Friday, January 27, 2012

Promising MP and Civil Servants - From Sex to Scandals to Stupidity

Singaporeans were treated to sensationalism, sex and scandals over the Lunar New Year. First, there were rumours of WP Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong going around the Internet, initiated by Temasek Review Emeritus, formerly known as Temasek Review. However, the name change did not change its sensationalistic tabloid style and agenda. Then Wanbao, the print cousin of TRE, ran news about the heads of the SCDF and CNB being investigated by the CPIB for corruption.

Supposed Scoundrels at Every Corner

More bits of the puzzle trickled out since then. MP Yaw Shin Leong chose not to comment on his supposed affair with a fellow female WP member who is also married. The WP also refused to comment on the rumoured Hougang MP's extra-marital affair and speculation is rife that this is tantamount to a confession of guilt. Reminds me of the Foo Mee Har allegations during her GE campaigning and that her refusal to sue or comment meant her flings were true. SCDF commissioner Peter Lim and CNB director Ng Boon Gay were involved with an unnamed IT executive and the cases appeared more to be about improper sexual relationships with women although speculation is still rampant on the details.

So there we have it. Sex and scandals. Where does the stupidity come in? Some might point to MP Yaw Shin Leong for being stupid to be involved in an extra-marital affair with someone from his party, assuming the rumours are true, jeopardising his personal and political life at one shot. There would be others who would say the SCDF and CNB heads were stupid to get sexually involved with a contractor.

However, the stupidity does not rest fully with MP Yaw Shin Leong, former SCDF chief Peter Lim or former CNB head Ng Boon Gay. The highest burden of stupidity lies with the people who jumped to clouded conclusions.

Setting the Records Straight

While it looked like MP Yaw Shin Leong had an extra-marital affair based on his reaction, what does it matter if he did? That is his personal life and however troubled it may be for his family, it does not necessarily impede his integrity as a politician or his party's effectiveness. Clinton was still a popular and relatively effective president despite being blown, and his ECA with an intern blown. Singaporeans should just learn to be mature and not be confused by revelations out to undermine Yaw Shin Leong's political ambitions. Under no circumstances should the thought of him stepping down and a by-election be entertained.

Similarly, many jumped to the conclusions that Ng Boon Gay and Peter Lim embezzled money and are CPIB's biggest aces since Teh Cheang Wan, Phey Yew Kok or Glenn Knight. Investigations are still in progress and there is no confirmation of taking bribes. Also while some jumped to the argument that it shows Singapore is full of corrupt civil servants, the very show that CPIB would catch big fish heads in MHA means that there is zero tolerance for any imagined or genuine corruption even.

This Lunar New Year variety show of sex and scandals just reminds us that we should be aware of the yapping jackals inside and outside the Internet.

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%?

Regaining Popularity

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.