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Honour in Singapore – Relooking objectives and funding

Honour in Singapore” is a mini series by TOC following the recent formation of the Honour (Singapore) non-profit organisation, made up of distinguished individuals closely related to the government and a far-right Christian group. The series will explore some of their profiles, and bring to light what the group meant by “promoting a culture of honour and honouring” in Singapore.

This is the summary article for the series. In closing, we have also sent a list of questions to Mr Lim Siong Guan and Mr Jason Wong to clarify some of the issues raised thus far. We await their response.

By Howard Lee

Adapted from an original article by Jentrified Citizen

When our local media announced the launch of a high-powered organisation called Honour (Singapore) just days before National Day, more than a few eye brows were raised.

Not only is it odd that an organisation that has no track record or clearly outlined programmes and initiatives can be awarded a non-profit organisation (NPO) status, it also have the honour of being endorsed by no less than Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who lavished praise on the group for its vaguely-defined mission of seeking “the well-being of the nation by promoting a culture of honour and honouring”.

The Minister was either very confident in what this unproven group can deliver, or giving unfettered credit to the group based on the one thing that we do know about Honour (Singapore): The composition of its members, who are all well-established figures in Singapore society.

Honour (Singapore) is chaired by Mr Lim Siong Guan, group president of GIC and former head of the Civil Service. Its board members include Mr Richard Magnus, a retired Senior Judge who heads the Public Transport Council, and Mr Jason Wong, chairman of Focus on the Family.

Membership and affiliations of leading members of Honour Singapore
Membership and affiliations of leading members of Honour (Singapore)

But that, too, comes with issues. It has also been pointed out by sharp-eyed bloggers that Honour (Singapore)’s board members are all leaders of or in some way associated with Full Gospel Business (FGB) Singapore, a Christian outfit whose stated mission is to bring the ministry of the Christian faith into the marketplace.

Honour (Singapore) also has a well-connected Panel of Community Advisors, who the Honour (Singapore) website states are “men and women of stature whose understanding and commitment to Singapore is unquestioned, and whose advice and wisdom will be earnestly sought.” They include public figures such as Ho Bee Land's Chairman Chua Thian Poh, Far East Organization CEO Philip Ng, Banyan Tree Holdings' Senior Vice President Claire Chiang, Lien Foundation chairman Laurence Lien, Islamic Religious Council of Singapore president Alami Musa and businessman and ex-civil servant Andy Lim who is married to ex-Minister and PAP stalwart Lim Hwee Hua.

With such a high-power cast and the endorsement of a key Minister of the Cabinet, and the fact that the NPO will be getting tax-exempted donations for its activities, it pays to ask more about the individuals who are driving it, the objectives of the organisation and what they are trying to achieve for Singapore, beyond what we can vaguely read in its initial press release.

Registered as a charity, Honour (Singapore) was granted the status of an Institution of Public Character (IPC), which means all donations are eligible for 250% tax deduction. And no doubt, there will be companies that will donate, if not for the generous tax exemption, then to maintain or foster positive relations with the people at the helm of Honour (Singapore).

In addition, this non-profit organisation is asking for public donations, the funds which would undoubtedly be channelled for its activities. If so, then we need to ask the justification for Honour (Singapore) to be classified as a charity.

Under the Singapore Charities Act, one of the criteria to qualify as a registered charity is that "the governing instruments of the institution provide for the purposes of the institution, and such purposes are exclusively charitable". Are we then supposed to believe that encouraging a culture of honour and telling people to behave with honour is a charitable act?

The NPO has indicated that it would “engage a broad spectrum of Singapore society - schools, families, businesses, workplaces and community groups - through talks, conferences, and other events, to spread the message that a culture of honour and honouring is fundamental for success in many aspects of life.”

Wong is actively involved in the education scene, speaking at events organised by the Ministry of Education (image - MOE Parents in Education website)
Wong is actively involved in the education scene, speaking at events organised by the Ministry of Education (image - MOE Parents in Education website)

We should all be concerned and ask some hard questions as this suggests a mass national outreach to actively engaging youths and children through programmes such as talks and conferences. What does this mean vis-à-vis efforts by the Ministry of Education to encourage “character building”? Will Honour (Singapore) be involved in developing initiatives for schools? What kind of initiatives will these be and what will the contents comprise? How many of the NPO’s members are certified and practising educators? Would it be justified if public funds are used by MOE to fund such initiatives?

And at the very essence of the issue, are Singaporeans lacking in honour that such money needs to be pumped into the NPO? What justification has the NPO provided, perhaps a feasibility study beyond the hunch that honour would be “critical for harmony and security for Singaporeans in the next 50 years”, which would justify its worth?

Combined screen capture from STOnline
Combined screen capture from STOnline

The links of its key members to Full Gospel Business (FGB) Singapore and how it would influence the direction of Honour (Singapore) should also raise some alarm bells. No doubt, the group’s chairman has come out to downplay the association, but the fact remains that the overt relationship – and without the sharp eyes of the online community, one that would have continued to be a covert relationship – remains painfully apparently.

We are in no shortage of examples where interest groups were perceived as trying to influence our educational materials without full disclosure. If MOE is of the opinion that such materials are not suitable for public education, then it also needs to be completely aware of and be mindful about what forms of religious influence Honour (Singapore) would be attempting to put into our secular public school system.

Indeed, recent incidents regarding library books and religion-led protests against homosexuality should have sent clear signals to the government that it currently treads a very thin line that might further fracture society on a very delicate issue. The position of the government must necessarily be one of secularism, where the rights of different religious and interests groups are maintained without being at the expense of one another.

Has the government done a proper audit of Honour (Singapore) and its links to FGB Singapore before it granted it NPO and IPC status? Did it probe into the limits that the members will have into secular space?

Before it can ask the public for donations, and to siphon corporate donations from other much-needed charitable causes, much less seek tax-payers’ monies for its works, Honour (Singapore) needs to clearly justify what it is about and what it is doing.

Top image – Honour (Singapore) website.

The “Honour in Singapore” series includes:

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