Clearing the Smokescreen: Ministerial Salaries and the Workers’ Party Stance
PUBLISHED ON 04 Oct 2018
DPM Teo Chee Hean’s response in Parliament on Monday helped to clarify many questions on ministerial salaries. But I was troubled by the conduct of the Workers’ Party on the matter. 

Ministerial salaries have always been an emotive issue.  The WP had for many years criticised the salaries of ministers for being too high.

But after winning Aljunied GRC in GE2011, the WP changed tack. 

During the Parliamentary debate on ministerial salaries in 2012, the WP put forward their own proposal.

The WP agreed with the same fundamental principles put forward by the independent committee: that the salary should be competitive, there should be a discount to reflect the ethos of sacrifice in public service, and it should be a clean wage with no hidden perks. 

Though the WP proposed a different formula for calculating the salary, it resulted in the same overall amount of $1.1 million per annum.
After that debate, the WP kept silent on ministerial salaries for several years, including in the last general election in 2015.

In March this year, DPM Teo informed Parliament that the government had formed a new independent committee, which had reviewed and affirmed the current salary framework. 
Again, the WP did not raise any questions.

But when public discussion on ministerial salaries surfaced more recently, NCMP Leon Perera filed a question on 10 September about the bonuses paid to Cabinet ministers. 

He asked for a written instead of an oral answer. This meant that the government would only provide a written response, without any further clarifications or exchanges in Parliament. Mr Perera wanted to avoid a face-to-face exchange in Parliament. Why was that so?

On its Facebook page, the WP sensationalised DPM Teo’s answer. They highlighted the bonuses prominently, without explaining that the bonuses were already fully incorporated into the $1.1mn salary norm, and were not something over and above the norm, as DPM Teo had emphasised. 

This contributed to misinformation circulating online about the quantum of salaries paid to ministers.

On 1 Oct, Mr Perera filed a further question on ministerial salaries, again for written answer.  But as I had posed a similar question for oral answer, DPM Teo gave a full reply in Parliament. He responded to further clarifications from MPs, and invited the WP to state its stand. 

In the exchange that followed, Mr Pritam Singh confirmed that the WP accepted the principles of the ministerial salaries, and that the WP’s own proposal would pay ministers $1.1 mn a year. Essentially, if a WP government came into power tomorrow, the WP ministers would be paid the same as the PAP ministers are paid today.

Mr Singh then made a show of pressing the Government to publish more information “in an easy to understand manner for the public”, so that the “prospects of more misinformation can be reduced”.  DPM Teo pointed out that he had already provided all the information asked for, and the salary framework was totally transparent. He invited Mr Singh to post up the information fully on the WP’s online site, together with information on the WP’s own proposal.

But in their next Facebook post, the WP again presented a partial and misleading picture.
  • They did not say that they agreed with the principles of the ministerial salaries.
  • They did not say that all the bonuses were part of the norm salary of $1.1 mn.
  • They did not say that the WP’s own salary formula would come to the same sum.
Instead, the WP again highlighted just the number of months of bonuses, and based on this deliberately distorted presentation, asked for views on how ministerial salaries should be calculated. 

Why did they hide the fact that their own $1.1m proposal would have converted a chunk of these bonuses into a much higher guaranteed fixed salary than now, regardless of performance or national outcomes?

Are they throwing a smokescreen to distract and backtrack from their own proposal which Mr Singh had just reaffirmed so clearly in Parliament?
 There is a consistent pattern in WP’s behaviour.  And it reeks of political opportunism. 

The WP talks about a First World Parliament, but studiously avoids debating issues in Parliament.  Instead, after obtaining information in Parliament, it misuses this information selectively online, suppressing key facts, to cynically work up the public against the government. 

All this reminds me of the Latin phrase a High Court Judge once used to describe the conduct of the WP Chairman – “suppressio veri suggestio falsi” (the suppression of the truth suggests a falsehood). 

The WP has a new leadership, but it appears that old habits are hard to change. 

Alex Yam
Member Parliament
Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC