Thursday, January 05, 2012
Symbolism in Slashing Salaries and Lengthening Legitimacy
The obvious sign that the PAP government is worried about the weakening social contract with the voters is the commitment to take up the recommendations of the salary review committee.
Make no mistake that the slashing of the salary is not a small amount, although the revised salary is still astronomical by any standard for any honest politician. According to The Guardian, despite the populist pay cut, PM Lee's pay is still three times that of Hong Kong chief executive, Donald Tsang, the world's next highest paid political leader in the world.
Slashing Pay by a Third and More
With the review, entry-level MR4 ministers, would get a 37% pay cut to about $935,000 to $1,100,00 if they just started off, while the PM would get a similar proportionate cut of 36% to $2,200,000. The formula for this distinction is that the PM's salary is pegged at twice the MR4 salary. MR3 ministers get the biggest cut of 39% in their salaries. However, the pay cut for higher grade ministers is generally less significant in comparison e.g. 35% cut for MR2, 33% cut for MR1 and 31% cut for DPM. The President, however, would get a more substantial pay cut of 51% to $1,540,000.
Also, contrary to what Leong Sze Hian in TOC wrote that the pay cut excludes bonuses to be paid, the Review Committee stated that after the recommended pay cut, ministers' salary for the entry MR4 grade with maximum bonuses of 7 months thrown in would reach $1,100,000 as the limit. Overall, the symbolism for the pay cut is there on the wall for all to see except the blind or the blindly anti-PAP. The symbolism of a deep cut of a about more than a third of the salary is a powerful one. A 30% cut is a potent attempt at reinventing quick legitimacy and to any rational observer it is not tokenism. Tokenism is when the salary is cut 3%. Would you the reader personally feel that it is a big deal if your salary is cut 30%?
The salary slashing is sufficient symbolically as a first step towards a new social contract to the moderate observer. However it is expected that it is never enough for the hardcore PAP critic.
The slashing of the salaries is a good gesture, a shrewd move to show that the PAP is bothered to try forging a new social contract. It is weaved as part of the earlier populist package where rightly unpopular ministers like Raymond Lim, Wong Kan Seng and Mah Bow Tan were asked to step down even though they won their seats in the last GE. Similarly, the PAP need not have bothered to slash their salaries now, so soon after the GE and so far away from the next GE to score points. Yet, they did, to invest in political capital.
For both the PAP apologists and cynics, the timing of the commendable step towards a pay reduction actually shows that the PAP wants to listen, please and make amends, for now. Still, while appreciated, a hefty pay cut alone does not restore fully the PAP's legitimacy in our eyes. It was never really a matter of how much they pocketed, but what they did or didn't do in the context of the amount they earned.