Singaporeans seem to be imagining that they have forced the government, by giving the worst ever electoral results in GE and PE in 2011, to start in a new direction in remuneration of politicians. Many Singaporeans are so happy that with the PAP’s review of salaries.
What Singaporeans fail to realize is that they have just scratched the surface of PAP’s pyramid of power and money.
There is an intrinsic link between power and money in this PAP Pyramid. At the top of the pyramid is the PM with his obscene salaries along with the his cabinet who are also paid obscenely, even after the review. PAP is the only government in the world that uses a totally different system of measuring how much elected politicians should be paid. They insist that their model is supreme and superior to all others. They argue they need this model to prevent corruption which was never a problem amongst Singapore’s politicians in the first place over 50 years. So why are they so worried about preventing a problem that does not exist or that does not seem to likely to start? This is another clear evidence their true intentions is nothing about preventing corruption. It is a mere excuse.
Within the PAP elected politicians itself, a pyramid exist. The one at the top is Lee Kuan Yew. Recently local and foreign media splashed headlines that he has quit from cabinet. Yet he sits at the front bench of parliament where cabinet should sit, lives in Istana where the president should live, maintains an office in the Istana where the Prime Minister needs to be. In an autocracy does an autocrat need a position in a cabinet? When calls were made for Ghadaffi to resign he questioned what position should he resign from since the only position he held was Leader of Revolution. Likewise the only position that the late Kim Jong Il held was Supreme Leader. So it does not matter even if Lee Kuan Yew is the prime minister, senior minister or minister mentor. As long as he is around, he will keep himself as the ultimate power in Singapore. That is why even though he is unable to walk, he refuses to stand down altogether. If he was genuine in leaving the PAP scene, he will have left PAP altogether, moved out of Istana both his residence and office and retire quietly. However having destroyed so many livelihoods and families just to counter any political rivalry, he has a fear that he may be taken to stand trial for his atrocities. He can never feel safe about leaving PAP scene. If he should leave the scene, even Goh Chok Tong who has nothing to stop him, can not only organise to remove his son, Lee Hsein Loong, easily but in the due process hunt Lee Kuan Yew down also. That is the primary reason Lee
Kuan Yew started to push for a policy of overpaying the MPs and Ministers to an extent where there is no way they can get such salaries outside. The biggest temptation to a human is money if not sex. If a person get addicted to it, he will never give it up for anything or he will learn to compromise on anything for it. So the ultimate objective of overpaying is to buy support for Lee Hsein Loong especially when he is no longer around. With such salaries even Goh Chok Tong will not harbor temptations for the prime minister post. It is the safest safeguard Lee Kuan Yew has imagined to protect himself and most importantly his son.
However for this structure to exist, every next level in the private and public sector need to be re-structured. The next level in public sector is the Permanent Secretaries who play the role of un-elected assistant ministers. They are paid around $1million per year. Deputy Permanent Secretaries are paid $700K per year and Administrative Officers are paid $400K per year. None of them can command a higher salary or equal salary in a true private company. Furthermore these PS, DS and AOs have risen up their ranks through a promotion almost every two years or every year which is not possible in a private company. Division heads of ministers who are not AOs earn around $240K. In other countries civil servants of similar positions only command $110-$150K. Only a few will go anywhere higher than $200K. The difference between a PS and Division head in a foreign country’s ministry of a first world will only be between $10K-$50K. In Singapore it is almost five times more. Hence it leads to a natural top down structure giving the PS enormous power and authority. When these civil servants in Singapore retire they also get large gratuities of up to $2million. It is no wonder the civil service extends to be an army of Yes Men because the top level of civil service extends as a power structure of the Prime Minister to control the entire civil service and overall population.
What is intricate about PAP’s money and power pyramid is that which it has built outside the civil service. During 1990s there were calls largely led by IMF for governments to privatize. This meant selling off majority stake or all stake in companies to private individuals or private companies. What PAP instead did was to legally classify government department and companies as “private companies” but maintain either all stake or majority stake in them. In the last 20 years you can see the top civil servants being appointed as CEOs of these newly formed companies. In some cases they moved back to civil service. In fact the CEOs are rotated every 3-6 years. Almost all the time, they do not possess the domain knowledge yet they are praised as big brains. In many cases the directors are also rotated in a similar fashion but they also allow vertical rotation within the agencies/companies for the director positions. In any case the CEOs and top management are paid obscene salaries too where the CEOs earn around $700k-$1million while the directors earn around $400K. That is why when the revelation of TT Durai’s salary of $600K was met with strong public outrage, Goh Chok Tong’s wife demanded the public to rationally see things since the salary was “peanuts”. The public did not understand what she meant and took offense at her. However even now the public do not realize that what she meant was that in relation to what the CEOs of statutory boards, government linked companies etc etc are earning TT Durai is only paid like half of it.
Another interesting thing about PAP’s power and money pyramid is that the PAP’s selection of candidates often come from the lower ranks of the pyramid. In fact Kenneth Jeyaretnam recently explained this pyramid structure well in his article on the cadre system. Though he only focused on the cadre system within PAP and just briefly touched on how it extended, one can see the cadre system is not just about power but it is also about money. What essentially is holding PAP together is this pyramid of power and money. Singaporeans fail to realize that opposition parties cannot build a pyramid such as this unless if they form a government. Hence opposition parties are going to be riddled with the usual party politics.
However this power and money pyramid that holds PAP together is going to also break it. When you create a cadre system that is about power and money you need to maintain it. It is like a conveyor system. You need to keep the conveyor belt moving at same speed and along the way up the cadres need to be paid higher and higher and be given more and more power. PAP is retiring MPs too fast. When they retire, though they get other posts that pays them higher or equally well, they are not getting the power of MPs. In some cases, they are not getting new posts that pay them equally well.
In the case of Tan Cheng Bock, he was someone who was retired too fast. That surfaced as the first major crack in PAP which has split the party to the middle. Then again to keep the cadre conveyor belt moving in the PAP pyramid, they had to retire Tan Cheng Bock. The former PAP MPs that Tan Cheng Bock claimed to be supporting him all were retired too early too. In reality, PAP has no solution to fix this. In a matter of time, its conveyor belt is going to snap.
SG Political Analyst VVV
I find this article interesting, but do not agree with parts of it.
Real conspiracy theory, but enlightening if the salary structure is true.
-- Iron Bowl