At a dialogue with youth leaders from religious, clan and community groups after his visit to Geylang Serai, Minister Chan said that there were two types of national identity: a “transactional” national identity that is based purely on the benefits of being a citizen and one where citizens are committed to Singapore “even when the chips are down”.
Minister Chan asked the audience: “Is your staying in Singapore conditional on certain factors, particularly material or otherwise? Is it contingent on certain conditions being met? What if somebody else can give you better, cheaper, cost of living? What if there is a serious recession in the next few years and you cannot find the jobs you like?” Minister Chan highlighted that the answer to those questions would determine if we will have SG100.
Minister Chan’s questions are spot on. But coming from a minister who has such high salary, it is perhaps slightly ironic. The high salaries of Singaporean ministers are premised on the assumption that highly capable Singaporeans would only be willing to be ministers if they are paid well. This one is Ah Gong himself say one. Isn’t that the being typically transactional?
Of course, some may say, and I am inclined to believe, that a person like Minister Chan would still serve as a minster even without the high salaries. But is that true of the other Ministers? More importantly, it’s the signalling effect.
The high ministerial salaries is essentially telling use this: Ministers will only serve Singapore as a minister if I am paid well? Conversely, if Singapore can no longer afford to pay me well, then none of the highly capable people who are now ministers will willingly make the sacrifices needed to be Ministers. And if our leaders don’t lead by example, or worse, the example they demonstrate is that they ARE being very transactional, then why should the rest of us Singaporeans NOT be transactional?
So… if we accept what Minister Chan said to be true, that in order for us to see a SG100, we need to shift away from a “transactional” national identity, then perhaps the ministers should lead by example.
Only if our ministers do indeed lead by example and show that they are willing to serve Singapore without massive financial reward, then they will have the moral authority to inspire the rest of Singapore to develop a truly cohesive national identity that would stand the test of time, even if the chips are down.
Otherwise, it just sounds so hypocritical.
[Featured image: Chan Chun Sing at a dialogue. Image from ST by Lim Yaohui]