Ministry of Finance Committee of Supply 2020 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered on 28 Feb 2020)

Sovereign Wealth Funds – Leon Perera

Mr Chairman sir, in 2017 I asked a PQ about succession planning at Temasek Holdings. The reply was that these matters are to be dealt with by Temasek’s Board and the government does not interfere because Temasek operates “as a commercial entity.”

In 2019 my Parliamentary colleague Mr Png Eng Huat asked about whether remuneration bands can be disclosed for senior officers in our sovereign wealth funds or SWFs. Again the reply was similar.

The reason this is problematic is that the two entities are not privately-held commercial entities, in which case this stance would be understandable, but public ones, managing public funds. The public has a legitimate interest in understanding, for instance, why CEO succession was deemed to be enough of a priority in 2009 to appoint a CEO designate, yet there has not been any concrete movement on succession in the 11 years since then, in spite of what one must assume would be no lack of suitable candidates internally or externally; or whether remuneration given to top executives is consistent with market norms and represents good value.

In contrast, the Singapore Code of Corporate Governance calls on listed companies to disclose total remuneration paid to the top five key management personnel. A 2018 study found that close to 70% of Singapore listed companies did so.

The SGX and most other exchanges do not take the view that the disclosure of such information is unnecessary and the public and shareholders only need to know past financial performance and nothing else; because such disclosure has a bearing on likely future performance and risks, among other reasons.

Singapore Exchange Regulation chief executive Tan Boon Gin said: “Shareholders, especially minorities, deserve to know why company directors and executives are paid the way they are.” “The board and management therefore owe it to investors… to explain the link between performance and remuneration.” The same reasoning would apply to our SWFs because the government is the shareholder and the people of Singapore are, by implication, stake-holders.

In the case of the Norweigian SWF, for example, the government questioned the rising operating expenses of its SWF publicly.  The compensation of the CEO and CIO of the Norway fund are publicly known.

In passing, let me note that I am not holding up the Norway model as one we should emulate in all respects.That is not my point. I am also not calling for government interference in the commercial operations of the SWF. That is not my point.

I would like to ask how the Singaporean people are to obtain a reasonable degree of accountability and transparency over matters relating to business succession and top executive compensation at our SWFs, which manage hundreds of billions of dollars of public funds?

Would the government consider at the very least allowing a bipartisan parliamentary committee to interview the key personnel from these SWFs once a year so that there is some degree of accountability to legislators?


Foreign Domestic Worker Levy Tax Relief – Png Eng Huat

No one likes to raise a child alone, be it the mother or father who has to take on the role by choice or by fate.  Whether it is in the case of a failed marriage or the untimely death of a spouse, the burden and responsibility of single parenthood is a long and arduous journey to undertake.

I have seen a number of single parents at my Meet-the-People Session over the years.  While most of them were women, there were single fathers who came along with their children in tow.  The stories they shared about raising their children all by themselves is a story of love and perseverance.  A story that highlights the need and importance to have a support network, comprising their extended family, friends, and even enacted policies, to make single parenthood work for them.

Recently, a single father wrote to me to share about his experience of raising his two young children.  While he works hard to put bread on the table for his young family and to provide for his aged parents, he found out that the taxman does not really recognize his role and effort as a single father.

While the role and responsibility of being a single parent are not any lesser for a single father, the taxman does not treat a male taxpayer in the same light as the opposite gender when it comes to claiming for Foreign Maid Levy (FML) Relief.  While this single father can work out the apportionment of the Qualifying Child Relief with his ex-spouse, there is no levy relief for him if he hires a foreign domestic helper to look after his young children.  This single father would fit the criteria for the FML relief to the letter, except for the fact that he is of the wrong gender.