Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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AIM debate in Parliament: (Round 9) – Replies that don’t really answer the question?


By Leong Sze Hian

In my article “AIM debate in Parliament: (Round 8) – its all about transparency?” (theonlinecitizen, May 22), I said that I would give more examples of arguably, an occasional lacking in transparency.

So, here’s another example from the most recent Parliamentary sitting:

I refer to the article “S$1.2b donated by Tote Board to social sector in last five years: Josephine Teo” (Channel NewsAsia, May 13).

Only half of donations to social sector?

It states that “the Tote Board has donated S$1.2 billion or almost half of all its donations to the social sector in the last five years.

She said this in response to a question in Parliament by Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, who asked why S$400 million was donated towards building the Gardens by the Bay.”

NCMP Lina Chiam’s question

NCMP Lina Chiam’s question was :

“To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance (a) why did the Tote Board donate $400 million towards building Gardens by the Bay, which charges admission fees for its conservatories, instead of donating the sum to the needy or funding social services; and (b) whether the Tote Board publishes an annual report detailing its donations made and, if not, why?”

Where did the other half of donations go to?

So, if $1.2 billion was to the social sector which was almost half of all its donations , where did the rest of the half (about $1.2 billion) of the donations go to over the five years?

In addition to the donations to the social sector and other (sector(s))  (which I am asking above), I understand that a surplus is also accumulated into the Tote Board’s reserves every year.

Why have so much surplus, reserves?

As I understand that the Tote Board was originally set up primarily to operate and receive gaming revenue to help the community, why does it need to have so much surpluses for the years and accumulated reserves?

Gardens make money?

As to “the Tote Board board supported the development cost of the gardens, but the donation does not cover the cost of operating the conservatories. The conservatories make full recovery of operating cost through the collection of admission fees” – I don’t think this has adequately answered NCMP Lina Chiam’s question as to why the $400 million was donated to a non-social cause – one which makes money (arguably in addition to covering the operating costs as the reply indicated, unless it makes a loss)?

$400 m to Gardens is more than 6 times the $61m to Charity?

Also, in terms of proportion, isn’t $400 million in a year like a mountain compared to the molehill of just $61 million donation commitments to Charity (Social Service) in FY2010?

8.7% of total donations went to Charity?

The donation commitments to Charity (Social Service)  at $61 million was only about 8.7 per cent of the total donation commitments in FY2010.

$400m to Gardens is double 5 years’ total to Charity?

In other words, another way of looking at the issue, may be that the $400 million donation to the building of  Gardens by the Bay, was about double the $203 million 0f total donation commitments to Charity (Social Service) for the five years from FY2006 to FY2010.

So hard to find annual reports?

The Parliamentary replied to NCMP Lina Chiam’s question of whether the Tote Board publishes any annual report detailing its donations made and reasons for not doing so if there is no publishing of such reports, by saying “Besides being available at the National Library, the annual report can now also be viewed on Tote Board’s website”.

In this regard, before NCMP Lina Chiam had asked this question, I could not find any annual reports on the Tote Board’s web site. So, I went to the National Library at NEX and discovered that it was only available at the National Library headquarters at Bugis.

So, I went there and also could not find them, until I approached the librarian at the reference section on level 7. The librarian helped me to find hard copies of the annual reports (available only in the reference section) from FY2006 to FY2010. Apparently she also could not find the annual report for FY 2011 or FY2012, or the annual reports before FY2006.

So, if not for NCMP LIna Chiam’s question – maybe the Tote Board’s annual report may never appear on its web site!

Put Annual Reports on web site?

In today’s digital age, why wasn’t its annual reports made available online on its web site, until now?

Otherwise, Singaporeans may be “none the wiser” to what most of us thought – that most of the gamimg operations and revenue goes to charity and social services.

Anyway, I looked at its 2011/2012 annual report which now appears on its web site.

Surplus for the year – $347.9 m? 

The Tote Board Group’s  surplus for the year was $347,904,695 after making donations of $375,424,083 and contribution to consolidated fund of $68,310,792.

So, the surplus was almost as much as the total amount donated in the year!

Why is it that it needs to have so much surplus for the year (practically every year if you look at the past annual reports) – $347.9 million?

Accumulated surpluses increased 11.5% to $3.2 b?

The Tote Board’s accumulated surpluses increased last year by 11.5 per cent from $2,901,895,220 to $3,235,412,617.

Why is there a need to accumulated so much surpluses – $3.2 billion, when its annual revenues have been and seem to be able to meet all its funding commitments into the future?

The Tote Board Group’s capital and reserves was $3,620,587,249.

Outstanding donation commitments?

Its outstanding donation commitments are as follows:

Arts and Culture                     $480 million

Charity (Social Service)         $185

Community Development     $314

Education                                  $75

Health                                        $168

Sports                                         $422 million

Total: $1,644 million

11.3% of total donations went to Charity?

So, donation commitments to Charity (Social Service)  at $185 million was only about 11.3 per cent of the total donations.

Its donation commitments to Charity (Social Service) were $13, $35, $44, $50, $61 and $166 million in the previous years, in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively.

You need to note that these are “donation commitments”and not the actual donations disbursed in the year.

For example, out of the $185 million donations commitment to Charity (Social Service) – how much did the sector actually receive in the year (as the 11.3% commitment percentage is arguably already very low).

$375.4 m donations vs $347.9 m surplus vs $1.64 b donation committments?

In this connection, it would appear that only $375.4 million (against $347.9 million surplus) was the actual amount of donations disbursed against the total donation commitments of $1.64 billion, for the year.

I would like to suggest that a breakdown of the actual donations disbursed in the year be shown in the annual report (unless it is inside somewhere and I was not able to find it), as just showing commitments may give an inflated picture to how much money actually wer
e received by the beneficiaries in a year.

Also, I am quite confused – is “outstanding donation commitments””a rolling number – i.e. are previous years’ commitments not disbursed carried forward and included in the current year’s outstanding committments?

Low % of Charity (Social Service) to total donation commitments?

The percentage of Charity (Social Service) donation commitments to total commitments was 11.3, 12.1, 8.7, 15.0 and 13.2 per cent, for 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009  and 2008, respectively (a very laborious task as I had to calculate these from each of the 5 years’ annual reports).

What is “social sector”?

So, would the Minister like to re-confirm and clarify her reply in Parliament that “Over the last five years, the Board has donated $1.2 billion or almost half of all its donations to the social sector. In FY12 alone, donations to the social sector were about $500 million, or 46% of donations for that year”.

Is her definition of “social sector” different from Charity (Social Service)? This reply needs to be seen in the context of NCMP Lina Chiam’s words in her question – “ instead of donating the sum to the needy or funding social service?”

So, what does her definition of “social sector” include? – “Community Development” too? What is community development?

If you ask most Singaporeans – what do you think most may say as to what they perceive “social sector” means? – Perhaps helping the less well off in society? Just like NCMP Lina Chiam too I think, if you read her question.

Maybe Singaporeans may like to think twice about gaming as an activity that indirectly helps the poor – if they know that only 11.3 per cent of total donation commitments went to Charity (Social Service) last year (and I emphasise again – this amount is the commitment, not the actual amount disbursed).

$416 m casino levy? 

“Casino entry levy of the Singapore Totalisator Board” was $416 million for the two years from 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2012.

Locals visited 4.16 m times?

Based on the per entry levy of $100 and assuming those who paid the annual entry levy of $2,000 go in for at least 20 times in a year, does it mean that locals visited the 2 casinos for about 4.16 million times in the 2 years?

Is this number of visits a lot?

Parliamentary reply that beats around the bush?

I understand that previous questions in Parliament on the casino statistics were not able to get a straight reply. If the above figure is correct, then we may have “accidentally” discovered the statistics that even questions in Parliament weren’t able to get. (“Parliament: Replies that never answer the question? (Act 3)“, Nov 17, 2012)

In this regard, the Straits Times article “So, what’s the true cost of casinos?” (Nov 17, 2012) said “Yesterday, the House heard that Singaporeans account for 25 to 30 per cent of all casino visits.

MPs were also assured that fewer Singaporeans were visiting the casinos, as reflected in the drop in total amount of entry levies collected. But it was not clear how many were paying the $100 daily levy and how many were opting for the $2,000 annual levy”.

I find the above may be quite strange, because if the number of Singaporeans visiting the casinos has dropped, why not just give us a straight-forward answer by giving the statistics?

Since we can say that “Singaporeans account for 25 to 30 per cent of all casino visits”, it means that we also have the statistics as to whether the number has been increasing or dropping.

So, why go a round-about way of saying that “MPs were also assured that fewer Singaporeans were visiting the casinos, as reflected in the drop in total amount of entry levies collected”?

A drop in total levies may not necessarily mean a drop in the number of Singaporeans visiting the casinos, because it may mean that more people have converted to the annual levy, or more people may be visiting but each of them for a lesser number of times for the daily levy.

The above may be reinforced by “But he (Minister) did not give a breakdown of how much came from the $100 daily levy and how much was from the $2,000 annual levy (“Close watch on casino gambling”, Straits Times, Nov 17).

Why not just give the breakdown so that we can see whether the the number of annual levies has increased?

Govt received betting duties $1.4 b?

Total betting duties paid to Government amounted to $1,438 million; an increase of $21 million or 1.5% over the previous year – apparently a 5-year high if you look at the chart on page 19 of the Tote Board’s annual report.

Pandora’s box?

So, in my view NCMP Lina Chiam’s question may have opened up a pandora’s box because the real issue may not so much be the $400 million to Gardens by the Bay or the ease of access (how difficult it was to find them) to the Tote Board’s annual reports, but why so little donations go to Charity (Social Service), and  so much money is accumulated in the annual surpluses and the reserves.

To put this in perspective, if the $347.9 million surplus for the last year is reduced by $85.9 million (24.7 per cent) or the humongous $3.2 billion reserves by 2.7 per cent, the lives of the 300,000 beneficiaries who are helped by ComChest  every year  may in a sense be doubly enriched because ComChest’s new record fund raising target this year is $85.9 million (“ComChest sets S$85.9m target for FY2013” Channel NewsAsia, May 22).

300,000 beneficiaries get average $24 a month?

Instead of each beneficiary getting an average of just $23 and 86 cents a month ($85.9 million divided by 300,000 beneficiaries divided by 12 months) – it can be $47 and 72 cents ($23.86 times 2).

Richest country in the world?

Singapore has just received the accolade a few days ago, of being the richest country in the world by GDP per capita and adjusted for purchasing-power parity, but we are so stingy when it comes to spending money to help the poor. Sigh.

We keep hoarding to the tune of an estimated over $800 billion in the reserves, a few billion in the town councils’ reserves, $3.2 billion in the Tote Board’s reserves, and the list goes on. It is very sad.

How many times must you ask the question?

Before you get the real answer

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind

In the final analysis and in conclusion – Are we arguably giving relatively too little to charity (social service)?


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