Friday, April 6, 2012

The Gift Of Giving

Way back in 2007 when the peasants grumbled noisily about PM Lee's 25.5 percent salary hike from S$2.46 million to S$3.1 million a year, he tried to salvage his bruised moral authority by promising to donate the $600,000 to "worthy causes". Notably, the word "charity" was not used.

Apparently he kept his word for the past 5 years, or so we are told. This year it was revealed the money went to:
- a Community Initiatives Fund under the People's Association (S$200,0000);
- a new Prime Minister's Social Service Award ($$100,000);
- a Prime Minister's Valedictorian Award for the top student in each graduating cohort from the School of The Arts ($50,0000).

The balance of the money ($250,000), says he, will go to a range of community, grassroots, youth, arts and welfare organisations (details not provided).

In May 2009 it was reported that a Singapore Buddhist temple had received about $1.5 million dollars in cash from a mysterious donor, in stacks of $1,000 notes deposited monthly in the temple's donation box. The regular contributions to the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, a religious welfare group which is not politically affiliated, varied between $40,000 and $50,000. The lodge's chairman Lee Bock Guan said he was sure the money always came from the same unknown donor,"You know it is the same person, because the notes always come in the same, neat stack. By donating in cash, this person clearly prefers to be unknown."  The lodge has been providing free vegetarian meals to the less-privileged for more than 20 years, at a cost of nearly $210,000 each month.

Easter is a good time to reflect on Sunday School stories. One in particular, The Widow's Mite, tells of a widow who donates two small coins (a mite being the least valuable coin available at the time), which was everything she had to her name, while the filthy rich gives only a small portion of their own wealth. The traditional interpretation of the morality tale is that the value of a gift is not accounted by how much is given, but by how much is kept back. And whether one makes a song and dance about the "act of generosity".


  1. 'Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.' Matthew 6:2.

  2. Needy taxpayers money ---> Prime Minister's salary ---> needy taxpayers

    And we go
    round, and round and round
    in circle game.

  3. Remember in 2008, in his "fix the opposition" speech, he said:

    "...what is the right way to fix them, what is the right way to buy my supporters over..."

    Act of generosity? Gifts to worthy causes? A leopard doesn't change his spots.

    1. Agree. LKY during his reign very much believed in punitive approach - hurt the people monetarily to drive behavior. From fines to law suits etc.

      Today, his son very much believed in incentivize approach - reward the people monetarily to drive behavior. From MOE values to ministerial pays, civil service pay, budget goodies etc.

      The move from sticks to carrots are very telling. The premise is the same – people are people, they just respond differently.
      Both can nearly always be manipulated, for good or ill – if only you find the right levers.

  4. Adding to my comment above:

    "...the value of a gift is not accounted by how much is given, but by how much is kept back"... how much is expected in return!

  5. Really don't need to 'show' such generosity. All you need to do is to increase spending on health and education to make these essential services affordable to the population. Avoid slapping charges or increases on government charges to businesses is already good enough! Avoid increasing the burden of costs to the people.

    We need leaders who have a heart, not such phonies!

  6. Kant says an act has moral worth only if it is done out of a sense of duty, rather than because it will give personal gratification. Others might say why care so much about the purity of the motive? Surely what matters is that something was given to a good cause.

    Well we can't be sure 100% his intentions. But given it was announced the same time the salary was raised, is probably not too far off to gather that he did it not to feel good, but feel less bad.

    As for the CIF award to PA, might want to find out if the altruism is also extended to those constituencies that are NOT In his Backyards?

    1. hahaha..i think the two hundred thousand has gone to desmond choo for his porridges and community volunteers who are busy serving out "good deeds".

  7. LOL ...some people have unresolved feelings about citizens' judgment.
    If he wants to take the lead to give, I'm good with that. After all, is our money, and he will still have some change after the tax-deductible for $600k.

  8. Chee Soon Juan once said that they took away all your rights and freedom so when they give it back to you
    a little, you have to be so thankful for it.
    Here, he increased his and his ministers' pay, unjustifiably no matter how you look at it, that when he promised to donate the increased amount after a big outcry, the national media make it sound so charitable and magnanimous that you are left wondering about their definition of logic.

  9. When he gave part of his salary away for whatever causes, it is still given away in his name. So frankly, what is there for him to redeem himself ?

    If he had felt so bad about taking so much of our money to pay for his own salary, he should have restored back to his original pay, period. So in the end if he gave back the increment for 1 year, what happened to the increments for the subsequent years ? Just keep quiet ?

  10. Donation of $600K means tax deductible of 2.5 X $600K = $1,500,000.

    That means his taxable income is now $3.1M - $1.5M = $1.6M.
    Using figures from IRAS, income tax is $298,350.

    If he doesn't give any donation, income tax on $3.1M = $598,350.

    This means he saves $300,000 from income tax by donating $600K.
    Thus actual loss to him is only 50% i.e. $300K instead of $600K.

    1. sounds like HDB. they say they give you $100 subsidy but actually is only $50

    2. If HDB really comes clean about the actual subsidy, it may end up in some cases they are actually making a profit of S$200 instead of S$100 they say they are subsidising?

      Who knows really, maybe the Holy Trinity ?

  11. Come on, the Lee never do a song and dance about what they have done or their acts of generosity. Look at LKY he is so humble about his actions, all he did was get people to write about him, name a few institutions and awards after him, wrote about ten volumes about himself, gave the rest of the his advice...such a humble man. Like father like son

  12. It seems those that are truly humble must brag about their humility. Or is that some new 'asian value' aka 'confucian value' being trotted out?
    Or is it more liek the 'fat waters that must flow within the fields of the family and not the outsider?'

  13. To Anon aon 8 Apri at 1251 am. Excellent point.

    The same explanation also applies for the "donations" of libel damages by the PAP leaders, as it entitles them to income tax deductions. To make it doubly unjust, the tax deductions should should have gone to the defendants (JBJ, CSJ,TLH, etc) as they were ones who paid for it!