13 April, 2007

Singapore PM in damage control on salary: analysts

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's offer to freeze his salary for five years is an attempt to appease rare public fury over plans to boost the salaries of ministers and civil servants, analysts said Thursday.

The Singapore leader told parliament on Wednesday he would forego the salary hike which would give him an annual income of more than two million US dollars a year, up from the 1.62 million dollars he made last year.

He would donate the difference to "suitable good causes", he said.

"It looks like an indicator that he is trying to calm the public," said Sinapan Samydorai, president of the Think Centre human rights group.

"After all this noise, then you announce it, people will still be sceptical even though his intention may be good," he told AFP.

The prime minister's press secretary said Lee's decision to freeze his salary was not a response to opposition to the salary hike.

"The fact is it was a decision taken up front even before the announcements of pay revision," Chen Hwai Lian told AFP.

Lee's salary hike was part of a pay increase for cabinet ministers and civil servants announced on Monday.

His revised salary would be five times more than the 400,000 dollars paid to US President George W. Bush and more than eight times that of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who receives 240,000 dollars a year.

The pay increases provoked a rare outcry from normally reserved Singaporeans.

In a country where political rallies are banned without a permit and the media are closely linked with the government, many of the comments against the pay rise were posted on the Internet, where people can use pseudonyms.

"What a hypocrite our PM Lee is," said Annie, who was among a growing list of people to sign an online petition against the increments. More than 1,800 had signed by Thursday.

"One moment he wants to level up his and his ministers' pay, next moment he tries to be a good and caring person by donating his increment to charity for the next five years," Annie said.

Ministers' salaries are to be raised incrementally from 1.2 million dollars to 1.9 million dollars by the end of 2008.

"Him freezing his pay should be seen more as a gesture to control the damage," said Terence Chong, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

"He is trying to seize the moral high ground and also to deflect criticism that ministers lack the desire" to perform public service, he told AFP.

The move to increase ministerial pay comes amid a widening income gap and ahead of a hike in the goods and services tax from two percentage points to seven percent beginning in July.

"The reason why there is such dissatisfaction is because the hike has come at a strange time when the salaries of the average Singaporean seem to be stagnating and in some parts taking a dip," said Chong.

"Also, it comes at a time when there are reports of a wage gap between the rich and poor widening," he said.

Lee and senior ruling party leaders said high salaries, pegged to the pay of senior private sector employees, were necessary to attract the best people to government and prevent corruption.

Opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, of the Singapore Democratic Party, disagreed.

"It must never be forgotten that parliaments are institutions of service, not avarice," Chee said on his party's website.

"The pay hike was a colossal misstep on the part of the government ... The PM is obviously now trying to undo, or at least limit, the damage."

Meanwhile, Singapore has banned seven foreigners, including three members of the European Parliament, from speaking at an opposition party debate on Friday on a big pay hike for ministers and civil servants, reports CNN.

The government said this week that ministers and senior civil servants would enjoy a 60 percent pay increase, giving them an average salary of S$1.9 million ($1.25 million).

The announcement has drawn widespread criticism from ordinary Singaporeans given the country's widening income gap and the fact the city-state's ministers were already among the highest-paid in the world.

The police told the Singapore Democratic Party it could not hold a public forum on Friday to discuss the increases, and the immigration authority rejected applications for professional visit passes for the seven foreigners the SDP invited to speak.

"Singapore's politics are reserved for Singaporeans. As visitors to our country, foreigners should not abuse their privilege by interfering in our domestic politics," the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement issued on its Web site late on Thursday.

"Foreigners who abuse the privileges that Singapore accords to guests and visitors, and meddle in Singapore's domestic politics, are not welcome here," the Ministry said.

The barred speakers include European parliament members Graham Watson of the United Kingdom, Anders Samuelsen of Denmark, and Lydie Polfer of Luxembourg, a former deputy prime minister of that country.

Under Singapore's Public Entertainments and Meetings Act, public speaking is generally prohibited unless it has been licensed by the government.

Singaporeans who wish to speak indoors do not need to be licensed, but forums featuring foreign speakers require a permit, the ministry said.

Chee Siok Chin, sister of party leader Chee Soon Juan and a senior party member herself, said the SDP would go ahead with the forum with local speakers.

"You have this autocratic government coming down and showing utter disrespect for our international peers. I'm ashamed," she said on Friday.

She said the seven foreigners barred from speaking at the forum are currently in Singapore.

According to the SDP Web site, Chee Soon Juan plans to speak at the forum and rebut remarks made by Lee Kuan Yew, modern Singapore's first prime minister, about the ministers' pay hike.

Lee said earlier this week that Singapore should pay ministers competitive wages because the city-state needs an "extraordinary government with extraordinary government officers".

Related News

Fiscal finagling in Singapore - Asia Times.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have a say on what are the measurements of good government.

April 16, 2007 2:07 PM  

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