Saturday, December 23, 2006

Civil Servant Salary Data Flawed

The country comparative lowest & highest civil servant salary data presented in the article on Sun2Surf is flawed.

At least as far as the Singapore salaries are concerned. A top civil servant in Singapore earns much, much more than S$2442 per month. I won't be surprised if the top civil servant earns S$2442 each working day (ie. $600,000 per annum).

Typical CEO salaries of large listed Singapore companies are about a S$1 million per annum. And Singapore prides itself on a civil servant salary scale that is competitive with the private sector.

Have a look at the 2nd picture which is a screen capture of the Singapore Police Force (SPF) careers website. Entry level commissioned officers in the SPF ie. inspectors and above, already earn well above $2442 a month if they have NS (National Service) or if they have a good honours or higher degree.

Mr Lim Teck Ghee needs to look at his data again. I hope this does not reflect the rigour he put into his ASLI study that came up with the 46% bumi ownership of shares.

Update 25 March 2007

An interesting article in Today newspaper (below) about Singapore civil service salaries and how the top earners (superscale and above) are benchmarked against the top 8 individual salaries in each of 6 professions. Apparently top civil servants like senior parliamentary secretaries and ministers earn over a million a year (vindicating my earlier estimate of S$600,000 above).

What surprised me isn't the fact that a person in the first/lowest superscale rung (Superscale G or SR9) of Singapore's elite Administrative Service pulls in S$370,000 a year. It's the fact that it is the entry point for fast track civil servants aged from their early-mid 30's! Wow... that's a helluva fast track. Assuming they work another 20 years before an early retirement, they would have accumulated a nest egg of over S$7 million! (before tax). And that's if they never get promoted above SR9.

These civil salaries might sound exorbitant, but if you look at Singapore - with its approximately S$50 billion revenue and S$50 billion expenses & capital investment (source: and the fact that the Administrative service constitutes only 0.43% of the total civil workforce or 270 individuals (2002. Source: - it's really not so different from a normal MNC and it's corp of high-income senior managers and directors. But of course, we have not touched on the fact that the private sectors does not have a post-retirement pension and medical scheme. And the fact remains that the civil service has far more job-security than the private sector. A "cast iron rice bowl" (teet fan woon) if you will.

Followup blog: Paying the Piper: The great Singapore civil servant salary debate

Here's a handy table of civil service ranks and salary points:

Salary Points

Salary Ranges

Political Appointments

Staff Grade IV, V


Deputy Prime Minister/

Minister MR1

Staff Grade III


Minister MR2

Staff Grade II


Minister MR3

Staff Grade I


Minister MR4

Superscale B



Minister of State

Superscale C


Minister of State

Superscale D



Parliamentary Secretary

Superscale E


Parliamentary Secretary

Superscale G



Senior Principal Assistant Secretary*



Principal Assistant Secretary



Assistant Secretary



Senior Administrative Assistant



Administrative Assistant




Anonymous said...

Hi Sean Tang, this is Tricia Yeoh. Thanks for your entry, and your detailed observation of the Sun article. I do, however, have some comments. The data was taken and referenced from a particular paper, which I've seen. The data comes from a UN report, and the figures in the Sun for the countries listed (except for Malaysia for which the 2006 data has been included for comparison) are from Table 3 of the paper.

The article is found online - "Civil Service Systems in the ASEAN Region: A Comparative Perspective" United Nations Public Administration Network - New York, Eastern Regional Organization for Public Administration, 2004. You may wish to read it in full.

I'd be happy to receive any further response or feedback from you at - in the meantime, keep up the good analysing of issues. Happy new year.

Regards, Tricia

seantang said...

Thanks for the comment, Tricia.

I'm sure all parties involved cut & paste the tables accurately from the UN report that was referenced.

While I'm not trying to dispute the UN's methods in putting the table together (I'm sure there are lots of notes explaining the limitations of the originating data and assumptions made) - I am pointing out the flaws in that data as far as a layperson on the street would be subject to if he/she to read the table as it appeared on sun2surf.

A quick intuitive look at the Malaysia numbers will see that it's quite reasonable. The low end is roughly what a police constable takes home each month. And the top end salary of nearly RM10K is consistent with superscale salaries accorded to heads of departments and DGs.

But as I mentioned, Singapore is definitely out-of-whack with the whole thing. There is no way in the world that a top civil servant in Singapore gets a basic of S$2442 a month.

Come to think of it, the Indonesia ones looks a bit low as well. I simply will not believe that a top Indonesian civil servant earns USD84 (IDR 756K) a month. That's less than most fresh graduates who earn about a million IDR per month.

Do you know what I think? I think the table (with the exception of Malaysia) actually sets out the STARTING civil service salaries in each country, ie. the lowest and the highest starting salaries.

The Malaysian data however gives the salaries of the lowest ranked vs the highest ranked civil servants.

I think the table is comparing apples and oranges.