Singapore — Prominent local poet Joshua Ip has praised Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh’s decision to donate half his pay increase as Leader of the Opposition (LO) to charity, amid criticism over the way details of the donation came to light.
A day after the recent General Election, in which the WP won an unprecedented 10 seats in Parliament, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong formally designated Mr Singh as Singapore’s first LO. This week, the Government said that Mr Singh will be given double the allowance of an elected MP on top of other privileges as LO.
Hours after it was announced that his annual package will now be S$385,000, Mr Singh said that he would be donating half his additional allowance to charitable causes. The WP chief drew widespread praise for his generous gesture.
Some commentators, however, took issue with the fact that Mr Singh made a public announcement of his donation. Establishment figure Calvin Cheng suggested that the gesture was theatrics, in a Facebook post that was shared by Mr Lee’s wife, Ms Ho Ching.
Ms Ho, who is Chief Executive of sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings, also published a cryptic post of her own that seemed to throw shade at Mr Singh. Asserting that not all who make donations are angels, she wrote: “Everyone has to answer to their conscience, the Almighty, and their karma in time to come.”
Amid such criticism, Mr Ip has spoken up about why making donations public is useful. Pointing out that details of donations made by People’s Action Party MPs are also publicly available, he said in a Facebook post published on Wednesday (July 29): “Some keep it quiet, some make speeches about it, some send out press releases, plenty get mainstream media coverage, and some prefer a Facebook note.”
Explaining why it was important for Mr Singh to make his donation public, the Singapore Literature Prize winner added: “And some commentators consider this ‘malevolent political theatre’ … well, if you just received a 100% raise, publicly announced to everyone you know, funded by taxes on everyone you know, what would you do?
“If this is ‘political theatre’, then it’s pretty clear who the producers and casting directors of this production are — Pritam did a fine turn when given his moment in the spotlight, but it should be blindingly obvious who staged this show.”
Highlighting that Mr Singh is following a longstanding tradition of giving back to society that was practised by founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Ip said that it is natural for people to feel discomfort when they receive taxpayer money.
Mr Ip drew from his own experience of giving back every dollar he received in grants back to the arts and donating a portion of his salary to charity on top of that and asserted that there is nothing wrong in publicising donations. He wrote: “… I believe people ought to feel uncomfortable whenever they receive taxpayer money for whatever reason.”
He said that, as part of the Facebook generation, he saw nothing wrong in publicising the gesture and using it to remind the people to donate to charity.
He added: “Virtue-signalling, sure — but without a constant barrage of virtue-signalling, how are charities supposed to get their message out?”
Thanking elected officials who give back to society despite the “personal itchy feelings from everyone talking about you all the time”, Mr Ip added: “When any elected official has the good grace to give back, you know what you should say? THANK YOU.”
Mr Ip is a noted Singaporean poet, writer and editor who has published and edited several works. He won the Golden Point Award for Prose in 2013 and was first runner-up for Poetry in 2011. He was selected as one of the National Arts Council’s “New Voices of Singapore” in 2014 and was the recipient of the Young Artist Award in 2017.
Mr Ip is the founder of the Singapore Poetry Writing Month and runs Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that was awarded a National Arts Council seed grant to develop writing in Singapore through literary bootcamps and workshops. He also represents Singapore in the international literary and publishing circuit and has been a featured writer at the Singapore Writers Festival since 2012.
Read his post in full here:
Members of Singapore's Parliament have been giving away large chunks of their allowances for a long time. – Tin Pei…