A look at the 30 top earning chief executives' pay shows that the idea of aligning their pay to shareholders' interests by having performance-related remuneration is often just that - an idea.
That's because for half these CEOs, the pay is made up of salaries and annual cash bonuses alone, with no long-term incentives (LTIs) to put the company on a sustained growth path. Even in cases where an LTI is part of the package, it is dwarfed by the cash bonus or short-term incentives (STIs).
The six companies which do walk the talk - where LTIs such as share grants outweigh cash bonuses and other STIs - are the OCBC group and several Temasek-linked companies, a review by consultants Freshwater Advisers found.
The 2012 Code of Corporate Governance said performance-related remuneration should be aligned with the interests of shareholders and promote the long-term success of the company.
"LTI in theory should give the best alignment - using equity and typically over longer periods," said Jon Robinson, Freshwater Advisers' managing director. "In practice, though, this may not be effective. Many equity-based plans are very complex and motivation is diminished because people do not understand how the rewards are earned."
The review by Freshwater Advisers, which specialises in advising listed companies on executive remuneration, looked at companies with financial year ends in 2012 as well as those for year ended March 31, 2013.
The analysis covered 295 companies with over $100 million in market capitalisation. It found that for the majority of companies, STIs or mainly cash bonuses, make up the bulk of pay.
Many smaller companies don't even bother with LTIs. They simply award their CEOs outsized cash bonuses - as much as 8 per cent of the company's profit before tax, in one case.
To be fair, some of the companies which dispense with LTIs and share grants do so because they are family owned or run by the controlling shareholders such as City Developments and United Overseas Bank, added Kwong Hui Hen, research director, Freshwater Advisers.
"I wouldn't argue that they don't have a long-term focus since they are substantial shareholders," said Mr Kwong.
He also noted that in some cases weak share prices were a factor in LTIs being smaller than the STIs.
"The share price has not been performing and it would not be right to increase the number of share grants," he said.
Piyush Gupta, DBS Group Holdings' chief executive, tops the highest-paid list with $10.3 million, which included base pay of $1.2 million, STI of $3.5 million and LTI of $5.5 million.
DBS, South-east Asia's largest bank, was the second most profitable company last year with profit before tax (PBT) of $4.6 billion. OCBC Bank, with PBT of $5 billion, was the most profitable company due to sales of non-core assets.
OCBC's Samuel Tsien, who became the bank's chief executive on April 15, 2012, was in 13th place with a remuneration of $5.5 million. Mr Tsien's total pay included $2.5 million in LTI, $1.8 million in STI and $1.1 million base salary.
Chua Sock Koong, Singapore Telecommunications' CEO, was ranked sixth highest paid on the list with $7.8 million. SingTel, Singapore's largest company by market capitalisation, was the third most profitable company with PBT for the year ended March 31, 2012, at $4.1 billion.
Companies with relatively small pre-tax profits which paid their CEOs well included Yongnam, whose chief executive Seow Soon Yong's $3.9 million cash bonus amounted to 8 per cent of the company's $49 million PBT. Aspial's chief executive Koh Wee Seng's cash bonus of $4.1 million made up 5.2 per cent of the company's $79 million PBT.
Wheelock Properties' David Lawrence had the smallest base salary of $193,750 which was topped up by a hefty $3.6 million cash bonus.
Interestingly, Singapore Airlines had PBT of $482 million, but its chief executive was conspicuous by his absence on the best paid list. SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong's pay was $2.6 million.
Looking deeper into the data of the 295 companies, Freshwater Advisers found that STI payments tended to be higher in 2012 than in 2011 but comparable financial measures were, broadly, slightly down.
"Many companies use PBT as a performance measure for setting bonuses and we have looked at statistics that compare incentive payments to PBT," said Mr Robinson.
The median STI stood at 0.61 per cent of PBT in 2012, higher than the 0.41 per cent in 2011.
The difference may not be significant but Mr Robinson argued that "when all companies are compared, it showed that overall profits went down but bonuses went up".
"It meant bonus was not reduced, or even increased while profit fell, and a higher percentage of PBT was used to pay bonus," added Mr Kwong.
"Although PBT is only one fact that could be considered in setting bonuses, seeing bonuses trending up whilst profits are trending down does indicate an overall lack of alignment," said Mr Robinson.
The review also found that LTI awards have not proved popular with smaller companies with fewer than one in 10 using them.
For larger companies with revenue of above $1 billion, the proportion is nearer 40 per cent.
"Last year, the number of companies making grants didn't change much. However the value of grants reduced significantly. (Is that) an indication that this component is losing its impact?" asked Mr Robinson.
But not everyone is in favour of increasing LTI awards as many institutional shareholders don't like companies that give large share grants to executives because this dilutes their holdings.
"Institutional investors generally welcome well-designed long-term incentives even though there is dilution. What they do not like is excessive rewards and corresponding dilution," Mr Robinsion said.
"On the other hand, controlling shareholders often do not like dilution as this can reduce control."