The President and his Pocket Money
SR Nathan’s term would end on 31 August. He will likely face stiff competition when the presidential election is held this year because his salary will be increased yet again. Andrew Kuan, Tan Kin Lian and who knows who else would be motivated. This new salary revision would certainly draw many people into the arena to fight for the prize money. President Nathan’ pay after the raise is now “S$4,267,500, an increase of S$890,700 from an earlier estimate made in Budget 2010”. In 2006, the president’s pay was increased to $2,507,200, an increase of $114,900 from the previous year . Not only has the president’s salary increased, the rate of increase has increased as well.
This is an astonishing amount of money for a largely ceremonial figure in Singapore. Granted that his powers over appointment of key cabinet positions, oversight in the reserves and veto powers in the Internal Security Act, Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act are significant responsibilities on his shoulders, albeit powers never exercised as far as we know.
Does the president, no insult to SR Nathan as he did a pretty good job as a civil servant in the past, deserve that amount of money as salary or allowance? No. Nobody I know would say Yes. They would only reply Yes to the question whether the president deserves a pay cut. And I think if SR Nathan was put in a spot and asked if he deserved that amount of money, I would presume that he would be embarrassed and say No too as I don’t think he is a greedy person. The former diplomat would carefully explain that it was the PAP-dominated parliament that decided to fatten his purse, not him.
We can all guess the answer to why there is a need to increase the President’s allowance. So that it can justify an increase in salaries of Singapore multi-millionaire ministers in time to come. The president’s new salary is only the tip of the mountain of cash for Singapore’s political leaders. The general election is an opportunity for us to show how displeased we are with the salaries of the PAP ministers. Nobody said the ministers should be poor. Nobody said they cannot lead comfortable well-to-do lives as ministers and be taken care of by the state during their term in office. But earning millions of dollars a year is quite excessive.
The explanation that the pegging of the ministers’ salaries to performers in the private sectors cannot hold as for one, CEOs etc lose their jobs if they do not perform well, so that shareholders are appeased. Our ministers still have their jobs although there are sound reasons why they are not doing as well as we expected. That is the Catch 22 the PAP ministers created for themselves – if they are paid less, we wouldn’t have complained so much, but if they are paid more, we expect a lot.