Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Criteria of Good Political Leadership

My deepest sympathy and condolences to those who have been suffering or dead in the recent two disasters in Myanmar and China.

Not so long ago, I was chatting with a couple of friends over coffee and the topic of "Pay and Performance" of political leaders surfaced. And of course, the necessary quality and traits of good political leaders also surfaced.

Many people have many versions of what constitutes "GOOD" political leaders. PAP's definition is that political leaders like ministers must be "SMART", "Intelligent" and "Talented" as "ELITES" of the population. And they argue that we should not mind paying millions for these "ELITES" to compensate their "SACRIFICES" they are making. (Well, to me, if its a supposedly a "SACRIFICE", why should we be thinking of "COMPENSATING" them? Well, this is another issue for another day!)

A friend who has high regard for old pioneers like Dr. Goh Keng Swee simply say that, the BEST political leaders need not have the highest IQ, not even need to be ELITES. The GOOD political leaders simply PUT THE PEOPLE's INTERESTS before THEMSELVES.

That pretty much sum up what "For the People, By the People" means and the view is that political leaders should be paid well enough to have a comfortable life but NOT to become millionaires.

The measurement of PERFORMANCE is not about how much RESERVES they could accumulate but rather, how well the people have been taken care of. Particularly, how the welfare of the people has been taken care of.

The two recent natural disasters in Myanmar and China actually demonstrate very well the difference between a GOOD GOVERNMENT and a SELF SERVING GOVERNMENT.

Many people do not understand why, the Chinese Communist Party in China is able to hold on to power for so long as a dictatorial regime without facing massive revolts or demands for its demise. CCP has controlled its power base mainly through HARD POWER of the guns and barrels, as well as its SOFT POWER, through its actions on the ground in coming in timely as a force to save its people during disasters.

A dictatorial regime cannot stay too long in power if it is merely ruling by the iron fists. In modern history, Dictators in places like Cuba, North Korea, Libya and such, has been able to prolong their grips on power by using not only military might/suppression but also by their Soft Power by providing schemes of welfare to their people.

The commitment and determination of CCP Prime Minister Wen in dealing with the crisis at hand has gained much respect from the ground. I think this will become the greatest assets to the CCP monopoly of power for many years to come.

On the contrary, Myanmar Military Junta is seen as self-serving in times of crisis. They could disregard the needs of the its people totally in times of disaster and yet tries every means to block international aids to reach its disaster area! It has not been seen as sending much troops or reinforcement to help those in distress nor has any willingness to deliver timely aids to them as well. Such a government which only thinks about its own consolidation of power instead of the interests and welfare of its people, will definitely fall in time to come.

The above examples of two different government signifies what constitutes a GOOD GOVERNMENT. The distinctions exist even for dictatorial regimes like China and Myanmar. Good political leadership simply means CONSTANTLY PUTTING PEOPLE'S WELFARE AND INTERESTS ABOVE SELF INTERESTS, be it democratic, dictatorship or otherwise.

This is also basically why I am willing to go into alternative politics at this moment because modern PAP, as contrast to its early humble beginnings, have become more self-serving rather than putting Singaporeans' welfare and interests above their own. It has become more stingy on spending on citizens' welfare but generous in offering themselves million dollars annual pay. They have cut back, in relative REAL terms, many spendings on citizens' welfare as compared to the prior 1990 era.

And yes, to be able to understand the needs and interests of the people, good political leaders need great amount of empathy, least arrogance on talks about how much they have "sacrificed" in taking up political office. And in my view, only political competition will make the ruling party spend more money on the welfare of Singaporeans. This is obvious in recent hype about how much money has been spent in Aljunied GRC, cheap 50 cents lunch and such. But to me, this is still not enough as it is just a sign of pork barrel politics, not a national wide effect to increase welfare spending in the supposedly richest country in SEA.

So the next question is how do we pay our political leaders? If the idea is to judge performance on how well the leaders have taken care of the citizens, their pay should be measured against the well being of the citizens. Pegging it to 10X of the GDP per capital (average pay) is justifiable. Pegging it to 50X of the mean of the lowest 20% of the percentile, is reasonable. But to peg their pay against the highest pay, is really absurd because it means that the incentives for the political leaders to increase pay is to make the lives of those having the highest pay BETTER!

It is indeed quite ironic in this case that I have more respect for the leader of a dictatorial regime like China than our ill-democratic leaders here in Singapore. It is all about the core values we have for selecting political leaders. If you ask me to choose between a very smart and intelligent person and a not so smart but truly have the interests of people at heart leader, I will definitely choose the later.

I truly hope the political logic of voters will change in time to come.

Goh Meng Seng


Anonymous said...

you want a leadership who believes in social justice rather than social justification. you want a leadership who does not mislead people to think they need ever increasing monetary incentives to work hard, contribute or be creative.

for centuries, many people have been creative and worked hard without monetary incentives or for very little of it. they have produced great works of inventions to arts for our amusement. from newton to pacasso to eintein, they were dedicated to their vision and craft not because they have been lured by monetary rewards.

many great past leaders too were not paid millions to lead.

this fallacy has created inequitable wealth that mostly benefited the minority but poses grave social, environmental and economic ramifications.

we need leadership who will turn a wealth centric society to a wealth sharing society( changing the reward system etc).

the current leadership don't cut it unless they turn round to give away what they shouldn't be holding - become i must decrease and the common good increase!!!

last but not least, all powers should be decentralized!

alibaba ornitorfu and the holy gods be blessed.

the watcher said...

Totally agree.

A great leader is one who puts his heart for the people first and foremost.

A 'leader' who first assess whether the salary and pension is worth his while to serve the nation is nothing more than putting his self interest before people and nation. Not worth according the normal respect a leader should have.