Political appointments are not employments

There are so many views and suggestions on how the Ministerial Salary Review shall be conducted. From a human resource point of view, I think it is necessary to revisit the fundamentals. What is a minister or an MP? With that understanding, we may then approach the design of its compensation in a way that is appropriate to the nature of the position. A minister is not a job like any job, but a political appointment. Just like MPs, they are all elected representatives of the people but holding a higher office for a duration of 5 years. Period. It does not have an unending tenure of service. The fact that some of our ministers have been serving for decades is a peculiarity that may not happen in the future. Even if it does, each period of appointment is a new term of service, unrelated. Why are people talking about annual appraisal, salary increment, bonuses, pension etc etc that are part and parcel of an employee of an organization? What do these terms have to do with a political appointment with a short mandate from the people? A Prime Minister may want to appraise the performance of his ministers and reshuffle his cabinet as he deems fit. That is his prerogative. Is he also thinking of the annual appraisal of an employee which ends with a salary increment or performance bonus? Who is the employer and who is paying for the increment? If the employer is the ruling party, and the money is from the ruling party, by all means, do whatever they like. The employer of the politicians is the people, who voted them for a fixed term of 5 years. They will then have to seek the people’s mandate for another 5 year term. The people/employer will then decide if they want to give them another 5 years. It is like a contract for service with fixed terms. With this kind of contract, the remuneration for the ministers and all politicians shall be a fixed sum for the duration of the mandate. The issue of annual increment does not come into play. It is a package deal for 5 years. Bonus and pension too have no place in such political appointments. If there is any reward for politicians who have served for an exceptional long period of time, this may be provided as a form of one time gratuity to the deserving politician on a separate basis. The same could also apply to the head of govt or head of state as exceptions to the rule. It shall not be an across the board provision for every political office holder as if they are employees. The other important issue is who shall decide how much to pay the politicians? Obviously it is not right for them to approve their own pay cheque. A neutral Salary Review Commission can be appointed as what is already done. The approval shall come from the people through a referendum, something similar to shareholders approving the remunerations of the Board of Directors in an AGM. At most, this may be held once every 5 years or over a longer period if the economic condition or inflation has not deflated the value to of the compensation package to make it meaningless or unattractive. No political party must get away with the impression that once they are elected, the Treasury is their piggy bank and they can create as many appointments as they like to reward their members. Politicians going into politics, to be elected by the people are there to serve the people. They do not join politics as an employment with a career path and a life long pay package. If the current thinking is to go by, the govt will have to set up a human resource ministry to administer performance appraisal on the politicians, including the Prime Minister. Staff performance will become another job specifications for the Prime Minister and Ministers, and of course a salary scale, including a scale for the MPs, and all the terms of conditions of employment. After so many years of one party rule, the people have been distracted to think that ministerial appointments and political appointments are jobs, a career with career path and salary scale. Every year the incumbents can look forward to promotions, career advancement, annual increments and bonuses and pensions. Grandfather’s company? If the political climate is changed and after every election there is a change of govt, all the suggestions for performance appraisal, salaries, bonuses etc etc will become obsolete, irrelevant even if provided for. Please don’t get confuse. A politician and political appointment is not a job. Let the people decide how much they should be remunerated as a package for a fixed term of appointment. Nothing more, nothing less. If they want more, seek another mandate from the people and approval from the people. The current govt has been entrenched for too long to forget that they are not employees of the state like the civil servants. There is no contract of service and no terms of employment. KPIs are being booted by everyone as if it is the main factor to determine how much must a politician be rewarded. It is superfluous actually. The KPI, if useful, is to let the people judge the performance of the politician and whether to re elect him in the next election. It must not be an instrument to reward him with more bonuses or pay increases. The performance of a politician is not for the PM to tell but the people to decide. I hope the Review Committee will approach its task from the point of a 5 year mandate and not a life long employment. They must erase the current thinking that the package comes with all the perks and terms of an employee.


Wally Buffet said...


Long post but I have a short comment.

We appear to be running a corporation, not a country.


chua soon hock said...

One of the best, if not the best, written article on Ministerial and politicial appointments' compensation so far.
The underlying reasoning is sound, wise and clear. Hope our dear honorable PM and the esteem Pay Review Panel will consider what Mr. Chua Chin Leng has posted.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Hi soon hock, welcome to the blog. And thanks for the compliment.

Send my regards to soon chye: )

Anonymous said...

If a minister is not a job like any job, but a political appointment, why are they benchmarking their salaries against earnings that are all derived from doing a job?

The argument is getting more like they are now trying to stick on another fallacious statement to get away with murder.

Anonymous said...

a minister runs a huge portfolio and rightly should earn something reasonably big. a minister that is in name only, with no ministry, is still getting paid a minister's full salary, or more for crystal ball gazing, or just go travelling.

Anonymous said...

This is the clearest analysis of the issue. I hope the committee reviewing ministerial salaries would be equally clear-headed. To ensure this, the committee should inform the electorate (i.e. the employer) what concepts, standards and values are being used for the review. In other words, do they understand that ministers are there on the basis of being elected members of parliament? They are not personnel recruited for jobs.

Shari K said...

Thank you for a sound and convincing argument for rethinking the role and status of politicians. Politicians claim at election rallies they are desirous of serving their country, and we were brought up to consider going into politics as a vocation, like becoming a teacher or a member of clergy: to serve others because that's what one wants to do. Remuneration becomes secondary, though not unimportant. What tends to happen in countries with longlife leaders and parties eg Eygpt, Syria to mention the most currently obvious, is the corruption of this reasoning: no longer is serving one's country the motivation for running for political office, instead it is the financial gain and other benefits and privileges that accrue to political office which tempts potential politicians. Or, to (mis)quote JFK: Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Hi shari, welcome to the blog.

All human beans are the same. They tend to get corrupted or deluded by power and greed. The longer they are in power the more deluded they become.

Anonymous said...

LKY appt Advisor to GIC, Goh CT advisor to MAS, Lim BH advisor to PA.

How much are they paid for these advisory appts that were created for them?

Anonymous said...

Refreshing look at how political appointees should be renumerated. And the reasoning makes a lot of sense and is certainly valid and applicable to our uniquely Singaporean situation.

It is that simple and it never occurred to any of us. Now I feel we are hook winked by the PAP all these years.

I suggest writer send a copy of this post to Gerald Ee.

Anonymous said...

So simplistic to think that there are many people out there who want just to serve the people and the country, and at the same time be at the mercy of the citizens in regard to how much the they should be paid, or not be paid, for serving them (the people). If there are such politicians, then they are the very rare species and the rest will still want to be politicians for the power and with it the ability, and the ample opportunity, to get their monies through other means, that are corrupt and under the table, or maybe even above board

Singapore’s success under the present ruling party is well recognised by people and leaders all over the world. But in our own country our political leaders continue to receive demeaning and discouraging remarks from some quarters, the issue of ministerial salaries is just one. Some Singaporeans demand altruism from their political leaders that they themselves failed to live up to. We did not run into deficits because of ministerial salaries, did we? And despite paying our ministers their present salaries our national reserves are still huge and growing. And, those who are the most disenchanted with this issue are probably not the ones paying the most taxes, only 20% or so Singaporeans are, if I remember correctly. I agree that the Ministerial Salary Review is a good and timely move but anyone talking about the dos and don’ts, and the how and what, at this stage is premature. We are now treading into unfamiliar grounds and no one can claim they have the knowledge or the experience to advice, decide or define what is right and fair. Let the Review Committee do their homework and come up with their recommendations.