Skip to content

How Many More Years Will Go by Before We Learn How Much the Lees Have Paid Themselves While in Public Office?


I am pleased to see that Workers Party MP Png Eng Huat finally plucked up the courage and asked a question in Parliament about the remuneration of the top 3 officers at Temasek and GIC. Since 2010, both in the articles on my blog and in the public statements by the Reform Party, I have been questioning Ho Ching’s suitability to be CEO of Temasek and drawing Singaporeans’ attention to the fact that her remuneration is not only secret but is very likely to be in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.

In November 2018 I wrote an article entitled “Should PM Lee Be Forced to Reimburse the Taxpayer for His Wife’s Earnings at Temasek?” in which I questioned why, if, as Lawrence Wong claimed in response to Png’s question, Temasek (and GIC) have an arms-length relationship with the Government and the Government does not interfere in their Boards’ decisions, was Ho Ching appointed head of Temasek when there were doubtless many other better qualified candidates.

This is what I wrote:

Was Ho Ching the obvious choice to helm Temasek? Her Wikipedia entry says she has a First Class Honours Degree in Engineering and was one of the top A level students in her year. But there must be thousands of others just in Singapore who have the same or better qualifications. She never worked in finance and therefore would not seem the obvious choice to oversee an investment company.

Nor would it be a defence to argue that Ho Ching had done a good job, or at least a competent one, as CEO of Temasek…

Her performance as CEO has been mediocre at best, disastrous at worst, over the fifteen years she has been allowed to remain at the helm.Temasek’s claimed 15% annualised return over the last forty years is a fraud since as I have written repeatedly since 2012, it depends on the fact that Temasek’s legacy assets were injected at below book value by the Ministry of Finance which produced enormous gains when the companies were subsequently floated.  We have no insight into how Temasek is really doing since it is under no obligation to publish accounts. About 40% of its portfolio is unlisted assets where valuations are often determined by the last price paid even where the buyer is the fund owning the asset.  Even on its own figures, Temasek’s average annualised return over the last ten years is only 5% p.a or just over 60% compounded. Over the same period the S&P500 has tripled, or an annualised return of a little under 12%. Along the way we have have had astonishing errors of judgement such as the decision to buy out Olam’s equity at a high price when the equity was probably worthless

In 2009, after Temasek suffered a loss of at least 40% in the financial crisis,  there was the charade of hiring Chip Goodyear as a successor to Ho Ching, who then left abruptly before taking over with an undisclosed payoff in return for a Non-Disclosure Agreement. In Parliament then Finance Minister Tharman famously refused to disclose why he left and what his payoff was.  In his last year as CEO of BHP Billiton he earned in excess of S$50 million. I suspect that this was nothing more than an elaborate benchmarking exercise to justify hiking Ho Ching’s compensation. I have long said that she probably earns in excess of S$100 million p.a. and possibly much more in the form of long-term incentive plans. Why did the Temasek Board not look for other better qualified candidates rather than taking the decision to reappoint Ho Ching?

Most Singaporeans cannot get their head around comprehend the mind-boggling magnitude of Ho Ching’s likely earnings. For too long their anger has been focussed on the still obscene but relative peanuts of the compensation of the PM and his ministers. While completely unjustified by objective benchmarking against other heads of government, I have said that the $3 million total compensation of the PM is without question only the tip of the iceberg as far as his and his wife’s earnings and assets are concerned.

So why have WP finally asked this question when for years they have behaved like good little boys and girls in Parliament and not questioned how much the ruling family are paying themselves out of state resources under the guise of being public servants? I remember during the 1995 Nassim Jade scandal my dad asked Low Thia Kiang to ask a series of questions in Parliament to establish that the discounts that LKY, his wife and son, the current PM Lee Hsien Loong, received from Hotel Properties Limited would be presumed as corrupt under Section 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Low declined to ask the questions, proving his usefulness to the PAP, who reciprocated by moving to exclude him and the WP from the defamation suits brought by the so-called Tamil “worthies” and Jayakumar which achieved the objective of removing my dad from Parliament. In fact, at his final press conference, my dad said LKY was very pleased with Low Thia Kiang for having got rid of JBJ from WP.

I believe WP’s new found focus and courage (for them) stems from conversations I had with Pritam, Sylvia and Dennis Tan when we were in Armenia last year at the invitation of the Prosperous Armenia Party. A number of Singapore political parties were invited, including WP, Reform Party, SPP and PAP. I asked Sylvia why she hadn’t asked about Ho Ching’s remuneration and she said she thought it was in Temasek’s annual report. When I insisted it was not, she said that she would check and if it was not she would consider asking a question about it. However when I asked Dennis Tan whether he would ask a question, he frostily said that Ho Ching’s remuneration was not a fit subject for Parliamentary questions. WP’s new found courage probably stems from the fact that they have seen how many times I have questioned why Ho Ching was appointed to lead Temasek and have not yet been sued. In fact I have continued to point to the gaps in the Government’s Budget, the fake accounting and the missing assets and nothing has happened to me.

If I am wrong about the likely billions of dollars Ho Ching has been paid, then why has the Government refused to tell us her earnings? Why is it a state secret? It is both grossly arrogant and insulting to Singaporeans’ intelligence for Lawrence Wong to pretend that the Government, as the sole shareholder of both Temasek and GIC, does not decide the compensation received by the CEO and Chairman as well as the other top officers. To quote from my article again:

Of course Lee Hsien Loong did not appoint his wife directly. The board of Temasek appointed her. Temasek says on its website that:

Our shareholder’s [the Ministry of Finance] right under the Singapore Companies Act to appoint, reappoint or remove our Board members is subject to the President’s concurrence. The Board’s appointment or removal of the CEO is also subject to the President’s concurrence. These constraints are part of the “second key” concept, to safeguard the integrity of our Board and CEO in protecting Temasek’s past reserves.

However as we know the President is a puppet who can be removed from office on a 2/3s vote of Parliament. When the PM is threatened by the election of someone who might provide the smallest shred of opposition to his wishes, he changes the rules as he did to ensure Halimah Yaacob was elected instead of  Dr. Tan Cheng Bock.

The Board of Temasek is similarly made up of people who are either ex-PAP ministers, MPs, civil servants and executives of GLCs with a few crony capitalists such as Philip Ng, whose property business depends on keeping on the right side of the PM, and a sprinkling of foreign CEOs and investors who would not wish to jeopardise the the tax benefits their investments in Singapore enjoy. I wrote about this in 2012 in “A Case of the Pot Calling the Kettle Black?”  All of these people, who are dependent on the PAP Government and the PM for patronage, would not stand in the way of his wife’s appointment. 

At least the fact that the WP have asked a question for the first time is a breakthrough of sorts. But Singaporeans still seem to have little interest in what their leaders are making and, in particular, the wealth the Lee dynasty has accumulated. The PAP abolished death duties so that Singaporeans would not be able to find out the assets of LKY’s wife and, later, of LKY himself. The PM is able to get away with concealing his wife’s salary and his family’s assets because Singaporeans let him, presumably because they think it disrespectful for lesser mortals, as Charles Chong put it, to ask how much their rulers have made. I remember at GE2015, when I had made a speech questioning the Lees’ huge hidden wealth and how they had managed to accumulate so much, the civil servants from state media seemed shocked. Instead Singaporeans are fooled by images of our humble first family picnicking in the Botanic Garden and the $15 ITE handbag that Ho Ching took to the dinner with President Obama into thinking that the royal couple are one of us. And because they gullibly swallow these carefully crafted images of austerity, Singaporeans are quite content to receive a few hundred dollars in handouts each Budget while being told that taxes have to go up while at the same time even a conservative analysis of the Government’s finances shows that in the absence of fraud or extreme mismanagement there must be trillions of dollars in net assets including land and over a trillion dollars in reserves.

Hopefully Singaporeans will realise by the next election that the only reason that Ministers like Lawrence Wong (and before him Tharman Shanmuguratnam) can get away with concealing facts and contemptuously stonewalling questions is because Singaporeans let them. In a democracy the people have the right to know how much their public servants are paid and to hold them accountable for poor performance. The timid mice that consider themselves to be in coalition with the PAP (despite last week’s questions) are not going to change that. Only electing real Opposition will.

5 Comments »

  1. The Income Tax Ordinance was enacted to take effect from 1st January 1948 to impose a tax upon incomes and to regulate the collection thereof.

    This Income Tax Ordinance was subsequently renamed as the Income Tax Act.

    The top tax rate at that point in time was 55% and then down to 20% and up again to the present 22%.

    Corporate tax rate was initially at 40% and then down to the present 17%. At 40%, many enjoyed annual repayment of tax over-deducted at source.

    With effect form Year of Assessment 2009, all dividends received from Singapore companies with effect from 1.1.2008, were/are exempted from Income Tax and taxpayers need not include their shareholdings and dividends in their Income Tax Returns. From this point onwards, there is much confidentiality as far as the extent and number of shareholdings are concerned. Exemption also means that those paying the top rate of 20% and now 22% actually save another 3% to 5% additional tax payable whereas those who are not taxable lost out on the repayment of tax over-deducted at source at 17%.

    Interestingly, just like the exemption of dividends from 1.1.2008, Estate Duty was also abolished in 2008. These two changes alone means there is much confidentiality maintained over a deceased’s individual net worth, i.e. inclusive of the net worth of all movable and immovable properties. So these two changes actually result in both Income Tax savings and Estate Duty savings and besides maintaining confidentiality. The highest Estate Duty rate since implementation was 60% and then down to 5% and 10% before abolition in 2008.

    The following were Income Tax Repeal, Abolition, Amendments, Additions, etc. Decision-makers/policy-makers/law-makers who planned, implemented and legislated these laws knew exactly what they were doing :-

    1) Section 51(1) is an interesting provision and if still applicable now, i.e. without separate assessment for the wife, we can imagine the enormous amount of combined earned and unearned income of both husband and wife staying under one roof. Section 51(1) states : “Subject to subsection (6), the income of a married woman living with her husband shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to be the income of the husband, and shall be charged in the name of the husband and not in her name nor in that of her trustee.” Just imagine both husband and wife are public-sector pensioners enjoying “permanent paydays + free/highly-subsidised retirement healthcare till their last breath” while “non-pensioners” have to struggle to cope with basic food and lodging till their last breath. Just compare those pensioners receiving the Singapore Allowances or Pensions with those entitled to “Nothing”, Public Assistance Scheme, Silver Support Scheme, CHAS and other Miscellaneous Assistance Schemes. Pensioners are also entitled to Pioneer Generation Package, Merdeka Generation Package and some pensioners are also entitled to the GST Package. Some who enquired with the CPF Board were told that from 65 to 95, they would be receiving about $350 per month from CPF Life and this meagre amount may not be enough to pay for HDB monthly conservancy charges + Singapore Power bills + Property Tax + Basic transport needs. The majority of Singaporeans needs a “People-Serving” Government and not a “Self-Serving” Government that loses touch with morals, conscience, reality and empathy and it should self-examine what they promised in a National Day Rally speech some years ago : “With You, For You, For Singapore”.

    2) Repeal of tax exemption on the official emoluments of the President.

    3) The Net Annual Value of a second property used for owner-occupation by the owner or used on behalf of the owner was taxable until repealed.

    4) There was a Section 33A of the Income Tax Act that deemed income accrued to a minor below 21 years old as income of the settlor and assessable in his or her name. This was to prevent an attempt to reduce Income Tax payable by the settlor as the top tax rate then was 55%.

    5) Exemption of interest derived from approved financial institutions.

    6) Exemption of all dividends from Singapore companies w.e.f. 1.1.2008.

    7) Abolition of Estate Duty in 2008.

    8) Exemption of all income remitted into Singapore by individuals (not corporate entities).

    9) Donations to approved Institutions of a Public Character allowable at 200% initially.

    10) Donations to approved Institutions of a Public Character allowable at 250% subsequently.

    11) Pensions are taxable under Section 10(1)(e) which states : “any pension, charge or annuity” and this applies to “all types of pension”, charge or annuity.

    12) However, Section 13(1)(h) specifically exempts Government pensions and as legislated : “any sum received by way of commutation of pensions granted under any written law relating to pensions in Singapore or, in the case of any other pension scheme, any sum received by way of commutation of pensions by an individual under such a scheme to the extent of such sum as the Comptroller may determine relating to the period of employment of that individual with the employer before 1st January 1993.”

    Information from IRAS Website :

    Pension :

    Pension is a payment made to an individual after his retirement.

    Government pensions :

    The full sum of government pensions received in Singapore is exempt from tax if you are a Singapore tax resident.

    Pensions from Approved (Private-Sector) Pension Schemes :

    The amount of pension accrued up to 31 Dec 1992 in the approved funds in Singapore is exempt from tax if you retired at the retirement age stated in the pension or provident funds/schemes.

    You will be taxed on that part of the pension paid out of contributions made to the funds after 31 Dec 1992.

    For instance, if there was $100,000 in your pension fund as of 30 Dec 1992 and your ex-employer made another payment of $100,000 to your pension fund on 3 Mar 1993, then the amounts paid out of the second $100,000 is taxable.

    Based on this information from IRAS Website, it would appear that this is a case of “Two Systems of Taxation, i.e. One for the Public Sector and One for the Private Sector”.

    I shall leave the foregoing “Top 12 Tax Factors” for fellow netizens to let their own imagination runs wild to arrive at their own conclusions and to decide whether all these tax manoeuvres were in whose interests, i.e. Interests of PAP Govt and top elites enriched with taxpayer-funded wealth or Public Interests of the masses who are struggling to cope with daily necessities such as food.

    Since Money leaves Tracks, Absolute Abuse of Authority, Trust, Power and Laws also leaves Tracks : Just follow all the Tracks to complete a bigger picture. If there is a “Freedom Of Information Act” in Singapore, this would be an effective “Check & Balance” to prevent various forms of abuse of authority, trust, power and laws, especially the law-making process passed by an overwhelming majority of PAP MPs in Parliament.

    All those “illegal” tax evaders would definitely feel aggrieved when the income omitted or under-declared by them paled in comparison with the $billions of “Ah Kong’s (Public) Funds” that got away “tax-free and scot-free”. How is PAP Govt going to be accountable for the foregoing. Singaporeans want Transparency and Accountability in view of POFMA.

    Like

  2. The “ILLEGAL” Tax Evasion case of Ah Seng durian sellers puts the spotlight on “LEGAL & ORGANISED” Tax Evasion.

    Section 33 of the Income Tax Act is “Anti-Tax Manipulation/Reduction & Avoidance” and should include “Long-Term Advance Tax Planning/Reduction/Avoidance/Evasion” with “insider foresight/knowledge/information” and made “Legal” by those who were/are in the best position to abuse authority, trust, power and especially the law-making process and despite a direct and total conflict of self-interests, i.e. those involved would also be eventually or ultimately be benefitting from such laws to “self-exempt and self-exonerate” themselves and besides “self-empowerment and self-enrichment”. Public funds must be prudently managed and taxes must be fair, equal and just, i.e. “No Two Systems of Taxation” when those in the public sector can get away tax-free and scot-free while those in the private sector have to pay Income Tax on every taxable dollar.

    These two reports in the Straits Times Forum Page dated 21.5.2019 reinforce the ideals of the Singapore Pledge of “One United People Based on Justice and Equality” :-

    1) Tax regime needs to evolve in digital economy : In other words, everyone has to pay his or her fair and equitable share of Income Tax.

    2) No reason for digital services to be exempted from tax : In other words, all income/gains/profits from any trade, business, profession, employment or vocation are taxable.

    It is time for PAP Govt to look into the Mirror and do some self-reflection on its “Elitist, Selfish, Greedy, Unfair, Unequal, Unjust, Tax-Evading, Sinful and Corrupt” financial/retirement/healthcare/tax policies. Will they adhere to what PM3 Lee Hsien Loong had promised “If we have erred, we should admit, apologise and put it right.”?!?!?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: