Saturday, January 28, 2012

PAP dirty tricks against WP in 1997 revisited

J B Jeyaretnam was the target of a vicious PAP smear campaign in 1997, with DPMs Lee Hsien Loong and Tony Tan playing key roles

By Chong Wee Kiat
Posted on June 23, 2011 by satayclub

Tang Liang Hong with James Gomez in Australia, June 2000 (source)

The year was 1997. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, having been dealt a black eye by the voters at his first general election six years ago, was eager to prevent any further losses of seats. Things were looking up for him, as the main opposition party – the Singapore Democratic Party – had apparently imploded, with its founder and icon Chiam See Tong having been ousted from the party following a series of internal disagreements. The new party leader, Dr Chee Soon Juan, had done himself no favours with an ill-conceived hunger strike to protest his sacking from the National University of Singapore.

However, the Workers’ Party apparently had other ideas. Led by the rambunctious and indefatigable J B Jeyaretnam – who became the first man to defeat the PAP since Singapore’s independence at the Anson by-election of 1981 – the WP was gunning for a Group Representation Constituency. Mr Jeyaretnam’s team for Cheng San GRC included prominent Chinese grassroots leader and lawyer Tang Liang Hong (邓亮洪). They were up against the incumbent PAP team, led by Education Minister Lee Yock Suan, and a close contest was expected. After all, this election would mark Mr Jeyaretnam’s return to politics after a decade-long absence – twice elected as MP for Anson, he was expelled from Parliament in 1986 following a conviction which he claimed was politically motivated.

Mr Goh and his cadre of PAP leaders – including Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, whose disdain for Mr Jeyaretnam was by now well-known – were dreading the thought of having five additional MPs from the WP. A decision was made in Cabinet to keep the WP candidates out of Parliament.

They pored through Mr Tang’s past speeches and singled out one that he had made way back in 1994 at a National Day celebration dinner. In the speech, Mr Tang said that he would like to see more members from the “silent majority of Chinese-educated” Singaporean stepping forward and playing a more active role in society. The then-Minister for the Environment, Teo Chee Hean, was present at the event – and he later informed his Cabinet colleagues that Mr Tang had “worked people up” over issues of language and religion, and that it was his duty to “expose” such “dangerous” people.

One by one, senior PAP leaders came out to lambast Mr Tang, claiming that he was an anti-Christian, anti-English educated Chinese chauvinist during the heat of a hotly-contested election campaign. The mainstream media was used to cast repeated attacks on Mr Tang’s character, with Senior Minister Lee leading the chorus by saying that saying that “if he’s (Tang’s) against the English-educated, he must be against the Malay-educated even more. If he is against Christianity, he must be against Islam even more because Islam represents even a deeper exclusiveness. So this approach must be destructive.”

Mr Tang responded by claiming that the remarks from the PAP leaders were lies. Immediately, he was sued for defamation by some 13 PAP MPs. Amongst them was the then Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam.

Together with Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Dr Tan and Prime Minister Goh led the charge in Cheng San, making it a “personal” battleground and claiming that a vote for the WP team was a vote against them. Of course, none of them were actually candidates in that particular constituency; they all all enjoyed walkovers in their respective wards.

Tang Liang Hong was bankrupted and had his property seized following the 1997 election. He entered into self-imposed exile in Australia.Angered by their tactics of heavy bombardment, Mr Tang lodged a police report, accusing the PAP leaders of criminal defamation.

Mr Jeyaretnam was handed a copy of the report during an election rally midway through his speech, and he announced to the 80,000 strong crowd that he had in his hands a police report made by Tang against “you know, Mr Goh Chok Tong and his people”.

Those fateful words would later become the basis for a flurry of lawsuits by the same PAP leaders against Mr Jeyaretnam, alleging that he had, by conveying the news to the crowd, implied via innuendo that the PAP MPs were all guilty of criminal acts and were therefore unfit for office. Having already sued Mr Tang for a total of $8,075,000, the PAP leaders were still baying for Mr Jeyaretnam’s blood, even though he had done nothing more than convey a simple fact to the audience.

The WP lost the election by 53,553 votes to 44,132.


A Mareva Injunction was soon granted against Mr Tang, freezing all of his assets including his property in Bukit Timah and all his bank accounts – as well as those of his wife. Fearing the worst, he left into self-imposed exile in Australia. He has not returned to Singapore since.

Mr Jeyaretnam was returned to Parliament as a Non-Constituency MP. He was made a bankrupt in 2001 after being unable to pay the more than $600,000 in libel damages awarded to the PAP leaders. As a result, he lost his seat in Parliament. To make a living, the former judge and senior lawyer was reduced to hawking his self-published books on the streets. He was discharged from his bankruptcy in 2008 and founded the Reform Party soon after, but died before he could make a final push to win back his Parliamentary seat.


What is the point of bringing up all this now?

The two Deputy Prime Ministers who were so instrumental to the battle for Cheng San and the subsequent moves to demolish Mr Tang and Mr Jeyaretnam are back in the public eye.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong is now the Prime Minister.

Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam is the odds-on favourite to be elected the next President of Singapore.


The front page of The New Paper on the eve of Polling Day (1997)

Both men have re-invented themselves as politicians with a “softer” touch. Prime Minister Lee made an unprecedented apology for the failings of his administration during the general election campaign in May this year. He urged civil servants and MPs to remember that they were “servants, not masters” of the people. He said that the PAP needed to transform itself and become a more compassionate party, distancing himself from the hardline approach used under his father and then Mr Goh.

However, that still could not prevent the WP from fulfilling Mr Jeyaretnam’s unfinished dream of winning a GRC. The party won six seats in the election, deposing two cabinet ministers in the process. In addition, they won another two NCMP seats, giving them their strongest Parliamentary presence in history.

As for Dr Tan, he adopted a lower profile following the events of 1997, going on to serve another ten years as Deputy Prime Minister before retiring from politics in 2006.

He went on to become Chairman of the government-owned Singapore Press Holdings – a position reserved for PAP stalwarts and loyalists – as well as Deputy Chairman and Executive Director of the Government Investment Corporation (GIC), serving under Lee Kuan Yew.

Yesterday, he resigned from these two positions and re-emerged to announce his candidacy for the office of President – the highest office in the country. He is currently regarded as a gentlemanly, dignified politician, and the outgoing President has given a ringing endorsement of his “qualities to lead the country”.

Lee Hsien Loong and Tony Tan were key players in what was possibly the PAP’s darkest hour. Cheng San, and the events that followed it, represented a highly-calibrated operation to smear, discredit and demolish the PAP’s most vocal dissidents and to intimidate the voters into rejecting an alternative voice.

Not long after, both Mr Lee and Dr Tan were plaintiffs in an expertly-cheoreographed series of lawsuits designed to stifle and bankrupt their two antagonists. The case was roundly criticised by international lawyers and jurists as an abuse of the legal process, and not long after, Queen’s Counsel were barred from appearing in Singapore courts.

With Mr Lee and Dr Tan holding the two highest offices in the land, all power and authority – both legal and moral – will be vested in their hands. Though it may appear as though the leadership of Singapore has gone through a “sea change” following the watershed 2011 general election, in reality, little will have changed if Dr Tan is elected.

What about the possibility that Dr Tan may have mellowed and softened his stance? At yesterday’s press conference to announce his candidacy, he appeared to have no regrets at all about the lawsuits which he initiated, justifying them on the basis that “everyone should have the right to clear his name” after being slandered.

Though it is not likely that Dr Tan – or any other senior political figure – would want to attempt similar actions in today’s political climate, it is notable that he was a key figure behind PAP smear campaigns in the past.

Whether or not this damages his moral authority is up to the voters to decide, but seeing as the mainstream media is likely to whitewash the truth, it is important that those who are too young to remember the events of 1997 are made aware of his past track record – especially since it is a track record that he continues to stand by, up until today.


The author is a contributor who enjoys discussing politics and history with his friends at the kopitiam and office canteen. He was a resident of Cheng San GRC during the 1997 General Election and describes himself as a “hardcore” Workers’ Party supporter. He moved to Hougang in 2003.


For background,  reports, and analysis of the Tang Liang Hong incident:

The politics of judicial institutions in Singapore, Francis T. Seow, former solicitor general of Singapore (here)

Against the odds: one man's bid for democracy, Mark Baker, Sydney Morning Herald (here)

Tang Liang Hong's homepage, in English and Chinese (

Tang Liang Hong in Wikipedia (

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chen Show Mao: Political service is a calling, should not be a discount factor

The Online Citizen  on January 16, 2012 (source)

The following is Workers’ Party MP Chen Show Mao’s speech in Parliament on Ministerial Salary Review:

Mr Speaker Sir,

The Workers’ Party view the committee’s report with a sense of hope because it is a step in the right direction. We agree with the three principles that political salaries should be competitive, that political service is a calling and has its own ethos, and that wages should be transparent.

Political service is a calling and not be treated as discount factor

However, the order by which the principles are applied has produced in our view a flawed new benchmark. Because competitive salary is placed as the first principle ahead of political service, the committee has pegged ministerial salary to the median salary of the 1000 top-earning Singaporeans and then applied a discount for political service.

If the new benchmark is accepted by the Government, it would continue to send the message, to potential political office holders and the people of Singapore alike, that top pay is the benchmark by which the importance of the office is to be judged, and that the value of political office can, in the final analysis, be monetized. It cannot be, not even at the highest income levels. Political service is a calling; it is a privilege accorded by the electorate to serve the largest number of our fellow Singaporeans. It is primarily a privilege, not primarily a burden or sacrifice. The principle of political service should come first and not be treated as a discount factor.

Whole of Government, People-up approach

Because political service is in the genre of public service, we propose a whole-of-government, people-up approach that benchmarks Ministerial salary to MP allowance, which is in turn pegged to the pay of the civil service bench-marked to general wage levels. Because political service starts with our election as parliamentary representatives of the people, MP allowance should be the starting point. The Cabinet is the constitutional extension of Parliament and the institutional expression of the legislature’s control over the executive. It is not an extension of the private sector.

This whole-of-government, people-up approach is a pragmatic reality in many well-governed, developed countries and territories around the world.

Is Singapore unique? Of course. But it is not so dissimilar to others that we cannot learn from their best practices and how they apply good principles.

For example, the committee writes, “As is international practice in Westminster Parliamentary systems, the … political appointment holders will also receive MP allowances as they have the dual roles of being MPs”.

Parliament Sovereignty is paramount

We agree that the Ministers should receive their MP allowances. But that is because, Ministers are MPs first, they are not merely also MPs. We must remember that in our system of government, Ministers are first of all MPs elected by the people as their representatives. Not selected by the Prime Minister from the private sector into the Cabinet and then also MPs. Parliament is the highest authority in our system of government, and MPs, as elected representatives of the people, should be the starting point for the determination of ministerial salary. The committee’s benchmark to the private sector clouds this fact. Worker’s Party recommends pegging ministerial salary as multiples of MP allowance. This expresses the fact that ministers are first and foremost elected as MPs to serve and represent the people.

So in what multiples should Singapore peg ministerial salary to MP allowance? We propose that an entry-grade minister’s monthly salary be 5 times the MP allowance, and 9 times for the Prime Minister.

As DPM said, there are no right or wrong answers, and this is ultimately a judgment call. We propose multiples based on the increased responsibilities and additional capabilities and experience required of the different political offices in Singapore. We also believe that this is where the principles of competitive salary and transparency can come in, to take into consideration some of the factors cited by the committee as to why the system of Singapore may be different from those in other countries. In the words of DPM, we believe the pay should be sufficient to not deter potential political office holders with desire and ability, from serving in political office without undue concern for their standards of living.

Of course we would like to see capable men and women in the Cabinet. But I do not believe that our best people for political office are only those who make the most money. Many of our former and current Ministers did not come in from the private sector or the top earning professions, that is as we would expect. Many of them were public servants who heeded the call of political service by standing for elections.

Political service is in the nature of public service. We believe that MP allowance should be set with reference to the salary of senior executives in the regular civil service. This is consistent with the general practice in most of the countries and territories we surveyed.

The starting salary of entry-grade senior civil servants in the regular civil service — a director of MX9 grade in the Management Executive Scheme of the civil service (outside of the Administrative Service) is approximately $11,000 a month.

In our proposal, MP allowance would be about $11,000 per month, Ministerial salary would range from $55,000 per month for entry-grade ministers to $99,000 per month for the Prime Minister.

We support the clean wage proposal for transparency, in which compensation is fully accounted for with no hidden items. In addition to a fixed 13-month salary that is keyed to MP allowance, we propose that the ministers and the prime minister receive variable pay of different bonuses that add up to no more than five months in any year (compared to 13.5 months recommended by the committee). Many Singaporeans may take home up to 3 or 4 months of bonuses in a very good year, compared to 13.5 months for the ministers as recommended by the committee. In fact, if the maximum bonuses recommended by the committee were awarded, the reduction in entry-grade minister pay would be 8% and not the 31% calculated by the committee.

In our whole-of-government approach, since civil service salary is aligned to general market conditions faced by Singaporean workers, MP allowance and ministerial salary will move with the income levels of many more Singaporeans than with the total employment and trade income of the top-earning 1000, including their bonuses, commissions and stock options. The Workers’ Party’s benchmark will better help our leaders empathize with the majority of Singaporeans and not just the very few.

Inclusivity vs Exclusivity

The Workers’ Party’s proposed approach aims for enhanced inclusivity and sensitivity to the progress of Singaporeans, rather than discounted exclusivity pegged to top earners. We believe the committee has taken the right step forward with the three principles. It is up to the Government now to go further to apply the principles in the right order by recognizing political service as the first principle, anchored in the primacy of parliament. Let us place ministerial pay on a sound footing in order to ground political leadership in a strong sense of service to all Singaporeans.

Thank you. And now, if I may, in Chinese.







当然, 新加坡的国情向来就是独一无二的。但再怎么特殊, 也不至于完全找不到其他体制值得我们学习的地方吧?





综上所述,我们建议采取“整体政府”方案,部长薪金是议员津贴的倍数,而议员津贴则等同于高级公务员的起薪, 大约每月11000元。而既然公务员的薪金也与新加坡其他员工一样取决于经济状况及市场条件,这个方案更能确保部长薪金不会与人民的薪金水平脱钩。与其由私人企业界收入最高的1000名精英由上而下再打折,我们认为较适当的做法是从民间由下而上,由公务员薪金为起点,制定议员津贴,最后再乘以倍数制定部长薪金。





Sunday, January 15, 2012

Catherine Lim: My best hope lies in the young Singaporeans

The Online Citizen (source)

The following is the full transcript of Dr Catherine Lim’s acceptance speech on being awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ by the Online Citizen on the occasion of its 5th Anniversary, on 13 January 2012.

Following the shock results of the General Election of 2011 (GE 2011) there was, as expected, a flurry of commentaries analyzing the causes. But the analyses left out what could turn out to be the most interesting and intriguing one of all. Thus while they examined, with forensic thoroughness, the people’s anger against the unpopular PAP policies related to foreign workers and the ministerial salaries, while they scrutinized the resentment against PAP arrogance, they failed to mention what I have rather facetiously called PAP Fatigue , that is, an overwhelming sense of weariness with a ruling party that has been around for far too long.

The weariness would appear to be part of human nature, a natural disposition to react negatively to an imposed environment of oppressive sameness and uniformity, the reaction being all the stronger when there is no prospect of change.

For nearly 50 years, Singaporeans had never known any form of government except the one-party rule of the PAP, had never been exposed to any but the authoritarian and peremptory PAP style, had never experienced democracy except the carefully edited PAP version.

Some years ago, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the party’s rule, then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew declared that since the PAP government was the best, it should be around for the next 40 years. If he had his wish, it would mean that Singaporeans would have to live permanently with PAP fatigue.

Yet into the twenty first century, conditions in Singapore were already ripe for political change. For the society was arguably among the most technologically advanced and globally connected in the world, and the most aggressively capitalistic. This meant that Singaporeans were well exposed to other forms of government, to examples of properly functioning, two-way government-people relationships, examples of robust civic societies.

Why then, for nearly half a century, did the Singapore electorate choose to endure PAP Fatigue?

The reason must lie in the special compact between the PAP government and the people, which though only implicit, was nevertheless strong and binding. According to this compact, the government would provide the people with the highest possible level of material prosperity, political stability and social orderliness , and the people, in return, would show full co-operation and support for whatever decisions the government made and whatever policies it chose to enforce.

So under a rule far longer than any seen in other countries, during which the PAP exerted control in virtually every domain of life, the fatigue factor, because it was not allowed free expression, simply settled into a general docility and conformity of thinking, feeling and behaving. If it dared rouse itself into political agitation, it was quickly smacked down by that fearful instrument of control, the Internal Security Act or ISA, by which activists could be detained without trial. And there was also that equally feared instrument, the defamation suit by which political critics could be financially crippled for life.

Through it all, the people must have constantly reminded themselves that it was still a very worthwhile trade-off, for they were enjoying a degree of prosperity unmatched in the region. In any case, even if they wanted an alternative government, there was simply no prospect of any, since the existing opposition parties were just so pitifully small, weak and helpless. Taking into account all these factors, Singaporeans must have come to the conclusion that their lot, though somewhat complicated, was by no means a bad one.

Hence, it did not matter that outsiders were making unflattering observations of us, for instance, that Singaporeans had become a nation of unquestioning and compliant subjects, incapable of acting on their own, with no interests beyond bread-and-butter concerns and the famous 5Cs of social success. Singaporean students might perform brilliantly in exams but were woefully lacking in independent thinking, creative expression and social skills. The Singapore media and other public institutions were predictably, boringly pro-Establishment. Most of all, there was no identifiable Singapore culture beyond the ubiquitous food centres and shopping malls.

If in a general election, PAP Fatigue managed to surface in little pockets of angry voting, it made no difference whatsoever to the general state of affairs. This was true of all the previous 11 elections; after each one, the antagonism duly subsided, the people went back to their accustomed acquiescence and the government to its accustomed strongman methods. It was business as usual.

So what happened in the 12th election to make GE 2011 so different as to be called a defining election, a watershed, after which things could never be the same ? Had the fatigue factor finally reached the stage of ‘enough is enough’, and struck back as a retaliatory force that took by surprise even the supremely confident PAP? Had it managed to link up with the other causes of voter discontent, to form one huge, super anti-PAP force that actually did the unimaginable, that is, compel the PAP leaders, led by the Prime Minister himself, to offer public apologies in an amazing display of contrition, humility and earnestness never seen before?

And did this extraordinary outpouring imply something that was just too good to be true: that in future the government would think twice before ramming through one unpopular policy after another, such as the deplorable one of the ministerial salaries?

Indeed, it may be said that what the people accomplished in GE 2011 was nothing less than historic – putting an end to fifty years of political apathy, fifty years of a losing compact with the government.

At this stage of my deliberations, a very pertinent question may be asked: Is this a true picture of GE 2011 and its outcomes? Or it is somewhat exaggerated, overly optimistic?

We’ll see. Going further in the deliberations, I am now going to suggest that the main reason for the obvious effectiveness of the fatigue factor was the concurrence of two special happenings, unique to GE 2011, which interacted to produce an effect that neither on its own could have achieved.

The first was the emergence of a group of voters who, by virtue of a natural restlessness and impatience were the most likely group to turn PAP Fatigue into an active fighting force . These were the young voters, in their twenties and thirties, many of them first-time voters, with the natural tendency of youth to get easily bored and start clamouring for change.

Thus even the mere fact of the PAP’s very long presence in the political scene would have been enough for the fatigue factor to kick in and make a difference in votes. But what seriously aggravated this fact was the perception of the young voters, accompanied by strong resentment, that the PAP government had become totally indifferent to their needs and aspirations.

They were, in the typical language of youth, ‘pissed off’ by certain well-known attributes of the PAP which ,though generally detestable, were especially repugnant to the young.

These included the overbearing, intolerant and patronizing approach that was so stifling to their vibrant and creative energies; the elitism, superiority and highhandedness that offended their youthful ideals of equality and fair play; the inflexibility, stiffness, and formality that were at odds with the casual, spontaneous, friendly manner that they favoured.

If additionally, this group shared the overall voter perception that the PAP, despite its claims of high standards of leadership, was becoming too lax, complacent and arrogant , and losing touch with the common people, then the hostility would have been that much greater.

The second mentioned special happening in GE 2011 was the emergence of a force which provided exactly the hope that these disaffected young voters needed, exactly the channel for their blocked and frustrated energies. This was the amazingly revitalized Workers’ Party, the clear star of the opposition.

It quickly came to represent for them all that the PAP lacked: a simple, casual, unassuming style that dispensed with pomp and ceremony ( there was a post-election picture in the newspapers showing the party chairman in a Hawaiian shirt riding a bicycle and another one of him conferring with his new constituents in a Spartan setting of basic furniture set up in an HDB void deck); a bold, creative flair for new ideas, as seen in the party slogan of ‘A First World Parliament’ that clearly resonated with these young voters ; a calm dignity throughout the hurly burly of the hustings, which must have impressed them deeply because it contrasted so sharply with the shocking display of vindictive anger by a senior PAP member.

Perhaps the most attractive attribute of the Workers’ Party for these young Singaporeans was something that the PAP had routinely and contemptuously dismissed as irrelevant in leadership, but which the young, in their media-saturated world, prize highly – charisma. A newcomer in the Workers’Party, was quickly seen to embody this quality: he had not only the dazzling credentials of a top academic, entrepreneur and CEO, but also the glamorous good looks of a star ( A female newspaper columnist wrote gushingly about his choice of a certain style of shirt, showing him in three pictures smiling like a true celebrity basking in the adulation of fans)

In short, these young voters saw the PAP as old , dull and stale, belonging to the past, and the Worker’s Party as new, bright and hip, pointing to the future.

The prominence of this group of voters on the electoral stage may irritate some PAP sympathisers and provoke this question: Why bother about them when they do not, after all, comprise the majority, and, in any case, will soon outgrow the immaturity of youth?

The conclusion which the PAP leaders have probably already reached is this : this group of voters cannot be ignored; on the contrary, they must be singled out for special attention and wooing, for numerous compelling reasons.

Firstly, they will be active voters for a long time to come, and must therefore be quickly weaned from their present hostility. Secondly, they are the young citizens, in an ageing population, whom the government will have to depend on for the country’s future development, and who must therefore not feel alienated enough to want to leave the country and emigrate. Thirdly, they belong to the increasingly powerful world of the Internet and the social media, which no government in the world can afford to ignore. Fourthly, because in GE 2011, they clearly had the support of a large number of older voters who could easily identify with them, they might be setting a dangerous precedent – starting a trend of strong generational unity within the anti-PAP camp that could only work to its advantage.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the exuberance, boldness and defiance of the young voters, operating in the new media world of instant, dazzling communication, could be infectious enough to have an unstoppable snowball effect, engulfing other groups of voters, including even those normally sympathetic towards the PAP. In fact, something like this could already have happened, as may be inferred by the 40% vote against the PAP in the General Election swelling to an alarming 65% vote against the PAP-endorsed candidate in the Presidential Election some months later.

In short, possibly for the first time in Singapore’s electoral history, a small core of young voters had provided the sparks that started a fire that could set off a whole conflagration if not stopped.
Thus it was not surprising that the PAP quickly swung into a massive campaign of damage control, repair and rebuilding. The Prime Minister announced, almost immediately after GE 2011, that the PAP would ‘re-invent’ itself in order to win back the people’s trust. The term is a much stronger one than ‘self-renewal’, used to describe an on-going exercise in which young potential leaders are systematically recruited and trained to replace the older leaders, to prevent complacency and carelessness from ever setting in.

‘Re-invention’ implies much more than self-renewal – it means a complete overhaul, a transformation, a born-again PAP that has an entirely new compact with the people. As if to convince the people of his utter sincerity, the Prime Minister used another, even more impressive-sounding word : he told the nation that from now onwards, he and his team would be ‘servant-leaders’. ( I remember gasping at the use of the word) ‘Servant-leaders’ – the ultimate oxymoron that must have made many people sit up and ask: did I hear right? Never had a prime minister so earnestly pledged so drastic a change of leadership style , so soon after an election.

At this point, I have to come in as a skeptic, and show the other side of the GE 2011 picture, which I fear is not at all pretty. I believe that the PAP is incapable of re-inventing itself, because true re-invention would require the opening up of one crucial area, that the PAP seems determined to keep under control at all cost. This is the area of political liberties – open debate and criticism, independence of the media, public assemblies and street demonstrations for a cause,etc., all of which are taken for granted in practising democracies.

Over the years, the government had reluctantly made small concessions, such as allowing a Speakers’ Corner, relaxing some censorship laws, tweaking a rule here, tinkering with another there, never going beyond these small, meager offerings that Singaporeans had no choice but to accept because there was nothing better.

In this regard, PAP Fatigue has an additional meaning for political critics like myself– a frustrating, exhausting weariness with the PAP government, not because it has been around too long, but because during this long period of rule, it has not seen fit to nurture the people politically, and has failed to provide the proper environment for political education and growth. This right of the people is so basic and fundamental that no amount of material wealth can compensate for its denial or loss.

Still, assuming that the Prime Minister is sincere in his pledge and that he understands the mood of high expectancy in what may be described as Singapore’s version of the Arab Spring, the following questions are pertinent. Just what can the PAP government do to win the people’s trust , and once and for all, establish a proper basis for a working government-people relationship? To match the watershed expectations generated by GE 2011, what watershed act of re-invention is it prepared to undertake? With special reference to the by now obvious threat of the PAP Fatigue phenomenon, what can the government do to prevent it from ever appearing again, not only among the young voters, but the entire Singapore electorate?

Some months ago, a group of 16 ex-political detainees jointly petitioned the government to set up a commission of inquiry to look into the allegations against them. The petition was promptly dismissed; the government later issued a terse statement to say that since all the proper procedures about the matter had already been taken, no further action was needed.

I was acutely disappointed. For I thought that the PAP had missed a fantastic opportunity to prove to the people that it had the honesty and courage to face up to its past excesses and take responsibility for them, or, as the case might be, that it had the strength and dignity to stand by the principles on which it had acted. Either way, it would have won the respect and regard of the people. Moreover, it had also missed the chance to show Singaporeans what is surely the noblest quality to come out of any conflict – the grace and magnanimity to reach out to former foes in reconciliation and new amity.

Indeed, a Commission of Inquiry with its urgency of purpose, potency of authority and high public visibility, would have been the ideal combination of powerful symbolism on the one hand and political will in real action, on the other, to bring about the event needed to signal the dawn of a new era. In one fell stroke, it would have banished that long-standing affective divide between the government and the people, an emotional estrangement that neither side wants. In the practical language of Singaporeans, it would have been a win-win situation for all – the government, the ex-detainees, the people, the entire society, even future generations. If only. If only.

The unfortunate truth is that the PAP remains adamant on keeping a tight lid on political and civic liberties. While it takes a generous and liberal stance in the opening up of all other areas – education, the arts, entertainment, lifestyle – it has built a firewall around the political domain. While it has readily agreed to commissions of inquiry for national mishaps such as the Nicoll Highway collapse, the escape of top terrorist Mas Selamat, and more recently, the major breakdowns in the MRT, it draws a line at matters that might engulf the whole nation in political questioning and debate, for which it has the strongest antipathy.

Indeed, so averse is the PAP to the subject that, as many of us may have noticed, it even shies away from using words such as ‘democracy’, ‘human rights,’ ‘political reform’. And yet these are matters at the core of a government-people relationship if it is to be based on transparency, respect and trust.

I will maintain that as long as there is no real political opening up ( two weeks ago, in his New Year message, the Prime Minister spoke about a ‘political transition’ but I don’t think he can ever bring himself to talk about ‘a political opening up’, or ‘political reform’) and as long as political dissidents feel they may be punished in one way or another, for instance, by new and subtle uses of the ISA which the government has made clear it has no intention of repealing, the so-called transformation after GE 2011 ,will, at best, be a partial one only, and at worst, a travesty of all the noble promises that had been made. What a pity. Once again, the ‘if only’ sigh of wistful longing!

If only, to their very substantial material achievements , the PAP could add the non-material, but equally important achievement of enabling the society to move steadily towards political liberty! I am not talking about the disruptive, wild excesses of democracy seen in some countries; I am talking about a sensible, responsible exercise of democratic rights that surely Singaporeans are capable of, at this stage in the development of our society.

The skeptic in me wants so much to be an optimist. I am terrified that if nothing comes out of GE 20111, nothing ever will, out of any future election. It will be business as usual, in the most hideously fatalistic sense of the word.

My best hope lies in the young Singaporeans I have been so enthusiastically talking about, those young voters who, in GE 2011, converted the fatigue factor into a voice that the PAP government was forced to listen to. Over the years, as they continue to be exposed to the outside world, as they become more discerning, more critical, more engaged , I hope that they will continue to use PAP Fatigue as a tool for change, always constructively and wisely, always with the well-being of the society in mind.

Most of all, they must persevere in nudging forward ,respectfully but relentlessly, an exasperatingly resistant PAP government that prefers, if at all, to take such painfully slow, such painfully small steps along the path of political reform. Reform there must be. For only then can Singapore come into its own, only then can it claim to be a successful society in every sense of the word, and take a proud place among other societies in the world.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Uniquely Singapore: Honest greed of the PAP Government

The honest and open greed of the PAP cabinet is well expressed by the inaptly named Grace Fu (graceful), a Singapore senior minister of state:

When I made the decision to join politics in 2006, pay was not a key factor. Loss of privacy, public scrutiny on myself and my family and loss of personal time were. The disruption to my career was also an important consideration. I had some ground to believe that my family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though I experienced a drop in my income. So it is with this recent pay cut. If the balance is tilted further in the future, it will make it harder for any one considering political office.
                                                                               ----------  Grace Fu (background: here)

#############  Postscript ###################

"If the pay is not competitive, then it's just another obstacle to people who have got something valuable to add to Singapore,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on January 17, 2012 in a speech at Parliament to discuss ministerial pay.

"Grace Fu was completely right on this point. She got flamed online but she was honest to point this out," he added.  (source)

So it's now official: Grace Fu's sentiment is exactly that of the entire overpaid and smug ("We are the top talent in the nation") PAP cabinet.


Says Molly Meek (here):

Fu’s [and PAP's] assumption  is probably beyond the grasp of lower life forms, but it is quite simple: the people who are suitable for political office and hence are considering it are the people who earn significantly more than what a minister earns.

As such, if the pay gets any lower, their quality of life can be adversely affected if they decide to join politics. It is unreasonable for us to expect anyone to become a beggar just to serve the people.

On the other hand, those of us who actually earn significantly less than what a minister earns and do not find it difficult to accept the pathetic ministerial pay package are not in a position to consider joining politics because our low pay reflects our lack of talent and competence.

Remember, Singapore is a meritocratic society and the highest earners are the most talented people. If we have less talented people governing Singapore, Orchard Road will flood, the trains will stop moving and there will be insufficient foreign talents in Singapore. In other words, Singapore will be destroyed.


Mr Wang says (here):

My blog post is entitled "Grace Fu Should Consider Resignation". Sounds sensationalist, doesn't it? But it isn't really. (I'm not that kind of blogger, lah). Let me just explain my thinking.

It goes like this - if any minister is really very unhappy with his or her pay, then he or she can always quit. It's not like they are being forced to be ministers.

Unhappy employees don't perform well - we know that from our own experiences in working life. It is better for the company if they quit. It is better for themselves too, for they can go elsewhere and find another job that is more satisfying for them.

Why would we expect things to be any different for our ministers? If they are not happy with their pay, they won't perform well. They should just quit and get a more lucrative job elsewhere (if they can, of course). After they resign as ministers, Singapore can replace them with new ministers who care less about the money, and care more about serving the nation.

So I say this to all the ministers - if you're not happy with your pay, please quit. Now, rather than five years later. Do yourself a favour, and do the country a favour. Just get out.


Thursday 5 January 2012 (source)

Multi-billion dollar corruption in India and a whopping 36 percent cut in the salary for Singapore's Prime Minister have once again raised the question: how much should politicians be paid?

We've tallied up a list of Asia Pacific's highest paid politicians based on figures from a number of publicly available sources including The Economist.

Some of Asia's fastest growing and largest economies, such as India and China, have the lowest salaries for their leaders.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for example takes in just $36,200 per year, according to the AFP.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
8. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of Indonesia

Annual Salary: $124,000

President Yudhoyono, the leader behind Indonesia's newfound status as Asia's "economic golden child", pulls in $124,000 a year.

This sum amounts to over 25 times the country's GDP per capita, according to The Economist. The leader is working on narrowing the wealth gap in the country by raising the salary of civil servants by 10 percent in 2011.

The former army general is credited with initiating a crackdown on corruption.

Lee Myung-bak. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
7. Lee Myung-bak, President of South Korea

Annual Salary: $162,000

Keeping tensions under control on the Korea peninsula is no easy task.

Lee Myung-bak's annual salary which is set to rise to $162,000 this year, according to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, from $156,000 in 2011, puts him at 7th place amongst Asia's top paid politicians.

However, Mr. Lee clearly isn't in the job for the money. Shortly after he was elected president, the former CEO of Hyundai Construction & Engineering pledged to donate his full salary to the underprivileged during his five-year term.

He was said to be the richest presidential candidate in South Korea's last election, with personal wealth exceeding 35.3 billion won or $31 million.

Ma Ying-jeou. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
6. Ma Ying-jeou, President of Taiwan

Annual Salary: $184,000

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou rakes in a salary of $184,000 per year.

The Hong Kong-born, U.S.-educated lawyer has played an instrumental role in improving cross-strait relations.

Ma has raised the country's permit quota for Chinese tourists, eased restrictions on Taiwanese investment in China and approved measures to open Taiwan's equity markets to mainland investors.

John Key. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
5. John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand

Annual Salary: $310,000

Fifth on the list is the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key.

He takes home an annual salary of around $310,000, according to the Wall Street Journal. Impressive for some, but probably not for Mr Key.

Prior to politics, the Kiwi PM amassed a personal fortune of around $40 million, working as a foreign exchange trader with Merrill Lynch, where he earned as much as $2.25 million per annum.

He is now New Zealand's wealthiest Member of Parliament and one of the region's wealthiest leaders.

Yoshihiko Noda. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
4. Yoshihiko Noda, Prime Minister of Japan

Annual Salary: $316,000

Japan's Yoshihiko Noda makes an annual salary of $316,000, according to The Asahi Shimbun newspaper. If you add in the regional allowance of 18 percent, he makes around $384,000 per year.

The rising strength of the Japanese yen has helped boost his earnings in dollar terms.

To put the number into perspective though, it's a mere fraction of the $10.7 million earned by the CEO of Nissan in 2010.

Still, with 6 prime ministers in 5 years, the Japanese leader might not be expecting to be on that salary for very long.

Julia Gillard. (Photo Credit: Getty Images )
3. Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia

Annual Salary: $495,000

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard just got a significant 31 percent pay hike, taking her salary to $355,000 per year.

The Prime Minister however may have reason to cry poor because shadow ministers are getting pay hikes of 64 percent, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

But with retirement perks including a fully staffed office, unlimited free first class travel and a permanent driver for the rest of her life, the Prime Minister might not complain just now.

Donald Tsang. (Photo Credit: Alfredo Estrella|AFP|Getty Images)
2. Donald Tsang, Chief Executive, Hong Kong

Annual Salary: $550,000

The salary of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong would probably be causing a few eyes to roll in Beijing.

Donald Tsang earns around $550,000 a year, according to Reuters. That's roughly 30 times the size of the $18,000 salary earned by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

But the perks of the job haven't come easily for Mr Tsang. He's been working in Hong Kong's public sector since 1967 and some might say no amount of money would be enough to compensate for that.

Lee Hsein Loong. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
1. Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister, Singapore

Annual Salary: $1.65 million

The Prime Minister of Singapore just took a salary cut of a whopping 36 percent, but he still makes a basic salary of $1.65 million (S$2.2 million).

That makes him far and away the highest paid politician anywhere in the world.

His salary is still 4 times the salary of President Barack Obama, who reportedly makes around $400,000 a year.

But it's not just the Prime Minister in Singapore earning big bucks. The Singapore President, who just had his salary cut by 51 percent, will make $1.2 million a year and new ministers will get salaries of $840,000 after the pay cut.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

On Ministerial and Civil Service Pay - April 2007 - Denise Phua

by Denise Phua Lay Peng on Sunday, 22 May 2011 at 22:41 (source)

Denise Phua Lay Peng

Strange how life turns out. This was my parliamentary speech on Ministeral and Civil Service Pay on 9 April 2007.....

Sir, pay is a very personal issue. In all my years in human resource and leadership work, I have never met anyone who told me their pay is enough, whether they belong to the lowest or the highest-income strata.

When asked once, "How much money is enough money?" John D. Rockefeller, one of the wealthiest men in U.S. history replied, "Just a little bit more!"

That is why management philosopher, Charles Handy, wrote about the ‘Doctrine of Enough’ in his book, ‘The Hungry Spirit’. He recommended that each of us need to find our own personal level of ‘enough’ so we can be liberated to pursue our dreams and purpose without being chained to our appetites.

Sir I wish to make 3 key points today. (1) I believe the spirit of serving and giving is still alive in Singapore. (2) We need to be careful not to leave behind political and civil service offices that combine excessive levels of Power and Money. (3) If Government wishes to benchmark public servants with the Private Sector, then there are some principles around Compensation Practices which should be adopted, to simulate more closely private sector norms.

First Sir, why I believe the desire to serve is still alive in Singapore.

This week is a very special week for me. 2 fellow volunteers with me, Linda Kho (a Managing Director of a training consulting firm) and Ng Sock Kian (a Vice President in a bank) decided to take the plunge, turned their backs on the private sector to work full-time in the non-profit special needs community. They join another ex-Goldman Sachs HR director, Goh Boon Keng. All 3 took pay cuts from half to two-thirds of their pay to serve in a cause they believe in. I share their names, not to put a badge of honour on them, but to illustrate this point.

Minister Mentor is right in many things about Singapore. But his opinion that the real world of Singapore does not surface leaders who are willing to make sacrifices to do something they believe in, is a tad too pessimistic. In fact, I know of a number of people who have tasted corporate success and are willing to rise above their perks and power suits and move on to serve in the non-profit sector. Not all of them have left and some are still looking for an inspiring vision and team to lend their talents to. I have served with many volunteers who not only give of their time but their money.

The spirit to serve without asking for much in return is still alive in Singapore and I hope we will never do things to quench it. Many of us still admire the courageous political heroes who took on Singapore’s British colonial masters then, to create a nation of our own.

Next, Sir, I would like to touch on Power and Money – the potently addictive motivators behind many human behaviour. And to caution this House that we need to be careful not to leave behind political and civil service offices that combine excessive levels of Power and Money.

Now, I know the general argument is this: If we don't pay leaders high enough, we will not be able to attract the right people. I ask the House to consider this contrarian view. I say that ‘If we do not balance and we concentrate too much Power and Money in top public offices, we might NOT attract the right people. On the contrary, we might attract the wrong people.’

Sir, public office holders and top civil servants wield the most power in our country. This power to swing national policies and even power of king-making does not carry a price tag that is easily written and is a very significant component of the position.

Besides power, money is the other top motivator behind many people. Put together, power and money can be potently addictive. As responsible leaders, we must be careful not to leave behind a structure that combines power and monetary rewards to such high levels that incumbents are so handcuffed by this lethal combination that they find it hard to let go. And worse, we create an office that potential candidates are so attracted to that they may go for broke just to get there, whether they are suitable or not. This potentially can do more harm than good to Singapore – something that does not augur well for our country.

My next point, Sir, on public versus private sector.

Working in the Public Sector is not exactly the same as working in the Private Sector; and I don’t mean state-owned enterprises. Ex-permanent secretary Mr Ngiam Tong Dow was yesterday quoted in this House on how he did not have to lose sleep over the bottom line when he was serving in the civil service.

One of my fellow volunteers in the Enabling MasterPlan for Disabled and a Managing Director of a foreign bank told me that his job ‘can disappear tomorrow’ if he does not perform or if there is a corporate re-organisation.

When I was working in a local conglomerate and involved in company-turnaround projects, I witnessed first hand the high drop-out rates of top executives-turned-entrepreuneurs who could not stomach the tough work of producing consistent enough profit levels that qualify them for public listing.

Many Singaporeans know the painful journeys that successful techno-preneurs like Sim Wong Hoo (Creative Technologies), Olivia Lum (Hyflux) and Wong Ngit Liong (Venture Manufacturing) went through before they finally got their millions. Hence, it is the general perception of many Singaporeans that the degree of job security in the Singapore public service is relatively high and working there is not exactly working in volatile Wall Street.

Sir, not all highly paid CEOs of legal firms or banks are top candidate choices to be ministers or top civil servants. By the same token, not all top political and civil service leaders may excel in the private sector. So I do agree that those precious few who are able to thrive in both public and private sectors are Singapore’s crown jewels and are worth millions of dollars.

Even so, I think once that special leader crosses over to serve in the public office, it is futile for him to keep looking over his shoulders to yearn for what he could have made. Alan Greenspan, economist and former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman, who spent almost 20 years serving 4 Presidents, was reported to have accepted an annual pay of only US$180,000/-. When he finally did retire in 2006, he still had a fruitful career due to his influence and knowledge. He donated free service to the UK Treasury and is now also a sought-after speaker with a price tag of US$100k per talk, something I have no problem with. Alan Greenspan is a good illustration of a respected and skilled leader who is highly capable of working in the private sector but chose to serve his country below his market value.

And finally, Sir, if Government wishes to pay and benchmark public servants against Private Sector pay instead of other governments, then it should simulate the work environment to as close as that in the Private Sector. In addition, start adopting some principles around Compensation Practices that resemble more closely the private sector.

In this regard, I propose 5 Compensation Practices for consideration:

Practice 1. Set up an Independent Senior Salaries Review Body comprising independent representatives from various key sectors in Singapore.

The principle of not writing one’s own paycheck is very key in addressing public disquiet on this issue. The UK Senior Salaries Review Body which proposes political and civil service pay for instance, comprises senior executives from private sector, HR and finance consultancy, academia and so forth.

Public perception of the body’s independence is just as critical as the body’s real independence. In the corporate sector, there is already an uproar over how some CEOs influence their boards to write themselves excessive pay checks, even to the extent of being paid hefty sums upon exit due to poor performance. A 2005 Study on ‘CEO Skill and Excessive Pay’ by professors from Stanford, Wharton School and the New York University concluded that particularly in big stable firms, a high salary does not necessarily mean that a CEO is more competent.

Practice 2. Establish a Line of Sight that shows clearly the link between Pay and Performance of political and civil service leaders.

Make Key Performance Indicators transparent so the people of Singapore know how the leaders have contributed to PM’s vision of an inclusive and vibrant Singapore in which no one is left behind.

Do not simply use one global helicopter KPI like the size of Singapore’s GDP as the basis for performance-based components like bonus. How does the Health Minister, for instance, see his ministry’s performance linked directly to the GDP?

Compensation best practice dictates that there be a clear line of sight between one’s pay packet and direct performance. In the case of public servants, performance-based pay can tie in to at least 3 tiers - (a) country performance, not only economic; (b) each ministry’s performance; and (c) at individual’s performance.

Surely performance indicators like customers’ feedback to major public services; no. of jobs created for local Singaporeans; percentage of Singaporeans in the lowest income bracket; no. of Singaporeans who chose to migrate etc are all KPIs that can be incorporated in the balanced scorecard of our top leaders.

Practice 3. Adopt a more commonly acceptable Salary Benchmarking formula.

In the private sector, it is rare to see the use of the current salary benchmarking formula which targets only a very small number of top wage earners. I guess one key questionable underlying assumption of the current formula is that 100% of all political office holders and every Perm Sec and Administrative Officer will surely end up as the top wage earners in Singapore. Most firms I know set their target competitive rates at either the 50th, the 75th percentile of target employee categories in selected companies and industries, but never at such a small number of top wage earners.

Practice 4. Adopt a Broader-Band Pay Range for each position to cater to appropriate salary levels for incumbents ranging from those with entry-level skills to those critical-skills experts or long-term outstanding performers. Hence, using $1.2m as a midpoint for a minister’s pay and a min-to-max spread of 60%, the minimum pay for a entry-level minister can be $840,000 (30% below mid-point); a mature performer gets $1.2m and a consistent top-performer gets close to $1.56m (or 30% above mid-point).

Practice 5. Cultivate more lasting and non-monetary Motivators to usher in and retain good people to join the public sector. Simply throwing money at a problem does not solve it. There is no quick-fix solution to talent attraction and retention and there are numerous best practices in this field. Many employers, though, find it hard to walk the talk.

In a March 2007 Harvard Business Review article, ‘What It Means to Work Here’, the authors lament at the HR equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. Authors said that in their quest to find and retain top talent, organizations often to try to match competitors’ salary offers and training opportunities. They forget that people will become long-term deeply engaged employees only if their work experience is what they expect it to be; and they are intrigued and excited by a vision they find inspiring; a leader they want to follow and work roles that match their passion and talent.

Sir, may I even suggest that for the sake of Singapore, we should release the 32-year-olds who after serving their bonds, may want to respond to a different drumbeat or simply to expose themselves to a different work environment whilst they are still young. If they stay on because they are handcuffed by a super pay scale or their pension, it is a lose-lose situation for them and the government.

In conclusion, Sir, the issue of pay is a sensitive one. Someone earning $1,000/- can never fathom another who is earning $10,000/-. A person earning $10,000/- may never understand how another who is earning $100,000/- a month feels it is not sufficient.

For someone like MM who will be remembered by all of us as the father of Singapore, how does one even find a price tag big enough for his contribution?

What is enough? We may never agree.

But let me end off with the writing of Charles Handy who said this: “The philosophy of ‘enough’ cannot be imposed on a society. It is a matter of norms, not law. But norms are set by the elite, whose example sets the fashion. What the top people do today, the middle level imitates tomorrow, and the bottom aspires to, some day.”

The people who follow us are watching us. Our young people are watching us. So is the People Sector where many are professionals who volunteered their service and money unconditionally all these years.

Sir, I urge our leaders to give some more thought on what is a reasonable ‘enough’ for top leaders’ salaries whilst considering the 5 compensation practices I proposed.

At the same time, I urge that together, members of this House will make it a priority to ensure that everyone in Singapore has a real chance of also being able to reach their personal level of ‘enough’.