HK should follow Singapore's pay cuts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2012, 12:00am


Hong Kong and mainland officials often look to Singapore for cues on how to run an efficient and authoritarian government. For a budding semi-democratic city like Hong Kong, that doesn't seem like a good idea.

But now the governing People's Action Party has done something really worth emulating. This year Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will take home 36 per cent less pay than he did last year. Steep cuts will also apply to the salaries of senior civil servants, ministers and lawmakers.

Considering their astronomical pay, they are not about to become paupers, but it shows that even an authoritarian government must react to public discontent. The cuts are a response to the beating the party took in the last election, as officials' high pay had long irked many Singaporeans. The cuts are being carried out despite warnings from Singapore's founder, Lee Kuan Yew, who once claimed that the economy would collapse and the city-state would be sending its women to work as maids overseas if it didn't pay their talented officials properly.

Though less blatant, this has been the thinking behind the high salaries of senior Hong Kong officials. It was, in fact, openly stated when the first batch of political appointees - political novices one and all - was announced in 2008, with salaries ranging from HK$130,000 to HK$200,000-plus. Constitutional affairs chief Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said recently there was a plan to cut the pay of political appointees by up to 40 per cent, but that applies only to political assistants and undersecretaries, rather than bureau secretaries like him or the chief executive himself. There is a valid reason for governments to pay well, but it is a negative one: to keep officials' hands away from the till.

But do we need to pay our top dogs in government HK$300,000-plus a month, excluding perks and subsidies? We should make that an issue in the race for the next chief executive.