By Leong Sze Hian

According to Parliamentary and news reports, the PM will donate his salary increase for the next 5 years to charity.

It states that “he does not expect other ministers to follow his example because although the salary increases were a Cabinet decision, it was he who had to carry the ultimate responsibility, and not the ministers individually. What individual ministers want to do, is up to them. What individual MPs want to do, is also up to you”.

The 3,000 Singaporeans on Public Assistance have just had their monthly welfare increased by $30 from $260 to $290.

Since the main reason given for raising GST was to help the needy, why not do more to help the needy now, instead of waiting for the GST hike to take effect. After all, civil servants have had their pay increased immediately now, even before the GST increase’s effective date.

In this connection, why increase ministerial and MP’s pay now, and then say that some would donate their increment to charity? What the poor needs is to be helped now, instead of having to wait until pay increments are channeled to charities, which may take some time to reach needy Singaporeans.

Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC) has announced that it is making a big push to help 22,000 financially “vulnerable” residents. This number was arrived at after conducting a survey of 60,000 low-income residents who had benefited from a public transport fund, whereby about a third said they had difficulty meeting their monthly expenses.

As there are 5 CDCs, and since there are 22,000 “vulnerable” residents in just one CDC, I would like to ask how many “vulnerable” residents are there in total in Singapore?

The fact that these 22,000 “vulnerable” residents were only identified after tremendous efforts by groups of volunteers knocking on the doors of one and two-room rental flats, with about one in five having no idea where to look for help, may mean that there are some needy Singaporeans who have yet to be reached in our “many helping hands” welfare system.

In 2005, the total amount given by all the organisations involved in transport vouchers was $4.6 million, which means that about 230,000 people received transport vouchers.

However, there are about 105,000 households (1st to 10th decile) with no income from work, and 105,000 households with average monthly income from work of $1,180. Therefore, the number of people who belong to households with not more than $1,500 monthly income, which is the criteria for receiving transport vouchers, may be much more than the 230,000 who received them.

Using the Department of Statistics’ 3.6 average persons per household, the 105,000 11th to 20th decile households with $1,180 income may already be 378,000 persons, without even counting the needy in the 1st to 10th decile and those earning not more than $1,500 above the 20th decile.

Thus, identifying “vulnerable” residents from just a survey of those who received transport vouhers, may be just the tip of the iceberg, in regards to the actual number of needy Singaporeans.

Increasing GST and donating pay increments to help the needy is great, but we may need to try harder in finding them, in the first place, and helping them now.

About 60,000 Singaporeans also did not sign up for the Progress package last year.

In this connection, at the announcement of the setting up of the Comcare Endowment Fund on 19 January 2005, it was said that the five CDCs handled 35,000 hardship cases in 2004, granting almost $40 million in assistance. Why is it that it would appear that about two years later, the amount of assistance given out has only increased by 70 per cent ($68 divided by $40 million), against an increase of 157 per cent in the number of needy families (90,000 divided by 35,000)?

As I understand that donations from the public to charity (excluding corporate donations) may have dropped following the NKF affair, will the donation of some Ministers’ and MPs’ pay increments lead to more or less donations from the public?

Whilst the “salary increase was a cabinet decision”, aren’t you curious to know as to which cabinet minister brought it up first and proposed the increase?

When was the decision made to donate pay increases to charity? Why was this not announced when the pay increase was first announced a few weeks ago? Did the Minister in charge of the civil service know, when he announced the pay increase on the opening day of Parliament on April 9? When the decision was made, why was it not made known earlier, as it would have spared Singaporeans the anquish of bitter debate and division, which may literally have split the country into two? This sudden annoncement now may not put Singapore in a very good light in the eyes of the world, as the foreign media has already reported quite critically and extensively on this issue of pay increase – that the highest paid Ministers in the world are getting another 60 per cent increase.

(Picture courtesy of vnc2005)

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