, your security will be at risk and our women will become maids in other people's countries.'"

"Money may buy happiness for a government minister, but some Singaporeans suggested that other motivations should also come into play for government service."

IHT rocks.

Okay okay sorry for the sheer length of the post. I was running Mechanar while writing it so it's probably completely incoherent but I don't have the energy to go back and fix it now so I'll just leave it here for posterity. Lol.

posted by zyn :: 2:34 AM :: 4 Comments :: permalink