The ministerial salary recommendation was passed after three days of debate. Though there were some attempts to take issues with the recommendation on grounds of principles and methodology, eventually all was convinced that there was really nothing to discuss as it was a judgement call. And there was elation when a common number was found and a hurry to move on with no regards to how it is derived. The only agreement was that there is a need to pay well to attract the right calibre of candidates for the important position of ministers.
Though I have been away from the human resource industry for a while, I cannot help but to see a reluctance to really do a thorough proposal based on what should be the relevant factors and inputs to come out with a less subjective recommendation. The main flaws in the recommendation are the insistence on the use of top income earners and the refusal to use comparative salary of politicians of other countries. The latter was pooh pooh away by raising a few strawmen as justifications, that because of these flimsy excuses, comparing them would be unsatisfactory. I will come back to this later.
Why the preoccupation with the top 1000 income earners and how relevant is this? The perceived intrinsic bias to use these high numbers is that the salary will have a higher base to start with and thus self serving. The cynics would not be happy for many obvious reasons. The PAP’s argument to favour this selective pick of the top 1000 is that the potential candidates should come from this pool of people, apparently logical but not really.
I will just point out two fallacies from this assumption. One, top money earners are not necessary top political leadership material. Political leadership means many more important things than just about ability to make money from any means or profession. The second point is that top income earners are likely to be so wealthy that they would not be distracted by a few million dollars, plus or minus. Money is not really an issue to attract them as they have plenty of them. And this is well pointed out earlier by another MP.
Money is only important to the talents that are not making that kind of money, and wanted to earn more, or near to what these people are making. The disconnect between this logic and the target group is pretty obvious. It is a flawed argument, a flawed basis to work on.
The second point I want to make is the quick dismissal of using foreign political leaders for comparison. Why? The often quoted reasons are related to corruption and tangible and intangible perks or benefits. As far as benefits are concerned, it is easy to find out and easy to quantified. For people who shoot freely about Air Force One or about trying to pay peanuts, these are foolish arguments that should not be entertained as quoting them showed that they are not serious. Second home allowance or travelling allowances of UK politicians are only relevant to them as the country is big and it is costly to travel from Scotland to London for Parliament sittings. Armoured plated cars for Obama is not a benefit but a necessity as his head has a big price. When mentioning benefits, one must be serious and not spurious just to win an argument.
All the perks can be tabled and the compensation specialists can review them for their relevance. This is something very lacking in the whole process. The dismissal of inputs from the compensation experts and every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks that designing compensation packages is about commonsense and anyone can do it. Maybe they are right if it all boils down to judgement call. The taxi driver too can come up with a set of numbers.
Some benefits are specific and unique in nature and are simply inappropriate for consideration. Whatever perks that are official are obtainable and can be monetised in some ways. Intangible perks may be a problem if relevant. Getting a proper list of all the perks for consideration cannot be a difficult task for such an important matter.
The corruption part is more tricky but not unsurmountable either. We are talking about developed countries and not lawless dictatorships which should not even be part of the equation. Under table payouts cannot be considered as morally they are wrong and illegal. No sensible govt will dare to quote corruption as something that must be paid in a country that is incorruptible and makes corruption illegal.
Then again there are ways to by pass such issues of morality by creating a corruption index to help the incumbents from being corrupt. Of course this kind of thinking would not be tolerable to many. Assuming that it can be bulldozed through, then make a provision for it by calling it under whatever terms, or make a judgement call.
What I find disturbing is that there was no serious attempt to use the salary and perks of foreign political leaders for comparison when this is the most logical thing to do. All the exceptions and differences, in terms of size, economy, population, land mass, uniqueness etc can be moderated or massaged, with different weightages attached, to make them meaningful.
By brushing aside the most appropriate source of comparison and plunging into something that is really of no relevance to political leadership makes the recommendation and approval by Parliament a bit rancid and distasteful. Quite disappointing really, when the top and bestest talents were involved to challenge the recommendation or supporting it. At the end of three days, hook, line and sinkers were all swallowed in one big gulp and everyone seems so please, and with a sense of great achievement.
Where are the inputs from the human resource and compensation specialists?