I refer to the article “Govt sets aside $250 million for matching grants to national fund-raising movement” (Straits Times, Jan 18).
It states that “The total target figure will be $500 million – half from the public, half from the Government.”. So the government essentially pledge down $250 million to match dollar for dollar the public donates.
Are we spending more to help the poor?
With so many other news and new initiatives about helping the poor over the last 9 months or so, the first impression that anyone would have when they first read this is that ,  Singapore must be spending a lot more on helping the poor.
But even as we seem to be given the impression that we may be spending more and doing more, we ought to have the budget to do it. So, I looked at the budget approved for the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) for the current fiscal year.
Lo and behold – According to the expenditure estimates for FY2013 of the MSF – the amounts set aside for ComCare and Public Assistance (PA), interim help through community and front-line social service agencies, vulnerable individuals and families through a range of services, and persons with disabilities were $100.8, $7, $136, and $60.2 million, respectively. This direct assistance amounts to a total of $304 million.
In contrast, for FY2012, when it was under the former Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) – the amounts set aside for social assistance to various groups of individuals and vulnerable families (including ComCare and PA), community based and residential services for different groups (including persons with disabilities) and community self-help groups were $120.1, $156.1 and $11.7 million, respectively. This direct assistance amounts total $287.9 million.
This is an increase of 5.6% from FY2012 to FY2013.
Since inflation was 4.6% in 2012, and the latest inflation is 2.6% in November 2013  – does it mean that the real increase in the expenditure estimates was only about 2%?
With reference to the saying “put your money where your mouth is” – do the above statistics seem to gel with the rhetoric over the last 9 months or so – of so much more help and new initiatives to help the poor?
What is as far as I can tell – which is the item of expenditure that has the highest increase?
Well. its the People’s Association (PA) which increased by a whopping 23%, from $498.3 million in FY2012 to $613.4 million in FY2013.
Don’t you get the feeling that perhaps we need a more balanced approach to our priorities in expenditure – about 20% real increase ($115 million) for the PA versus a real increase of only about 2% ( or 5.6%, $16.1 million) for direct assistance to the poor?
The money that is to be raised will be used for building the capabilities of some 250 voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), such as funding new programmes and facilities, and training staff.
But please be aware that VWOs are arguably, already rather stretched since a few years ago, when Members of Parliament (MPs) from Community Development Councils (CDCs) started to raise funds for their respective CDC’s programmes in competition with VWOs.
What they arguably do not need now, is yet another new scheme to raise $250 million with $250 million dollar matching from the Government – to further compete for limited donations in Singapore that VWOs need to raise every year.
It may be significant to note that the subject new fund is to help VWO’s to build capacities, such as “fund new programmes, facilities and staff training” which does not go into helping VWOs to fund their operating services and activities.
Since the fund is to meet the rising needs in the social services sector and the MCYS said in its Budget expenditure estimates in FY2012 that they will increase the VWO-Charities Capability Fund (VCF) from $53 million to $100 million over the next five years. They added that the VWOs and charities can tap on this VCF for staff training and professional development, to enhance their organisational capabilities, and develop innovative services and delivery models. Then why do we not spend more money into this already established fund, instead of coming out with this seemingly “new in name”, but “already in existence” fund by a huge $250 million?
In this connection, I don’t seem to be able to find any mention in any of the media reports today – that it is actually a fund that already exist, and not a new one as the reports seem to imply.
Why not just spend $500 million to help the VWOs, instead of stressing them further by asking them to raise $250 million, which will be on top of their current operating fund raising needs. After all, we had a Budget surplus of $3.9 billion and $36.1 billion (using IMF fiscal reporting guidelines) last year.
Need to raise taxes?
And to top it off – there was a news article on the same day – “Is a tax hike in sight?” (Straits Times, Jan 18) – kind of like another reminder to the so often repeated rhetoric that if we help the poor more, we may have to raise taxes to pay for them!
Uniquely Singapore!
By Leong Sze Hian

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