Asian Conversations - an online magazine to explore Asia's future

Another year, another dollar

As the global clamour for economic reform grows louder, the annual salaries of the world’s leaders makes for interesting reading. At the top of the pack in 2011, and way out in front of his powerful peers, was Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong with an annual salary of over US$2.2 million. In distant second was Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang who earned just over half a million dollars a year. And, at the opposite end of the spectrum was the venerated Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, who took home an annual salary of just US$4,106.

And what about the most powerful man in the world? President Obama receives a healthy US$400,000 a year, more than a third higher than his Japanese counterpart (US$273,676) and nearly four times the salary of the South Korean President Lee Myung-bak who earns US$136,669 a year.

Surprisingly one of the few world leaders who can give President Obama a run for his money is Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga who in 2010 rejected a pay raise that would have awarded him an annual salary of US$427,886 a year. According to The Economist, which explored the ratio of leader earnings to average GDP per person, Odinga would have made a jarring 240 times Kenya’s GDP per person, a discrepancy more than five times larger than Lee Hsien Loong, his closest rival.

Of course, merely examining a leader’s salary does not paint the whole picture. Chinese President Hu Jintao took home only US$10,633 a year, while Zimbabwe’s famously corrupt Robert Mugabe earned a mere US$1,500 and Vladimir Putin, whose total income in 2006 was just US$80,000 actually claimed to have lost money while in office. As we saw during the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose US$900 a month salary belied a family fortune of between US$40 and US$70 billion, a leader’s official salary is only a very small part of the potential benefits of office. – Charley Lanyon