It’s long been the philosophy of the ruling Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) that we needed to pay top dollar in order to attract talent who would not be swayed into corruption. It is in line with this philosophy that our top civil servants and ministers are paid so well. Recently, it was reported that a new batch of mayors have been sworn in, all at eye watering remuneration packages.
No one is disputing that the mayors do contribute to public life. The question however is whether they need to be paid quite so much and in addition, whether an elected member of parliament (MP) can also perform those duties. After all, isn’t public service supposed to be a calling?
The example set by the Singapore People’s Party (SPP)’s Jose Raymond is a reminder that one does not have to be highly paid in order to help. In a post on Facebook, Raymond has called on residents of Potong Pasir Single-Member Constituency (SMC) seeking new employment to send in their résumés through his website. He has also revealed that he will be collaborating with a developer “to create a marketplace so that residents in need can be linked up to residents or businesses who are giving”.
In looking at Raymond’s initiative, we have to bear in mind that he is doing this completely out of his own volition. He is not an elected MP. He does not draw a salary from the public purse and yet he is putting in his own time and effort to help Singaporeans.
This example surely challenges the PAP’s narrative of needing to pay sky high salaries in order to get things done.
At the heart of the matter, people entering public service should not be entering it for the sole purpose of a high salary. While people should be fairly remunerated for their work, we have to get the balance right. Comparing the mayoral salaries with Raymond’s shining example, it does give one pause for thought – do the PAP need to rethink its “money money money” rhetoric?
It is noteworthy that Raymond lost out to the PAP’s Sitoh Yih Pin in the recent general election. While not chosen, he is still working hard (and for free) to help the people of Potong Pasir SMC.
While the cynics may assume that he is doing this to win the election next time, the counter to that cynicism is that he is at least not taking the people for granted. Clearly, he understands peoples’ job concerns and is doing whatever he can to alleviate the worries. Besides, there is no guarantee that he would ever win anyway. Opposition politics is after all an uphill battle in the Singaporean construct.
Those who are used to (and expect) a high salary to serve the people may inadvertently find themselves unable to rock the boat (even if it is for the benefit of the people) if it would threaten their salaries. After all, it would probably be fair to say that the line between the state and the PAP is still very blurred and until there is a strong opposition presence in Parliament will that line ever be clear.
We may need to rethink our ingrained beliefs that you need to pay top dollar to get talent or willing.