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Top dollar in this House

Even a triple jump  in MPs’ salaries has failed to satisfy Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh. I am not surprised. Their monthly salary will still be less than a day’s pay for MPs in Singapore.

Singapore MPs happen to be among the best paid in the world. On top of a monthly salary of S$13,710, they get an annual bonus, raising their pay to S$225,000 (more than Rs 77 lakh) a year. Only American senators and Congressmen, receiving $174,000 (over Rs 81 lakh) a year, and members of the Japanese Diet, getting ¥1.3 million yen (Rs 7.1 lakh) a month, are paid more.  The annual salary of MPs in Britain is £65,738 ( nearly Rs 48 lakh ), in Canada C$155,400 (about Rs 70 lakh ) while MPs in Australia get a base salary of A$131,040 (Rs 54 lakh) a year and in New Zealand NZ$144,500 (nearly Rs 48 lakh) a year. Members of the European parliament get a pre-tax salary of €7,665 (about Rs 4.6 lakh) a month. Compared with them, Indian MPs get a pittance.

In fact, a London School of Economics (LSE) study two years ago said: “Indian MPs receive the most modest salary of all Commonwealth countries.”  But it added that, with all the perks Indian MPs get – free accommodation, free electricity, free rail travel – it is impossible to calculate their total emoluments. “The structure of allowances is very opaque and no data are available concerning the annual cost of an MP,” it said.

Singapore’s compensation scheme for MPs, on the other hand, is transparent, it said. Unlike Indian MPs, they are paid as much as administrative officers on the superscale. And their pay scale is pegged to the annual salaries of top earners in six “professions”:  bankers, lawyers, accountants, engineers, employees of multinationals and local manufacturers. The government believes it has to match private sector salaries to get the best people.

That is the fundamental difference between India and Singapore. “India voiced a peculiar view on the issue of MPs’ salary since its independence,” said the LSE study. “Gandhi did not believe that substantial payment of salary and allowances would significantly curb corruption.”

The MPs’ daily allowance was reduced to Rs 40 from the Rs 45 that members of the Constituent Assembly were getting before independence.  The basic salary remained unchanged at Rs 200 a month till 1954 when it was raised to Rs 400. One could argue that MPs’ salaries declined subsequently, for Rs 400 in 1954 was surely worth more than Rs 16,000 now – the MPs’ current salary, which will be raised to Rs 50,000 a month.

Not that Indian MPs need a pay rise, sniff the peeved. Yes, some of the incumbents are already loaded. All 13 Lok Sabha members from Punjab and nine out of 10 in Haryana are crorepatis, reported one newspaper.  Online records show about 1,000 of the 5,000 candidates in the 2004 general election had declared assets worth over Rs 1 crore.

That is another difference between India and Singapore.  Information about property and assets owned by political candidates, declared to the Election Commission, is publicly available. Not in Singapore. What you can see on government websites are the educational qualifications and work experience of  ministers and MPs.

MPs in Singapore like in other Asian countries, such as Hong Kong, only work as part-time MPs and hold full-time jobs as well,” said the LSE study. They include CEOs, government counsel, law firm partners,  doctors, company directors and a host of other professionals.

As a rule, people do not go into politics in Singapore. They are chosen to serve the people by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) after they have already been successful in other fields. Former prime minister Goh Chok Tong, for example, was the managing director of a shipping line when he entered parliament in 1976. Deputy prime minister Teo Chee Hean was a rear-admiral before becoming an MP in 1992.

The PAP has ruled Singapore from the time it became a self-governing British colony in 1959 and holds 82 of the 84 elected seats in parliament. Since the nine nominated MPs also happen to be successful professionals, there is no career politician in the House. One of the two elected opposition MPs is a businessman and the other a retired lawyer.

Even the opposition does not try to unseat the government.  Thirty-seven of the 82 elected PAPs were returned unopposed in the last general election, in 2006.

While voting is compulsory, there are constituencies where there has never been an election for lack of opposition candidates since 1988. These are Group Representation Constituencies, which were created that year. They elect a team of five to six MPs each, one of whom must be an Indian, a Malay or from another ethnic minority. This is to ensure parliament is not dominated by the Chinese majority.  The opposition has never contested some of these seats.

Politics in Singapore is not what it is in India.

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