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Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew said Singaporeans are Champion Grumblers

An excerpt from the transcript of Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew's interview with Mark Jacobson from National Geographics on 6 July 2009 (For National Geographic Magazine Jan 2010 Edition)

Q: "Do you feel satisfied that that's moving along quite well? Or do you worry?"

Mr Lee: "I think for the next ten years, with this team in charge, it is going to be fine. Whether they will do well for the next 10-15 years depends on whether they get a younger team in place, well imbibed into the methods of the government, integrity, ability, and making decisions for the public good, and not for your personal benefit. That's all. It is difficult because it means sacrificing privacy and sacrificing pay. Now we solved the pay problem or semi-solved it by giving them 80 per cent of the average of six major salary earners."

Q: "Is that how you arrived at it?"

Mr Lee: "Yeah, but we are always lagging behind because whenever there's a downturn, we don’t give the rise. Whenever there's an upturn, the private sectors goes up, shoots up suddenly and we can't keep pace because the public says no, this is too much."

Q: "Well, when people are getting US$16 billion bonuses for bringing the country into the ground, it is hard to keep up."

Mr Lee: "I was once asked about the enormous, the best paid ministers in the world. I said you should look at the wives. The lowest-paid ministers have wives who are glittering with jewels and with big mansions."

Q: "So that means they are corrupt."

Mr Lee: "No, I didn’t say that."

Q: "That was pretty way to be said."

Mr Lee: "But it's true. So Singaporeans have to decide. Do you want to underpay a minister and you have the kind of shenanigans as you have in the British Parliament? You know they repair their homes in the country and in London and charge it to their account. Or you pay them a proper wage and said after that, look after everything. Nobody gets any special perks. That's your salary, you buy your car, you do what everything is yours. Official entertainment, you have got an expense account. Your secretary monitors it and audits channel clears it. So everything is above board and the public knows that. So whatever they grumble, they know that they are not being shortchanged."

Q: "There are grumbles but there are always grumbles."

Mr Lee: "There must be. Singaporeans are champion grumblers."

Q: "Thank you so much.

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Madam S…