Since 1989, only 1 minister has used make-up pay scheme that allows govt to pay 90% of salary difference

Scheme was meant to support candidates to take up political office "without having to make too great a sacrifice".

Jane Zhang | July 06, 2021, 02:40 PM

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Workers' Party Member of Parliament He Ting Ru asked a parliamentary question on July 6 about the make-up pay scheme for ministers, which was introduced in 1989.

She asked about whether the scheme has been used, who it was applied to, what the increased make-up pay was, and how long it was in effect for.

Responding to He's questions, Senior Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Teo Chee Hean spoke on behalf of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, stating that the scheme has only been used once, for a period of two years.

Make-up pay scheme

The make-up pay scheme was introduced in 1989 to "enable the country to benefit from the services of those who do not wish to make politics their entire career, but who have a contribution to make to the nation".

Under the make-up pay scheme, the prime minister can offer a ministerial candidate a make-up pay, in addition to their rank pay.

The make-up pay can be up to 90 per cent of the difference between the pay of their ministerial appointment and their average pay in the last three years prior to the appointment.

"They can now become ministers without having to make too great a sacrifice," the 1989 government announcement read.

While it was originally proposed that political officeholders could continue to receive their make-up pay for two terms of office, a committee in charge of reviewing ministers' pays proposed in 2012 that the limit be changed to one term of office only.

After the term, the minister will be paid according to their pay grade.

Currently, the benchmark for the pay of a MR4 (the lowest ministerial grade) minister is based on the median income of the top 1,000 Singapore citizen income earners, with a 40 per cent discount to "reflect the ethos of political service".

This benchmark equates to a monthly salary of S$55,000. This works out to an annual salary of S$1.1 million, of which S$715,000 is fixed (13-month annual salary) and the rest is variable (roughly seven months, consisting of Annual Variable Component, Individual Performance Bonus, and National Bonus).

Between 1989 and 2012, the make-up pay scheme had never been used.

Make-up pay makes it easier for candidates to take up office: Teo Chee Hean

Responding to He's parliamentary question, Teo said on July 6 that the first quality that the government looks for in potential candidates for political office is "a sense of public service".

"Those who have their heart in the right place, and want to contribute to the betterment of Singapore and Singaporeans. This should always be the basic prerequisite for any political candidate."

He added that in addition to passion for public service, the political appointment holders need to include "the right mix of backgrounds, skills, and organisational and leadership capabilities".

Specifically, he said, the government needs to have some ministers, ministers of state, and parliamentary secretaries who have experience in the private sector.

"From the private sector, we want to be able to bring in not only people who are already well-advanced in their careers and financially secure, but also younger ones whose careers are just taking off and are approaching or in their peak earning years, and who may have made financial commitments," Teo noted.

These younger individuals would possibly need a few years to establish themselves within the government, before they would be considered for more senior political appointments.

The make-up pay scheme, thus, "makes it easier for such candidates to consider taking up political office and eases the financial disruption as they make the transition".

Teo also said that even with the make-up pay, candidates "know and accept" that even if they were to prove themselves in political office eventually, they would not earn as much as they would have if they had stayed in their private sector careers.

Scheme has only been used once so far

Since the scheme was introduced in 1989, it has only been used once, Teo said.

"We have brought in several candidates into the government without using the make-up pay, with a number of them accepting a substantial income loss."

No political appointment holder is currently on this scheme, he added.

In a follow-up question, He Ting Ru asked about how many candidates or potential candidates have declined to run for office because they said that the pay was not enough.

Teo did not answer her question on how many candidates had declined due to the salary, and reiterated the importance of pay for young people with promising careers in front of them:

"To come in, to take the vagaries of politics, and to give that up, is a big sacrifice. So we want to reduce that and help him in the transition."

Teo also did not address He's question about who the scheme was applied to and what the increased make-up pay was.

Top photos via CNA.