Friday, May 18, 2007

Singapore's founding leader dismisses gripes over pay hike

Monday April 23, 1:56 PM

The debate over the million-dollar paychecks of Singapore's cabinet ministers is "rubbish" because the city-state needs to attract extraordinary people to run it, founding leader Lee Kuan Yew said in remarks published Monday.

"The biggest mistake any Singaporean can make is to believe that Singapore is an ordinary country and can behave like an ordinary country like Malaysia, like Indonesia, like Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark," he was quoted by the Straits Times as saying over the weekend.

The blunt-talking former prime minister said the public furore over the decision to raise cabinet ministers' base salaries by more than 30 percent to 1.05 million US dollars per year was "completely unreal."

"I say, 'rubbish,'" he told 400 members of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) on Saturday.

Singapore, with its lack of natural resources and small population, needs attractive packages to draw talented people into public service or the country's future prosperity would be at risk, Lee warned.

"The problem we now face is how to attract more talent, how to headhunt and to persuade the best to come into parliament," said Lee, 83, who remains an influential figure in the government with the title of "minister mentor."

"I see this place going for another 50 years, no problem. But you need top-grade government," Lee said.

The pay hikes for ministers and top civil servants, which take effect this month, have triggered a rare public outcry from normally reserved Singaporeans, who enjoy Southeast Asia's highest standards of living.

The pay increase boosted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's annual salary to 2.04 million dollars, five times more than the figure US President George W. Bush earns and more than eight times the salary of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The prime minister -- the son of the elder Lee, who now makes 2.01 million dollars -- said he will freeze his salary for five years and donate the pay increase to charity.

Ministers' salaries are calculated using a formula pegging them to the earnings of top business executives and professionals, including lawyers and bankers.

Officials have long maintained that high salaries are necessary to attract talented managers into government service and preserve Singapore's reputation as one of the most corruption-free countries in Asia.



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