While many Singaporeans have been vocal about their support for Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh’s pledge to donate half his additional allowance as Leader of the Opposition (LO) to charitable causes, one forum letter has been left “disappointed and perturbed” by the way he has decided to allocate the new funds.
A day after the election, in which the WP won an unprecedented 10 seats in Parliament, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong formally designated Mr Pritam as Singapore’s very first LO. As the LO, Mr Pritam was given parliamentary privileges, access to government data and briefings on issues of national interest, staff support, and double the allowance of an elected MP.
Hours after his new privileges were announced last week, Mr Pritam said he would give half of his additional allowance to charity. Revealing that he and his wife both felt that a portion of his LO salary should be used for a “greater purpose,” he shared on Facebook:
“After putting the girls to bed, my wife and I knew there were some things we wanted to talk about arising from the LO appointment. Amongst other things, we spoke about what the salary increase would mean for our family. Both of us felt strongly that a percentage of the salary should be used for a greater purpose.”
Mr Pritam decided that 50 per cent of his additional allowance, after taxes, would go towards assisting low-income residents in WP wards through the WP Community Fund (WPCF) and/or the WP Grassroots Committee, community programmes in WP wards, other charitable causes or towards the WP’s specific needs.
In a forum letter published by the Straits Times on Monday (3 Aug), Low Yanqing expressed concern that Mr Pritam has decided to donate “exclusively” to residents in WP constituencies.
Asserting that the allowance was granted to Mr Pritam through Singaporeans’ collective vote and that the sum is an investment towards their work for all citizens of Singapore, Mr Low suggested that Mr Pritam will allocate the funds he has received in a biased manner since he has full discretion over it. He wrote:
“Mr Pritam Singh’s decision to set aside a portion of his allowance as Leader of the Opposition exclusively for residents in constituencies held by the Workers’ Party leaves me both disappointed and perturbed.
“The allowance bestowed upon the Leader of the Opposition and, indeed, our ministers, is entrusted to them through our collective vote.
“Whether you believe that the amount they earn from their appointments is justified, the implication is that this sum is an investment in their judgment and ability to work towards the betterment of every citizen in the country they now serve.
“Having foisted this responsibility upon individuals, however, it is left to their discretion to spend the money as they see fit, led by their personal biases and motivations.”
Mr Low also took issue with how Mr Pritam publicly announced his donation pledge. He suggested: “Either he is openly buying the votes of his constituents while stoking political polarisation, or his shortsighted and arguably naive generosity blinds him to the base tribalism that he incites and encourages in his party’s supporters.”
Claiming that the effects of Mr Pritam’s charity instils greater division among citizens instead of inspiring kindness and tolerance, Mr Low asked the WP chief to take a leaf from his colleague Jamus Lim and be “mindful of the risks of involuntary exclusion/inclusion, which can result in perceptions of unfair or biased treatment”.
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