World's highest paid politicians

As you might imagine, the release of Barack Obama's tax return by the White House last month caused quite a stir. Everyone knew the U.S. President earned the base Commander in Chief salary last year, but perhaps few were keen to Obama's potency as an author: according to his filings, the most powerful man in the world earned a total income of $5,505,409 in 2009, thanks in large part to proceeds from Obama's two best-selling books, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father.
Yet, this time of year, it's that base salary everyone is concerned with. As Canadians, tax season is the slot on the calendar when it's most appropriate to gripe over how much Prime Minister Stephen Harper earns. Where do the incomes of Harper and Obama rank on the world scale, you ask? Perks, stipends and expenses aside, Here is the 10 highest-paid politicians in the world, based on their taxpayer-funded salaries.
*All figures in USD.
10. Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, UnitedKingdom

Annual salary: $300,400
Brown, the Scottish-born leader of the U.K's Labour party, has always boasted that he's a man of the people. And it's that political motivation that now has the British P.M. in a fight to raise his nation's minimum wage from $8.97 to $11.75. Brown's salary, while nearly nine times more than the average English worker's income, is actually quite modest when compared to other world leaders. But, perhaps Brown has his sights set on future earnings: Tony Blair, the man Brown succeeded as P.M. in 2007, now makes as much as $600,000 per speaking engagement at events around the world.

9. Angela Merkel, Chancellor, Germany

Annual salary: $303,800
The only female leader to crack the top 10, Merkel has led the German government since 2005. With nicknames such as "The Iron Frau" and a nagging comparison to former tough-talking British P.M. Margaret Thatcher, it's no surprise that Merkel has handled the recent Greek financial collapse with similar resolve. When Greece asked Germany — where the average worker's income is just less than $30,000 per year — for an $11.2 billion bailout earlier this month, Merkel only agreed under the premise that Athens present a sustainable, deficit-cutting plan before any German funds would be released. The Chancellor's plan, according to her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, "won't cost any [German] taxpayers' money at the end of the day" and should be in place by this weekend.
8. Jacob Zuma, President, South Africa

Annual salary: $305,800
Sixty-eight year old Zuma has already caused turmoil among his nation's taxpayers during his brief presidency. Since his election win last year, Zuma has implemented an eight per cent salary increase for all public office bearers — even backdating his own raise to his May election date. Zuma is notorious in South Africa — a country where the World Bank estimates more than half the population lives below the poverty line — for a 2005 rape charge, as well as lengthy, public legal battles against charges of corruption and racketeering. Still, the President is the highest-earning politician in all of Africa.
7. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister, Canada

Annual salary: $309,800
Canadians are world class when it comes to grieving about taxes. And who could blame us? Last year, according to the Fraser Institute, the average Canadian family lost 42 per cent of their household income to taxes. Because of this, the ire of the Canuck taxpayer always falls on figures with public salaries, and no such official earns more in Canada than Harper. Wherever you stand on the P.M.'s annual salary — is it too much, or too little? — the Conservative leader earns a wide margin more than the average Canadian. As of the last census, full-time Canadian workers made an average of only $41,401 each year.
6. Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister, Australia

Annual salary: $315,800
Rudd and the rest of the federal government have been recent beneficiaries of a three per cent raise — an increase that bumps the Aussie P.M.'s salary up by almost $10,000 every year until 2011. A Senate leader actually called for Rudd's salary to be tripled to $1 million, but the everyman Prime Minister sheepishly declined. In fact, Rudd's three per cent raise was a long time coming. After he took office in 2007, the newly-minted Aussie leader froze his own salary and then deferred a similar increase the next year. The P.M. remains committed, he maintains, to improving the quality of life for all people in Australia, where the average annual household income totals just over $60,000.
5. Nicolas Sarkozy, President, France

Annual salary: $319,800
Unlike in other governments where top-ranking officials earn similar salaries, France awards its top-brass with incomes that far exceed other public figures. Sarkozy, who has been France's president since 2007, and his Prime Minister, Fran├žois Fillon, both earn 50 per cent more than the next highest-compensated member of the French government. Yet the French president's salary — which still towers over the average national household income of $58,000 per year — wasn't always so high. As recently as 2007, the first year of his presidency, Sarkozy earned a paltry-by-comparison annual income of $135,200.
4. Brian Cowen, Taoiseach, Ireland

Annual salary: $342,400
Ireland's Taoiseach, the country's head of government, is the highest-paid politician in all of Europe. And while Brian Cowen has only held office since 2008, his salary has already become a lightning rod in Irish politics. During his first year as Taoiseach, Cowen denounced business leaders taking huge pay increases during the outset of the country's financial meltdown. It was then, of course, that Cowen became eligible for a $50,600 per year raise of his own — a pay hike he took in stride. The Taoiseach's opposition fumed over the fact that Cowen earns more than seven times what the average Irish family does per year.
3. Barack Obama, President, United States

Annual salary: $400,000
The salary of Barack Obama, despite making him the third-highest earning public figure on the planet, seems positively miniscule when you consider the bloated Wall Street bonuses the President has had to police during the early months of his presidency. Yet $400,000 is a lot, especially when compared to the average U.S. household income — just over $50,000 when last measured in 2007. Obama, as did other presidents, does earn outside income while in office (his millions made from best-selling books were mentioned in this feature's intro) but his most lucrative years may be to come. Like Tony Blair, the ex-British P.M., many former U.S. presidents earn much more than their in-office salaries after their terms finish. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, for example, each make as much as $150,000 for speaking engagements around the world.
2. Donald Tsang, Chief Executive, Hon Kong

Annual salary: $515,300
To Tsang's credit, the well-compensated chief executive has been a loyal employee of the civil service. Hong Kong's head of government has maintained a public job since 1967, working his way up through posts in the finance and trade sectors. And while Hong Kong's civil servants are traditionally well paid — a strategy that aims to attract "capable and enthusiastic candidates" to public work, as Tsang himself once pointed out — never has Tsang earned more than with his current post, held since 2005. The 65-year-old's salary is more than 21 times what the median household earns per year in Hong Kong, where an average family takes home just $24,000 annually.
1. Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister, Singapore

Annual salary: $2.75 million

The highest-paid politician by a staggering margin, Lee Hsien Loong has often defended his extravagant salary. In a recent U.S. trip, Loong highlighted how American politicians, because of their low annual salaries, may have other interests — future pursuits, perhaps — that could distract them from their public service. "Our attitude is: you must pay for the quality of the person you want," he said of his high earnings. "You want the best person and you want him to be properly motivated." Still, rhetoric aside, there are many who justly suggest Loong's annual income is far too high for governing Singapore, a tiny nation of less than five million people. The P.M.'s salary of $2.75 million per year is more than 80 times that of the average Singaporean family.

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