Singapore PM in damage control on salary: analystsThursday April 12, 3:56 PM
Singapore PM in damage control on salary: analysts
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 by 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."