Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why Singapore Has the Cleanest Government Money Can Buy

January 25, 2012

Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, isn’t often taken publicly to task. But when you make S$3.1 million ($2.4 million) annually to run a country, people tend to expect results. When they don’t get them, the aggrieved masses turn to that lowest-of-common-denominator gripes: Hey, how much are we paying this guy?

Lots compared with, say, Barack Obama, who as U.S. president gets $400,000 a year. Lee’s compensation will fall 36 percent, and that of Singapore’s president will drop 51 percent, to S$1.54 million. The cuts were based on the recommendations of an advisory committee formed three weeks after last May’s elections, when opposition party candidates made hay with the pay issue -- and the ruling People’s Action Party won with the narrowest margin since independence in 1965.

Such still-fat paychecks may give pause. Yet let’s applaud Singapore for what it’s trying to achieve by paying top salaries to leaders and ministers: attracting the best and brightest to public service and reducing the temptation to engage in graft. Done properly, such initiatives can make government more efficient and economies more vibrant. Transparency International has ranked Singapore among the world’s top five least-corrupt governments since 2001, and according to Worldwide Governance Indicators, an index supported by the World Bank, it has also been among the best governed.


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