SINGAPORE - Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has acknowledged the "heated reactions" from Singaporeans to his comments on ministerial salaries last week.
Mr Goh said at a forum with residents from the South East District last Thursday (Aug 2) that Cabinet ministers are not paid enough, and that it would become harder to attract good people to join the Government in the future.
His words have attracted mainly critical feedback online from Singaporeans. Some said high salaries may attract people for the wrong reasons. Others noted that the salaries of ministers are already among the highest in the world.
Responding in a Facebook post on Wednesday (Aug 8), Mr Goh said he saw a silver lining in the comments. "It shows Singaporeans care deeply and hold leaders to account for their words and performance."
"I welcome diverse and dissenting views. I hope to engage them, perhaps through a forum in due course," he added.
On his point about ministerial salaries, Mr Goh stuck to his guns, explaining in his latest post why he sees pay as important.
"In times of prolonged crisis and upheaval, I have no doubt that Singaporeans will step forward to serve. Money would not be a key vector. In peace and prosperity however, there are no dragons to slay. Personal aspirations, freedom, privacy and life-style take precedence," he said.
Singaporeans, he added, "know quality costs money - from durians to clothes to football players to military weapons".
He added: "Having run Singapore for 14 years as prime minister, my main concern remains how to bring Singapore forward. Leadership is key."
Mr Goh also addressed another remark that some people have taken issue with, where he appeared to say that those who are not able to command a high salary are "very, very mediocre" people.
In his post on Wednesday, he said: "I do not mean nor believe that Singaporeans at whatever level of income are mediocre. Those who have worked with me know people matter the most to me. That is what I am in politics for."
He said that some Singaporeans have written to him directly to express their views.
He published an excerpt of his reply to a final-year medical student in an overseas university, in which he argued that a person's abilities, competence and performance are reflected in his salary.
But Mr Goh also said in the reply that other attributes not reflected in the salary matter too.
He wrote: "Salaries are not our starting point in looking for ministers. Character, motivation, commitment, selflessness, practical abilities, competence and proven performance are the main attributes we look for. The first four attributes are veto factors."
The student "seemed to be persuaded by my response", and has offered to volunteer at Mr Goh's Meet-the-People Session in Marine Parade GRC, he noted.
"I hope more Singaporeans will think deeply about how to ensure Singapore succeeds," he concluded, adding: "Singapore deserves the best. Happy National Day!"
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.