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DPM Wong sidesteps salary review question in BBC Interview amidst political scandals

In a BBC interview addressing recent corruption and affair scandals, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong sidestepped questions about potential reviews of Singapore’s ministerial salaries – often cited as among the highest in the world.

Despite the pressing nature of the query, Wong offered no concrete answer, instead pivoting to reiterate the government’s existing principles and the distinct nature of the upcoming Presidential Election, leaving the issue of high ministerial pay unresolved.

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In an exclusive interview with BBC Newsday on 26 July 2023, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Lawrence Wong, acknowledged the recent corruption and affair scandals as a setback to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and the government.

The conversation follows the arrest of Singapore’s Transport Minister, S. Iswaran, in a corruption investigation, and the resignations of Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin and Member of Parliament Cheng Li Hui due to an inappropriate relationship, both unfolding this month.

Wong conveyed regret over the scandals that have surfaced within a short span, but underscored the government’s clear and decisive response to address these issues.

“We have sought to set things straight; to do the right thing,” he asserted.

“We have been upfront about the cases, they will be investigated thoroughly, and we will have a full accounting to the public as and when investigation findings are available.”

Addressing the delayed confirmation of Iswaran’s arrest, Wong clarified that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), responsible for investigating corruption, is an independent agency with operational prerogative over information disclosure.

The decision to reveal Iswaran’s arrest, he emphasized, was solely CPIB’s. Despite the CPIB’s reporting relationship with the Prime Minister, Wong insisted the agency has consistently acted independently and that no Prime Minister has ever interfered in its investigations.

When questioned about the public’s right to know about the arrest immediately, Wong acknowledged the sentiment but urged understanding of the operational considerations and respect for the CPIB’s autonomy.

“I believe Singaporeans have full trust in the work of the CPIB. We have zero tolerance for corruption, and CPIB acts independently, and are very thorough in their investigation,” he noted.

When BBC questioned why the Speaker of Parliament was allowed to continue his duties despite the Prime Minister’s awareness of the affair, DPM Wong stated that, in cases of personal conduct as compared to corruption, there must be an exercise of judgment.

“We set high standards for propriety and personal conduct, but in dealing with such instances, which are reflections of human frailties, we must be aware of the repercussions our actions can have on innocent parties, such as families,” he explained. Striking a balance between demonstrating sensitivity and compassion, and upholding the public’s trust in governmental responsibilities is crucial, according to Wong.

The delay in making the affair public was also addressed. The DPM explained that while the affair was inappropriate, the government does not constantly scrutinise the private lives of its MPs

“When the information was first made known to the Prime Minister, as he had already explained in the press conference, he had spoken to them, counselled them, asked them to stop. But we did not know what was going on until subsequently, the Prime Minister found out again and he spoke to them in February this year, and learned that this was continuing, and he accepted the resignation then. Arrangements were made for the resignation of the Speaker later on. I think these timelines have been explained and as I said, the Prime Minister will go through them again in Parliament if needed.”

When asked about the potential impact of these scandals on the forthcoming Presidential Election, Wong reframed the conversation, suggesting that the election was to select an individual for the highest office of the land, not a vote for the government.

He insisted that the candidate, Mr Tharman, also a former member of the PAP, is independent and capable of making his own case to win the trust of Singaporeans.

While Wong, tipped to be the next Prime Minister of the country, expressed his personal determination to uphold Singaporeans’ trust, he refrained from offering specifics on how he might act differently in future scandals, instead emphasizing that each case is unique.

No answer on whether to review ministerial salaries

It is interesting to note how Wong did not want to answer the question of whether the PAP government will review the ministerial salaries.

BBC: How would you do that though, because you do have the Presidential Election later this year. And also, what would you do to re-earn that trust? For example, as we mentioned, Singapore has some of the highest paid Ministers and especially when the argument is, that is to discourage things like corruption. That kind of defeats the whole argument, doesn’t it? Would you, for example, consider their salaries to be reviewed? What would you do differently to re-earn that trust?

DPM Wong: The Presidential Election is a different matter. That is an election to select the individual to take up the highest office of the land, and I am confident Singaporeans will choose the best candidate with the character, ability and experience to take up this office. It is not a vote for the Government.

BBC: Can I just ask you one more time about the salaries – would you consider reviewing?

DPM Wong: The basic point is, we start with a very high foundation of trust in Singapore. Singaporeans know that this is how our system works. This is how we do things in Singapore – when cases come up, we explain to Singaporeans, we investigate thoroughly. We do not sweep anything under the carpet, even if it may be potentially embarrassing to the party or the Government. And we will continue to do that.

Wong’s response is puzzling given that Minister Chan Chun Sing has already said in parliament that the next political salaries review is targeted for 2023.

Pay still among highest in the world

The 2012 White Paper on ministerial salaries was released after the incumbent PAP government faced substantial backlash from Singaporeans during the 2011 General Election.

This backlash resulted in the ruling party garnering the lowest percentage of valid votes in Singapore’s history, as well as the first-ever loss of a Group Representative Constituency.

In an attempt to placate the public, the White Paper, composed by an independent committee chaired by Gerald Ee, proposed a reduction in salaries for ministers and other political appointees.

This was achieved by linking the entry-level MR4 Minister’s salary to the median income of the top 1,000 earners among Singapore Citizens, albeit with a 40% discount.

However, despite the revised salary formula suggested by the committee, PAP politicians continue to rank among the world’s highest-paid leaders. For instance, according to the World Population Review, PM Lee currently receives an annual salary of US$1.6 million.

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You cannot expect much since he said government At -Arms length regarding salary paid to those who invest our nations’ money.

This BBC interviewer reminds me of the other one, in Hard Talk Steven Sarker – cannot rmb what occasion and which PAP Politician he interviewed, sucks big time then. This one much better, corner Lawless Wong, apparently did his homework, better than Steven Sarker of Hard Talk.

Last edited 8 months ago by 80twenty

The paying of high salaries does not remove corruption so the salaries of all Ministers should be pegged to First World Countries Ministers’ salaries. There is no justification in paying such high salaries when our costs keep rising.

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