Thursday, July 21, 2011

Singapore as clean a society as you can find anywhere, says Murdoch

by Teo Xuanwei
Jul 21, 2011

SINGAPORE - The attack on Mr Rupert Murdoch might have dominated newspaper headlines yesterday but it was the media mogul's unexpected mention of Singapore as an example of an "open and clear society" which has sparked off a belated buzz online and in the international media.

During the hearing on the phone hacking scandal that has shuttered the News of the World, Mr Murdoch was asked by British Member of Parliament Damian Collins where the limits of legitimate investigative journalism lie.
The 80-year-old's answer thrust the Republic into the spotlight - which included reports in The New York Times and on CNBC - on a scandal unfolding halfway around the globe: "When The Daily Telegraph bought a series of stolen documents of all the expenses of MPs, it caused a huge outcry, one which I feel has not been properly addressed.

"I think there is an answer to it, and we ought to look at them as open and clear as a society in the world, which is Singapore - where every minister gets at least a million dollars a year and the Prime Minister a lot more and there is no temptation and it is as clean a society as you find anywhere."
Mr Murdoch's response was a dig at a scandal in the United Kingdom last year where several MPs were found to have inflated their expenses.
On social networking websites such as Twitter and on online forums yesterday, there was a flurry of comments from netizens, with many expressing reservations about Mr Murdoch's remarks.

The issue of ministerial salaries has been a political hot potato here for many years, including during the General Election in May. A committee appointed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is now in the process of reviewing pay for political appointees and for the President.

Mr Murdoch's comments elicited varied responses among observers and politicians here.

Choa Chu Kang Group Representation Constituency MP Zaqy Mohamad said: "It's good that we are recognised for our transparency with regard to remuneration for ministers."

Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang told Today that his party takes note of "both positive and negative comments about Singapore" by foreigners.

Singapore-based political science don Bridget Welsh said: "My sense is that Mr Murdoch was engaged in a defence and (was) using every example he could find."

[Murdoch provides only half of the answer to SG corruption-free society. High salaries does not remove temptation, merely reduces it. The other half of the answer is a culture of non-corruption.

What is sad I think is taht LKY unblinkered and unadorned perspective of human nature is being replaced by idealism and fantasy. While the rest of the world is starting to realise that you get what you pay for, over here we are trying to get "cheap and good".

The reality elsewhere is that good doesn't come cheap and cheap is seldom good.

And here is a response.]

Singaporeans, not Murdoch, the best judge of our system

Letter from Lai Yew Chan

I refer to the article "Singapore as clean a society as you can find anywhere, says Murdoch" (July 21).

Before we make a meal of Rupert Murdoch's comment about our ministerial pay, we ought to ask ourselves some questions.

How much weight should we give to such a comment by someone who is not an authority on public policy and who is embroiled in a corporate scandal that is related to the lack of good governance?

[I think the point is that "journalists" as defined by his corporation has exploited corruption, and corruption is a result of unrealistic, idealistic, political games that results in unreasonably low salaries that are politically palatable and accepted by the politically gullible - i.e. the voters - who think that they are getting value for money, not realising that there are hidden costs in corruption and the integrity of the system. 

But if Murdock is not an authority on public policy, how less qualified are most Singaporeans who are not the chairman of a world-spanning media empire, or even the director of a small business?

Simply by virtue of being Singaporeans?]

Are there other countries that pay similar top dollar to their political leaders and are similarly ranked well in the transparency index? If there are none, should our lone example be held as a model for others to emulate?

Are there other countries that pay their political leaders well, but not on a scale as high as ours, and yet score similarly well in the transparency index?

Should we pay a premium just to make political leaders less corruptible? Is there a better alternative?

From time to time, there will be another country trying to replicate our success story, the latest being Panama (The Economist, July 16). In the final analysis, it is not Singapore but the country in question that is in the best position to know how much of, if at all, our model is relevant.

By the same token, Singaporeans themselves, not some overseas media figure, should decide whether the present ministerial pay scale will continue to work for us.

[By what reasoning or qualification or experience are most Singaporeans qualified to make that judgement? ]

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