Singapore’s founding leader dismisses gripes over pay hike

SINGAPORE, April 23, 2007 (AFP) – The debate over the million-dollar paychecks of Singapore’s cabinet ministers is “rubbish” because the city-state needs to attract extraordinary people to run it, founding leader Lee Kuan Yew said in remarks published Monday. “The biggest mistake any Singaporean can make is to believe that Singapore is an ordinary country and can behave like an ordinary country like Malaysia, like Indonesia, like Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark,” he was quoted by the Straits Times as saying over the weekend.

The blunt-talking former prime minister said the public furore over the decision to raise cabinet ministers’ base salaries by more than 30 percent to 1.05 million US dollars per year was “completely unreal.”

“I say, ‘rubbish,'” he told 400 members of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) on Saturday.

Singapore, with its lack of natural resources and small population, needs attractive packages to draw talented people into public service or the country’s future prosperity would be at risk, Lee warned.

“The problem we now face is how to attract more talent, how to headhunt and to persuade the best to come into parliament,” said Lee, 83, who remains an influential figure in the governmen