Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Conundrum over Leaders' Pay

Universal Suffrage is only a few decades old. For most of our recorded history leaders pay themselves outrageously. What we pay our leaders and they are the most handsomely paid in the world is picayune compared to what the Internet in recent years have uncovered of deposed leaders. The latest example comes from Ukraine.

Counting every cent visible as well as invisible we all know the Chinese leaders are incomparably better paid than their American counterparts. It is easy to just compare the wealth of the American and Chinese legislative bodies. We are juxtaposing some American millionaires with Chinese billionaires and multi-millionaires too many to count.

A few US Presidents had left office and eventually became bankrupt or lived in poverty. One wonder why they served. Had Abraham Lincoln lived, he would not be a rich man when he left office. The debt America owed him will not be paid. I am not sure such men were looking for pecuniary payment.

I especially remember Harry Truman. I became aware of his financial difficulties after he had left office because some American friends sent me his story.

Today any member of the Chinese Politburo retires with much entitlements and hidden wealth. In earlier times emperors and top mandarins clung to power and wealth until they are dead with arrangements to keep it within the family. Well if you lose power, you weren't bankrupt or poor but more likely dead. US and China, two different systems.

I think we ought to pay our leaders well but at the same time the reality and high stakes of national leadership here makes what Hitler said to his generals true: If you win there is no need to explain; if you lose you should not be here to explain! Transplanted to our reality it means a first class minister will always be underpaid and a dud minister, say former MOT Raymond Lim would be way over paid when you consider the mess in land transport he had left behind for us.

We must continue to find a better way to pay our leaders. I hate the last word attitude the PAP has brought to this conundrum.

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