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Increase transparency : Ministers to declare all assets

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With cyberspace raging on about PM Lee vs Roy Ngerng and PM Lee vs Workers’ Party MP Low TK, President Obama disclosure of not  just his but also his entire family’s assets will not get much exposure nor discussions for sure.

Below is a piece I was asked to write about for TRE readers.

Increase transparency by declaring all Ministers’ assets

A fortnight ago, the whole world got another glimpse into just how much The First Couple occupying the White House, where the current Most Powerful Man in the world resides, was worth in 2013. Not that much actually. Singaporeans, therefore, be forewarned that it’s an anti-climax and there’s nothing to go agog about. Here they are;

The Obamas were worth between US$2 million and US$7 million in 2013, relatively unchanged from the year before but ‘down considerably from 2010 where they were worth from        The Obamas’ financial disclosuresUS$2.8 to US$11.8 mil.’ Those interested in the details available, read < http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/15/pf/obama-financial-disclosure/index.html?iid=HP_LN>.

The Obamas’ assets are mainly in Treasuries, they don’t pay the lowest interest on their Chicago home mortgage, their 2 daughters are covered by their privately-purchased ‘college savings plan’ and Barack’s 2 previous bestsellers now earn him about what our Singaporeministers gross in a month on average individually.

A few interesting points for Singaporeans to ponder from this financial disclosure.

Why does the US President even bother to let, not just his countrymen, but the whole world know not just his salary but also his and his family’s assets?

Is that something that Singapore can learn from, given our proud claim of transparency? Currently, we only know the salaries of office bearers. But not their assets and, by extension, what they do with their money or through their spouses, immediate families; zilch. Nyet, privacy triumphs transparency here.

Ministerial salaries is an area that gets us talking even today and, as long as PAP dominates, the discussions may never end. Supporters of Singapore’s current 4X to 6X higher salaries for our ministers vs the US President will always point to the kind of serious money that the latter can rake in after leaving office.

Perhaps, we should revisit that with a question – Is that necessarily a bad thing? If and when you are out of office and no longer in an elected position of control and influence, as an ex-officer, you are out there on his own steam, pretty much.

As it is, many or most ex-ministers are already making serious dole from their directorships in GLCs (govt-linked co). Maybe, that’s the way our system works since there is no serious money or speaking circuits to talk about. Or, maybe, these top talents are not top talents after all since they can hardly find their own positions in the real world of non-politics?

Finally, the case with Mah Bow Tan’s incredible 20/20 foresight <http://www.tremeritus.com/2014/05/05/2020-vision/> as analyzed by blogger Tattler, should be a possible canary in the mine of our country’s often-boasted ‘transparency’. No one is suggesting any impropriety. But the recent disclosure of how Mah could own a stake in a public listed company now worth some $28 million (up from perhaps S$4mil in less than 2 years) certainly surprised many Singaporeans <http://www.tremeritus.com/2014/04/30/mah-bow-tan-ups-stake-in-gsh-corp-to-28m/>.

Should not the PM start a new policy of making all the ministers in the Cabinet disclose their assets to the public in the name of transparency? Is this not where we can learn from Obama’s extent of disclosure?

All Singaporeans value the relative high level of non-corruption across our public institutions. We certainly want that to continue – even improve on.

Can the PM & his cabinet not further secure that legacy and that reputation further by re-looking at what we can learn elsewhere? Is it not a principle of success to further strengthen one’s strengths while ameliorating one’s weaknesses?

Or will the politicians and the people buy Lee Kuan Yew’s line of reasoning when he pushed for higher ministerial salaries that we should not make it harder and the price higher to those who might be prepared to come forth to serve the nation?

Actually, if such a rule was in place since the last 10 years, we might have been able to weed out the likes of some ministers who argue that they are already paying a ‘discount’ on their salaries or that any lower salary levels will put them in the shade when speaking with those higher paid than they are. Not a bad thing, no?




One thought on “Increase transparency : Ministers to declare all assets

  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 2 Jun 2014 | The Singapore Daily

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