Ho Ching, please stop dissembling and tell us how much you earn as a Gov employee
Today Ho Ching posted a defence of her husband’s (PM Lee Hsien Loong) salary after an article appeared on a blog called Seedly (which appears to be selling loans, credit cards and insurance under the guise of a personal finance blog without being regulated by MAS) comparing LHL’s salary with those of other world leaders. While pointing out how much more LHL is paid than leaders of other much bigger countries, it (surprise, surprise!) comes down firmly on LHL’s side by saying his salary is a justified premium for growing Singapore’s population and GDP per capita and much lower than those of other corporate leaders, particularly compared to the salary of Piyush Gupta at Temasek-controlled DBS.
GDP per capita is a poor measure of citizen welfare particularly when Singapore’s is distorted by having so many guest workers and expats with no dependents and also by tax breaks to encourage MNCs to book revenues here rather than in the US. As I pointed out here, Ireland’s GDP per capita has grown as fast and is just as distorted as a measure of living standards. As for population growth, few Singaporeans will thank LHL for opening the doors to anyone who wants to work here without having to do NS, particularly for third-rate expats from the West who enjoy much higher living standards than Singaporeans encouraging them to think they are in some theme park recreation of the British Raj like an episode of Westworld (which ironically is being filmed in Singapore).
In any case LHL’s abilities or lack of them have got little to do with Singapore’s growth, which can be entirely “explained” by the growth in world trade since 1960. Now that globalisation has gone into reverse the PAP have no answers to revive Singapore’s growth other than telling Singaporeans to tighten their belts, upgrade their skills and wait it out.
Returning to Ho Ching’s post, I was appalled firstly by the grammatical mistakes and bad English for someone who is head of a $300 billion company, the most powerful woman in Singapore and supposedly the 17th most powerful globally according to Forbes magazine. For instance saying “Having have [sic] these qualities of excellence”. I can only hope that she is more literate in Mandarin! In any case it makes a mockery of the tiresome clamour from the PAP and the Lees, whenever accusations of nepotism and cronyism are raised, that they enjoy their positions and enormous salaries as of right because Singapore is a “meritocracy”, This assertion is then taken at face value and repeated ad nauseum by venal or gullible Western apologists for authoritarianism or leaders looking to gain a strategic edge by shoring up the PAP regime.
Secondly why is she adopting a political position and defending her husband’s salary publicly when she is effectively a civil servant. Lawrence Wong may have insulted our intelligence by saying that Temasek is a private company and can do what it likes but everyone knows it is owned by the MOF and ultimately Singaporeans. She should be bound by the civil service code of conduct and stay out of politics. Or else she should resign from Temasek in order to contest the next election if her son does not beat her to it. She is probably only one step away now from emulating that useful idiot Bilahari Kausikan, an Ambassador at Large, who called me a moron for daring to comment on LHL’s collapse at the 2016 National Day Rally. Surely her bosses need to pull her up and rap her over the knuckles for making political statements. But then of course she does not have any boss apart from her husband.
By saying “we must not take advantage of them to underpay, or require them to wear hairsuits for a show of sainthood” Ho Ching is damning her husband (and of course) herself by admitting that they are only motivated by money. So much for being servants of the people. She is of course only echoing her father-in-law who stated many times that it was intolerable that he was earning less than top lawyers and did not see why there should be any restrictions on him making as much money as possible while he was in office.
“Ministers who deal with billions of dollars cannot be paid low salaries without risking a system malfunction. Low salaries will not attract able men who are or can be successful in their professions or business. Low salaries will draw in the hypocrites who sweet talk their way into power in the name of public services, but once in charge will show their true colour, and ruin the country. This has happened in many countries.” SM Lee Kuan Yew, Speech to the National Trade Union Congress at the Singapore Conference Hall, 19 July 1996
Thirdly and most importantly why is Ho Ching talking about her husband’s salary while she ignores the elephant in the room, which is what she is paid and which she refuses to disclose. If Piyush Gupta is paid $12 million p.a. while the head of SingTel earns over $20 million (including share options), then she must be paid several times that. We cannot just be stonewalled in Parliament by the fiction that Temasek is a private company. I have said many times over the years that it is extremely likely that she is paid more than $100 million a year and has earned more than a billion dollars while she has been at Temasek. Yet her remuneration is treated like a state secret and guarded as closely as the size of our reserves. And when she talks about a “clean” salary without any perks she and her husband need to explain why they are using the Gulfstream owned by Temasek’s subsidiary, ST Aerospace, and whether it is available for her to use for private trips as CEO. Neither does she reveal whether her family money is invested alongside Temasek’s making use of inside information and getting cut in early on special deals.
It is clear that Ho Ching occupies much the same role as Kwa Geok Choo did for LKY. While LKY was paid an obscene salary by the standards of other world leaders, the real money was being scooped up by his wife in her role as head of Lee & Lee. My father was able to establish that Lee & Lee were the preferred lawyer for the HDB’s conveyancing though at the expense of losing our family home. It was probably her that LKY was referring to when he said in 1994 that lawyers were able to make $4 million p.a. Like LHL’s mother, Ho Ching is able to make the real money while her husband is paid a meagre pittance of only $2.2 million p.a.
I wonder who is really richer: the Najib and Rosmah Show or our very own first couple. I guess we will never know.