Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Managers vs Leaders

NMP Siew Kum Hong made an excellent speech in Parliament regarding civil service salary revisions. He made the distinction between Ministers and other civil servants (including Administrative Services officers) by saying that the former *leads* Singapore while the latter *manages* the country. For the most part, Siew appeared to suggest that open-ended salary benchmarks for Ministers would erode the moral authority they require.

Therein lies the dilemma. The Government’s point is that if being a Minister paid too little, not enough of the able would step forward. Siew (and I believe many of the rational in the blogosphere) are making the point that if Ministers are paid too much, unsuitable candidates (i.e. those who are materialistic etc) would step forward. They would probably also be further out of touch with the populace given the lifestyles they can afford.

PM Lee announced today that he would donate his pay increment for the next 5 years to charity. This is an adroit political solution, since 5 years will bring him past the next election, and Singaporeans could vote him out then if the pay issue is so critical. I suspect that some other senior Ministers (e.g. MM and SM) may follow suit.

While this side-steps the current we-just-vote-you-in-now-you-go-pay-yourself-more dilemma, it will not address Siew’s point that those who serve need to do so more for love of country than love of money. Benchmarking against the top earners is simply not the way to do. I would reiterate my earlier suggestion that Ministers’ salaries be pegged to the median income.

As for other civil servants, I agree with Siew that they would essentially view the public and private sectors as alternative career paths, and they can work for whoever offers a better package, whether in pay/pensions, stability, career prospects or other intangibles. The government, on the other hand, should also view its employees in this light. Just pay what you need to get who you need. Do you need an Administrative Services scholar at $360,000 for the job? Or can a regular graduate at a fraction of the cost perform the same role? Admittedly, there will be some roles which have greater requirements than others. So just find the right person for each role and pay them accordingly.

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