Commentary: Comparing Singapore and Malaysia Minister Salaries.

Malaysia’s Cabinet ministers have agreed to slash their salaries by 10 per cent, as the country seeks to reduce its debt, which is at 65 per cent of the GDP at approximately 1 Trillion Ringgit.

Sensitive to the mere mention of ministerial salaries, alternative sites quickly compared them with our local minister’s multi-million dollar salary and brought up the issue of our ministers pay again.


Why are we so quick to judge our ministers with their salaries?  If you want our Ministers to earn the same as Malaysian politicians – then you should also peg your pay to your Malaysian counterparts la. You want or not?

In 1994, during the debate to change the formula to calculate ministerial pay, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then Senior Minister, put up a robust argument for paying ministers good salaries. He said that the private sector had taken away many good men and women from the Government, and without good people, the country would suffer.

“Let me explain very simply, Mr Speaker, that MPs are real men and women, just like you and me, with real families who have real aspirations in life. So when we talk of all these high-falutin, noble, lofty causes, remember at the end of the day, very few people become priests.”

“If this salary formula can draw out higher quality men into politics, whatever their motivations, I say, let us have them. It is better than the Opposition we now have…

I make no apologies for collecting the most talented team I could find. Without them, none of you would be enjoying life today in Singapore, including the reporters up there. I say this without any compunction.

Who pays for all this? A Singapore economy which has been so finely tuned that it is able to take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way.

What on earth are we arguing about? Except people get envious and they say, ‘They should really be sacrificing.’

So it is crucial when you have tranquil Singapore that you recognise that politics demands that extra of a person, a commitment to people and to ideals. You are not just doing a job. This is a vocation. Not unlike the priesthood, you must feel for people, you must want to change society and make lives better.

If I had not done that and got no satisfaction out of it, then I would have been a fool doing it because I could have gone back to Lee and Lee umpteen years ago and ridden the boom and sat back, probably at least as rich as my brother, or my two brothers – one is a doctor, another a lawyer.

Even though Malaysian politicians earn significantly lesser than their Singapore counterparts, there were always probes into their wealth and businesses.

Najib is currently undergoing investigations for fraud. They found tens of locked safes with gold bars.

Even Mahathir himself, who is seen as a savior to the country now, has his own scandals.

Last year, there were calls for a probe into the wealth of Mahathir’s children. They urged former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad to explain how his sons Mokhzani and Mirzan had become billionaires “overnight” and are among the richest Malaysians in the world.

Other scandals also include the Bumiputra Malaysia Finance, Perwaja Steel and Port Klang Free Zone which involved hundereds of millions of dollars.

In the BMF issue, hundreds of millions of dollars in bad loans were lent out by the government bank to Hong Kong property players.

In the Perwaja scandal which happened from 1992 to 1995, a government plan to boost the local steel industry failed, with accusations that millions of dollars earmarked for development went missing. In the RM12 billion PKFZ scandal in the 1990s, alleged corruption greatly inflated the costs of building the regional shipping hub.

So, is it just because Najib went overboard and chalked up billions of dollars, it makes Mahathir looks like a saint now and everyone forgets the scandals during his leadership?

Reducing minister’s salary is one thing. How to prevent or guarantee that the ministers will not find any ways to pocket side income is another thing. Can the Malaysian ministers all promise that to their citizens? Even their own finance minister Lim Guan Eng is facing corruption charges.

Singapore’s high ministerial salary comes with the fact that there is a clean wage policy, declaration of income, integrity and character. The ministers’ salary looks a lot on paper but considering that they do not even have a pension scheme, this salary is what they will get and of course, they definitely cannot have any side income or any funny business. The track record of our CPIB has shown that it will track down and eliminate anyone who dares to pocket anything they should not have.

If you to really take a look and compare the line by line item of all the declared and undeclared income and the side businesses of these Ministers,  the richest are actually all around Singapore, just not in Singapore. It takes character to keep the white uniform stain-free



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