Singapore Boosts Pay for Officials... Again

Singaporean ministers and civil servants, already by far the highest-paid public servants in the world, are scheduled to receive a second round of pay raises starting Jan. 1 ranging from 4 percent to 21 percent. The increase will drive Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s salary to S$3.7 million, or US$2.53 million, more than six times that of US President George W. Bush.

The government kicked off furious public discussion in April, when the Singapore Public Service Division announced pay rises that gave Lee a 25.5 percent increase, to S$3.1 million. In response to the furor, Lee at the time announced he would donate his pay raise to charity and hold his current level of pay for five years.

The Singapore government has long taken the stance that public officials should receive pay commensurate with the top of the country’s business elite, both to attract top talent and to forestall any temptation towards corruption. On a conventional level, the latter has worked. There have been almost no scandals attached to Singaporean ministers for decades.

At the very top of the salary pyramid is Singapore President S R Nathan, whose salary will rise to S$3.8 million (US$2.6 million). The Public Service Division’s revised salary package gives starting-grade ministers a salary of S$1.94 million (US$1.32 million). Rank-and-file ministers and the republic’s top civil servants will receive salary increases of 4 percent. Allowances for Members of Parliament are also set to increase, to S$225,000 a year, a 4 percent jump.

One angry Singapore blogger posted salaries for other international politicians. In addition to Bush, US Vice President Richard Cheney receives US$202,900 annually, cabinet secretaries range from US$157,000 to 186,600. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown receives the equivalent of US$170,556 and his cabinet ministers receive the equivalent of US$146,299. Newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Australia receives US$137,060, the Deputy Prime Minister get US$111,439 and the treasurer is paid US$102,682.

The Singaporean Minister in charge of the Civil Service, Teo Chee Hean told reporters last week that the increases are in keeping with April's announcement.

“Public sector salaries move up and down with the market. In this tight labor market, private sector salaries have moved up significantly, as the benchmark figures show. The service needs to follow promptly in order to attract and retain good people,” said Teo.

He added that actual pay is tied to individual performance and the performance of the economy. Some 50 percent of public servants’ annual salaries at senior levels are performance based.

At that, the public services department said, the current round of salary increases only bring wages for level-four ministers to 77 percent of private sector benchmarks to which they are pegged. The benchmark, the department said, is set at two-thirds of the median pay for the top eight earners in the fields of banking, law, engineering and accounting and top executives with multinationals and local manufacturers.

At age 55, serving Singaporean ministers may collect both their salaries and their full pensions if they have held office for a minimum of eight years under a complex formula for determining the amount, capped at two thirds of the highest annual salary of any public office held by the individual. Lee Hsien Loong, in answer to questions in Parliament in 2004, said eight cabinet ministers currently receive both salaries.