Who wants transparency when you can have magic

Thanks to Covid-19, I’ve been discovering a host of programs that I might otherwise not have watched. One of them is “The Crown,” which tells the story of England’s current Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen is currently the longest serving Head of State and the longest ever reigning British Monarch.

One of the most poignant moments in the series was the story of her coronation, which was the first one ever to be televised. It showed her Uncle (who did not attend), explaining the beauty of the coronation and his classic line was “Who wants transparency when you can have magic?”

This line of the series underlines the key reason why the British Monarchy has endured for so long. Despite having no political power, the monarchy has survived and, in some cases, thrived because it has been a symbol or a fantasy for the average man. She and her family are perhaps the British nation’s PR spokespeople, responsible for selling a certain image to the world. Royal Weddings are an example of this, when the world’s cameras are tuned onto the United Kingdom (the converse being Royal divorces)

The key to the Queen’s success is that she’s stayed out of politics and never gives any hint of her personal opinions on the matters of the day. She is, however, by many reports sharp and knows what’s going on and whenever she has to do something, she does it. As was portrayed on Netflix, she did dress down Winston Churchill for having a stroke and keeping it from her. The classic line being “My job is not to govern but to ensure there’s governance.”

By staying out of anything remotely political, the Queen stays out of anything grubby and as they say, ensures the magic that keeps the monarchy going. As a constitutional monarch, the last thing the Queen needs is to be transparent about the nitty gritty of the institution that she represents.

However, while constitutional monarchs may exist on the concept of magic, the same should never be true for elected politicians and civil servants, who are in the grubby business of running the country.

Unfortunately, there have been cases of elected politicians and bureaucrats who have forgotten that they are in the business of running things and that actually requires transparency. The most famous example is the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who has famously refused to release his tax returns (something which all his predecessors have done) and appointed relatives the politically influential positions (something which real Princes have avoided doing).

This is, unfortunately, not limited to the USA. In Singapore, we’ve had the example of the Ho Ching, the Chief Executive of Temasek Holdings, an investment firm that invest on behalf of the Singapore government. One of the largest issues in Singapore is the fact that nobody knows what Madam Ho’s salary is.

If you look at it from a legal perspective, there’s no need for Madam Ho to reveal what she earns. Temasek Holdings is a private company and as such has no obligation to publish any accounts or any details about the salaries paid to its directors. Her salary, as they say, should be no one’s business except hers and her employer, which in this case is the Ministry of Finance.

However, when you look at what Temasek Holdings is, you have to ask why there’s so much secrecy about its financial performance and the salaries of the top directors. Temasek Holdings, as is known to everyone is mandated by the Ministry of Finance to invest and grow the nation’s wealth. My pension money (CPF) funds are utilized by Temasek Holdings and while I may not have a direct share of Temasek Holdings, they are using my money to do what they do. So, the point is – surely their business is also my business and what Ho Ching as CEO is paid is my business.

The consistent argument for keeping all of this secret is that it’s part of national security. However, this argument does not wash. Madam Ho’s husband is the Prime Minister and his salary is public knowledge. Are we to say that the CEO of Temasek Holdings has a higher national security priority than the Prime Minister?

When it comes to Constitutional Monarchs, magic can override transparency. However, when it comes to the case of the people involved in running the country and with their hands on the public purse, the answer is no – we cannot accept that they live in the world of magic. Transparency is required in their case. Let us never forget that politicians and civil servants are employed by the tax payer and what they get up to is our business.


Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.




10 Responses to “Who wants transparency when you can have magic”

  • Ownself fools ownself:

    What’s transparency are we talking about?

    Private company’s salary, a state secret?

    TCH answered question with a question. What do you think?

    Ah chan replied. What’s the point of your question?

    Yes, treat us like 5 years old.

    We will respond accordingly in the coming erection.

    GD Star Rating
  • Errr it's black magic & opaque:

    “On matters of style, swim with the current; on matters of principle, stand like a rock…. If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, while in a state of civilization, then it expects what never was and never will be.”

    - Thomas Jefferson

    GD Star Rating
  • Transparency needed:

    OK to have secret if it really necessary for national security reason.
    Better to have transparency when not essential or critical.

    GD Star Rating
  • Tremendous:

    It’s breaking news now.
    The Oppo villagers are having a new party member now, a yang guy.
    Looks like the more the chiefs try to run away from accountabilities, the worse it gets even before polling begins.

    GD Star Rating
  • People misled:

    “The consistent argument for keeping all of this secret is that it’s part of national security. However, this argument does not wash. Madam Ho’s husband is the Prime Minister and his salary is public knowledge. Are we to say that the CEO of Temasek Holdings has a higher national security priority than the Prime Minister?”

    Many well-read citizens are misled into thinking they know the salary of the PM.

    They often quote a salary of $2.2 million.

    They are wrong.

    1. The actual salary for the PM position is never disclosed. People forget there are bonus components that are secret.

    2. The PM is also chairman of GIC. It is definitely not a honorary position with no remuneration. It is likely to be many millions.

    3. We have no idea how many other rewarded positions he has.

    GD Star Rating
  • Dishonourable v Honourable:

    Meanwhile in the Land now ruled by the Empress Dowager Errr! the fight now is between the Dishonourable Son and the Honourable Son.
    Thank You LHY for saving the country.
    We do not want to live in a NKorean State.
    We want your brilliant Harvard Prof son to come back to help this country.
    We need the best talents.
    The other non-talent grandson of LKY is now a digital parking attendant.

    GD Star Rating
  • uselesstankinl:










    GD Star Rating
  • trublu:

    Transparency from PAPie$?

    Even PRs are counted as SGS in important statistics like LABOUR FORCE.

    To expect transparency from PAPies is wishful thinking.
    The only way is CHANGE.

    GD Star Rating
  • Truth Seeker:

    Why is this guy Tang Li always talking about the West’s greatness before substantiating them to Asians?

    I would say he is subliminally trying to influence readers here about the ‘supremacy’ of these so-called countries especially UK. I suspect Tang Li is also another Michael Petraeus or Nas Daily ‘employed’ to promote a country and in his case, UK Britain.

    Britain is already a pariah state in deep shits, in Europe and an imperialist of a by-gone era though I like its’ country-side and their humor. So stop harping about its’ past ‘supremacy’ and ‘superiority’ Brits now are as poorer than Asians. So write without your hidden agenda trying to pull readers here into your so-called British surrealism.

    TRE readers here can read through your subliminally crafted messages and its’ hidden motives!. So wake up!!!, Tang Li, I hope.

    GD Star Rating
  • Truth Seeker:

    In addendum to my post above, if Tang Li omitted the first 5 paragraphs from his article, I would have given him an accolade!

    GD Star Rating

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