Lee Kuan Yew: Singapore must not be a Third World country

Lee Kuan Yew is quoted less often since he ceased to be Singapore’s Minister Mentor after the parliamentary elections  in May last year when the opposition won six seats for the first time.  But he can still speak and write with such authority.  I read his letter on ministers’ salaries which appeared in Today newspaper. Those who claim Singapore ministers are overpaid – Lee Kuan Yew’s son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be paid S$2.2 million ($1.7 million) a year and new ministers S$1.1 million after pay cuts – may not agree with the former Minister Mentor. But Lee Kuan is certainly right when he says:

We did not get Singapore from the Third to the First World by head-hunting ministers willing to sacrifice their children’s future when undertaking a public service duty. We took a pragmatic course that does not require people of calibre to give up too much for the public good. We must not reduce Singapore to another ordinary country in the Third World by dodging the issue of competitive ministerial remuneration.

Opinions may differ on pay scales, but no one wants Singapore to be “reduced” to “another ordinary country in the Third World”.  Singapore is exceptional thanks to leaders like Lee Kuan Yew and his handpicked successors and the people themselves.

I have read what Manu Bhaskaran and others from the Institute of Policy Studies and the Lee Kuan School of Public Policy have to say in their background paper on Inequality and the Need for a New Social Compact. The reforms they urge to reduce the income gap and ensure greater social mobility will bring Singaporeans closer together, they say. According to them, Singapore needs new initiatives as the population is ageing and the world has changed since the current policies were introduced.


  1. SWISS MISS says

    We are not arguing about paying top dollar for top people.
    We are complaining about how this pay is derived.
    We are dissatisfied with the apparent lack of tying the PERFORMANCE of the current cabinet to their high superscale CEO salaries.
    We are dissatisfied with the SMRT saga and lack of accountability for the MoT. (although he is saved by the technicality that SMRT is semi-private).
    We are dissatisfied with the escape of Mas Selamat and no accountability.
    We are dissatisfied with the population management, casino decisions, Formula 1 noise, and so forth.
    We are dissatisfied, when it seems the rich get richer and the ministers also want to be part of the top 1000, leaving people behind with meagre bonus kopi sums of “our own money” during election years.

    I do not think our ministers (not all) deserve such astronomical salaries. Those who come from CEO jobs, can get a similar competitive wage (subject to public knowledge or publishing their salaries). Those who are not CEOs, should take a basic pay.

    We are a country first, and not a GDP machine. Singapore has lost her soul, thanks to the millionaire club.

  2. veron_zheng says

    Singapore is NOT yet a first world country for not meeting many criteria of first world countries. It is self-claimed first world by PAP and LKY based on GDP. Many oil-rich Arab countries and Brunei also have high GDPs, are they first world country?

    A fake democratic feudal dynasty governance system can never be the criteria of first world countries.

    LKY justified million dollars ministers’ pay by saying they handled $300 billion Singapore public fund. How about other countries like USA, China, UK, Japan? Do these countries’ politicians also handle $300 billion or much more public fund than what Singapore politicians need to handle?

    The issue is PAP government is NOT fully accountable and NOT totally transparent to its people. It is still far from first world country status.

    • Abhijit says

      I am sorry I can’t agree with you. I very much wanted to edit or moderate your comment but decided not to because I thought it would be better to point out why I can’t agree with you.
      Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong are not the only father and son to have led a country. True, there are not many similar examples of both father and son rising to the top leadership position in Western countries. But you will find fathers and sons and members of the same family rising to high office in Western countries too. Al Gore became a senator like his father before being elected vice-president. Edward Kennedy became Senator from Massachusetts two years after John Kennedy vacated the seat on being elected President in 1960. (He assumed office in 1961.) Robert Kennedy served as Attorney-General under President Kennedy. In Britain, Winston Churchill and his predecessor were both sons of politicians. Winston Churchill’s father served as a chancellor of the exchequer. Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, was the son of Joseph Chamberlain, who had served as a cabinet minister.
      You say the PAP government is not totally transparent. But what about the Official Secrets Act of Britain? Every government classifies some of the information in the name of national interest. When it comes to statistical data, Singapore releases a fair amount though you may argue it could release more and make it more intelligible.

  3. Tang jianke says

    Well,in my own opinion singapore turned from a third world country into a first world country is largly depends on the correct ecision made the leaders and the hardwork of those normal labor of singapore. THE LATTER is basic but we cannot get such a height without peoplo like LKY or GKS and the others.

  4. bluex says

    Oh dear, people seem to really believe we paid top money to pioneers like Goh Keng Swee, Hon Sui Sen, Toh Chin Chye etc… Ah, the risks of using sarcasm. Wise readers would have realised the irony that the more reasonable or even low salaries that the above Ministers drew coincided with balanced growth that benefited everyone in Singapore’s first 30 years, whereas it so happens that all sorts of failures have occurred in the past 10-20 years at a time when Ministerial salaries got elevated.