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Why Ho Ching Must Declare Her Salary

On 1 July Malaysia’s Parliament passed a motion to require all MPs, as well as their wives and children, to declare their assets. While it has not yet been passed into law, which the Malaysian Law Minister said would be done in a Bill introduced in the next Parliament session, MPs, their spouses and minor children would have to start complying with it immediately under pain of penalties for making a false declaration. Declarations would be published on the Anti-Corruption Commission website.

The Lees and the PAP have always used corruption in other countries to justify their own authoritarian rule. Just today on Twitter, Wei Ting, a journalist who writes for the Economist, spouted the standard mantra that is trotted out unthinkingly (like saying God is Great!):

While low-level corruption is by and large absent (though to be fair most developed countries at Singapore’s level of GDP per capita do not have much low-level corruption) the absence of evidence does not indicate that there isn’t any, particularly in a country where the size of the reserves and the Government’s assets remain a state secret. In the absence of information, Wei Ting cannot presume that corruption is low but this is part of the standard PAP and Western argument used to excuse the Lee family’s absolute control and authoritarian rule.

In fact there is plenty of evidence that there is corruption at the top. It would be considered corrupt in most countries, and certainly a violation of basic principles of good governance and rule of law, for the PM to appoint or to allow his wife to be appointed by a committee that is beholden to him as head of the Sovereign Wealth Fund, like LHL has done with Ho Ching. Despite nearly a decade of my calling for Ho Ching’s remuneration to be made public, we are still no nearer finding out. Recently, after some prodding by me, the Workers’ Party asked a question in Parliament about the remuneration of the top 3 officers at Temasek and GIC. Lawrence Wong made the offensive and hilarious argument that these were private companies and therefore under no obligation to reveal what they paid their executives. While Singaporeans continue to get hot under the collar about the PM’s remuneration, they miss the fact that his pay is likely dwarfed by his wife’s, which could run into billions. Also we should be told if she gets other perks, like use of the Gulfstream business jet owned by Temasek subsidiary ST Aerospace.

Ho Ching’s earnings are likely only a fraction of the total Lee family assets. Back in 1976 my dad was able to show that Lee & Lee, the law firm headed by LHL’s mum, had almost a monopoly on conveyancing business from the HDB. LKY promptly sued my dad for defamation and ensured his suit was heard by his relative Freddy Chua, who awarded LKY $130,000 for saying what most Singaporeans knew. If there is significant wealth that cannot be explained by earnings or investments (though these obviously must not involve insider knowledge or favours) then it should be confiscated.

When LKY’s wife had a stroke and had to be placed on life support, the Lees got their Parliamentary poodle to abolish death duties thus ensuring that the Lee family assets remained secret and so there was no disclosure even when the first ruler in the Lee dynasty passed away. To this day Singaporeans have no idea how much the Lees own, either in Singapore or abroad. Instead we are treated to the cynical humbug of Ho Ching taking a $15 handbag to the state dinner with the Obamas or state media photos showing the Lees picnicking in the Botanic Gardens as though they were just an ordinary Singaporean family.

Singapore needs to follow the Malaysian example and force all MPs to declare their assets publicly with severe penalties for false declarations. No doubt the Government will say that PAP MPs already are required to declare their income to the PM in confidence and Ministers are required to declare all assets and income to the President (through the PM). However since Minister’s declarations go through the PM it is not clear whether the PM himself submits a declaration to the President or whether he is exempted. The President does not publish these declarations and since she effectively owes her position to the PM (who disqualified Tan Cheng Bok and other Malay candidates to ensure she would win), she is not likely to stick her neck out by asking for too much detail. The previous President was a relative. Given the President can be removed from office by a vote of 2/3s of MPs she is never going to be any kind of check at all.

In any case there is a glaring loophole in the rules covering both Ministers and MPs as they say nothing about spouses or children. Obviously his wife is the major breadwinner and probably owns the majority of the family assets. Or they have been put in a family trust which allows LHL to be the beneficial owner and receive income while creating a legal fiction of non-ownership.

The mere fact that the Government is so secretive about Ho Ching’s earnings means that they are scared about the consequences of disclosure. If Singaporean and Western apologists are going to bandy around words like corruption-free about the Lee regime then the Government should make sure that it at least comes up to Malaysian standards of disclosure. It should also remove the CPIB from the Prime Minister’s Office and make it properly independent.

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