When the concept of super talents in politics was first proclaimed in an edict, the people quietly accepted it as there was nothing to dispute the fact that the country has been very well managed, from the Third World to the First World. Albeit a little flaws here and there, overall the country was in the pink of health and the people were rich and happy.
With this edict out of the way, it was easy to put meat onto this claim. The country needed the best talents to keep it going from prosperity to prosperity. And the best talents needed to be paid the best. The best talents would not want to sacrifice their careers and money making opportunities to serve the country and people if they were to be under paid. It made sense. So they went piling on the plate.
Till sometime last year, this year is not over yet, there were strong indications of more pay hikes for the political leaders. Something like how much you want, $3m, $5m or $10m? No one knows exactly how much the politicians were taking home except the basic pay.
The year 2011 proved to be a turning point of sort, a watershed in many ways. Hot on the heels of the Mas Selamat Escape in 2008, a series of bloops continued to fall on the faces of ministers in charge. Transportation, floods, Youth Olympics, Housing, cost of living, foreign talents and unemployments of local PMETs, all added to become a big pool of grievances.
The ground shift was felt in the May General Election. George Yeo was shaken even before the voters went to cast their votes. Hsien Loong made a quick public apology in his election speech. And the ruling party lost a GRC, an unsinkable contraptions that was not meant to sink, but sank it did, taking with it two ministers and a couple of top talents in the govt. It was only one GRC, but the psychological and emotional impact of this event was like saying more to come.
The appearance of Chen Show Mao, a truly super talent with international standing and a super income to boot, stood for the opposition and willing to accept a paltry $13,000 as an MP allowance. Small relative to what he could get but huge in many ways to what many MPs could get relative to their incomes. He could earn many times more. This act alone shattered the myth that super talents would only be enticed by money to serve the country and people.
Against this backdrop, the ruling party added to their wound with more questionable and doubtful super talents in their teams and hilarious accounts flooded the media. It was like the strike of a thunderbolt. The super talent myth was gone. There was disbelief as well as affirmation that it was all a myth.
With the fallen myth and the discredited policies that affected the lives of citizens adversely, the super salaries of politicians became a big issue. Suddenly it was seen as unjustifiable, grossly overpaid, leading to Hsien Loong calling for a Salary Review Committee to relook into the whole formula of out of this world salary for the ministers. And the first comment from Gerard Ee, who was tasked to do the review, was that the ‘final answer must include a substantial discount on comparable salaries in the private sector.’ A discount or a substantial salary cut is what the people are expecting. No body in his right mind would think that paying the ministers so much is right. And no ministers were in the right mind to stand up to defend their salaries as deserving and appropriate.
The report by the Committee has been submitted to Hsien Loong and all eyes and ears are waiting eagerly to see what the Committee has recommended. The year 2011 marks the end of the super talent concept and salaries in politics.