Looking frail and tired at a ‘Future of Asia’ symposium in Tokyo on 24 May, Mr Lee Kuan Yew continued to insist that (PAP) ministers can easily earn more in the private sector and thus must be paid millions to be ministers.
He said Singapore is very careful in selecting its new leaders, allowing them to work with senior leaders for long years before they take over the leadership. He added this is to ensure that leaders understand the intricacies of government and also maintain high standards of honesty and duty.
“I hope that successive leaders will bring in carefully selected people who have got the potential to do more than something for themselves. They’re not paid very much to do that. It must be a bit of a sacrifice, because the people with the potential to be ministers can easily earn bigger figures outside in the public sector,” he said.
I think Mr Lee still refuses to believe that brilliant people do not need to be paid tremendous amounts to serve. Even in the US, where CEO’s and Wall Street Bankers can earn tens or even hundreds of millions, there is no shortage of brilliant people who put aside their careers and join an Administration when called upon by a new President. There are also people who spend tens of millions of their own money to get elected as Senators, Mayors and Governors because they want to serve and to give back to the community. People like Michael Bloomberg, for instance.
Equally, there is also no basis to Mr Lee’s implication that talented private sector people who earn millions make the best ministers, and thus the country must pay huge amounts to lure them from the private sector. Indeed, there is even evidence that some brilliant private sector people who can earn tens or hundreds of millions in the private sector don’t do so well in the public sector. People like Henry Paulson or Paul O’Neill, for instance.
It looks like Mr Lee will hold on to his belief about ministerial pay to his dying day. Instead of seeing that good Singaporeans do not want to join the PAP because of what it is, and that good Singaporeans who are opposed to the PAP do not want to join politics because of the climate of fear he has created, he still chooses to believe that good people don’t want to join PAP purely because of their selfish money reasons.
The debate on Ministerial pay is over. PAP won. But the country lost because it has accepted Mr Lee’s and PAP’s belief underlying Minsterial pay– that it’s all about money and sacrifice.
While I do not advocate paying peanuts, I believe that the Lee & Lee era passes, once there is genuine political freedom in Singapore, we will have brilliant people who will have political ambition, who are willing to put aside their careers when called upon to serve. Indeed, I believe that there will be a new generation of leaders who will want to spend their lives in politics and public serviceright from the start, rather than having to be parachuted in from the private sector by the PAP.
Too bad Mr Lee won’t live to see that day.