Annual inflation-based pay rise for ministers not unreasonable

They may be among the best paid in the world, but the remuneration package has remained the same since the accountability system was introduced in 2002.

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 December, 2016, 12:58am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 December, 2016, 12:58am

With the current term ending in six months, the outgoing administration has proposed a 12.4 per cent pay rise for the incoming ministerial team, followed by annual adjustment based on inflation. This is the first time the government has sought to put in place an annual adjustment mechanism for political appointees. Controversial as it seems, the proposal is not unreasonable.

Admittedly, a pay rise for politicians is a hard sell, even more so when our ministers are already among the best paid in the world. The prevailing political atmosphere and the performance of individual ministers make rational discussion even harder to come by. That is reflected in the negative response from certain sectors in society.

The truth is that the ministers’ remuneration package has remained the same since the accountability system was introduced in 2002. The 12.4 per cent proposed by a review committee is just to catch up with the inflation accumulated over the past five years.

Had the government opted for the option to match the inflation since 2002, the figure could have been a staggering 35 per cent. Compared to the 46.25 and 72.4 per cent pay rises accumulated by senior civil servants and lawmakers over the past 14 years, the proposed 12.4 per cent is relatively moderate.

Top Hong Kong officials in line for 12.4pc pay rise

Unlike the civil service whose salaries are primarily adjusted according to wage changes in the private sector each year, there is no annual adjustment mechanism for ministers and their aides. While there were precedents for political appointees to follow the civil service to take a pay cut voluntarily, they do benefit like others when the economy and wages are on the rise. Even though their remuneration package in each term is subject to review, previous recommendations were not adopted because of political pressure. It was not until last year that ministers’ salaries were restored to the pre-pay-cut levels.

With monthly pay ranging from HK$298,115 to HK$330,656, our ministers’ salaries are the envy of their world counterparts. The levels will be boosted by another HK$20,000 to HK$30,000 a month if the proposals are approved, costing taxpayers an extra HK$13.8 million. But the levels are still considerably lower that those earned by top executives in the local private and public bodies. The politically charged environment may also deter talents from joining the new government. It is important that those who come forward be given due reward and recognition.