Noted political analyst Loke Hoe Yeong is among those who are perplexed by the criticism against Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general Pritam Singh for offering to donate a sizeable amount from his salary to charity.
The Government had earlier announced that the newly christened Leader of the Opposition (LO) would be given parliamentary privileges, access to government data and briefings on issues of national interest, staff support, and an allowance.
As the LO, Mr Singh will receive double the allowance of an elected MP and his annual package will be S$385,000, inclusive of his allowance as an MP.
Hours after his new privileges were announced, Mr Singh 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 Singh 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.
Some commentators immediately took issue over the fact that Mr Singh made a public announcement of his intention to make a donation. In a Facebook post shared by Prime Minister Lee’s wife, Ho Ching, establishment figure Calvin Cheng suggested that Mr Singh’s gesture was theatrics.
Madam Ho, who also serves as CEO of Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek, published a cryptic post of her own, 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”
Taking to Facebook, Mr Loke said that he was “baffled at the hue and cry from some quarters” about Mr Singh’s announcement. The analyst, who authored veteran opposition leader Chiam See Tong’s biography and documented the history of the opposition in Singapore, said that he was reminded of an incident 35 years ago, when a ruling party heavyweight asked the two lone opposition MPs to give half their salaries to charity to prove their feelings for the needy.
Back in 1985, Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam, Singapore’s very first opposition parliamentarian, asked the Government to cut ministerial salaries by 25 per cent, given that the nation was undergoing a recession. In response, People’s Action Party (PAP) heavyweight Wong Kan Seng demanded that Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Chiam donate from their own pay to show solidarity with workers.
Asserting that he had donated half his MP allowance and half his ministerial salary to the Community Chest, Mr Wong called on Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Chiam to do the same.
Not only did Mr Wong challenge the opposition politicians to donate half of their allowance as MPs to charity, he also expected them to donate half of their salaries from their legal practices to “show their sincerity in feeling for the less fortunate”.
In a letter to The Straits Times, Mr Wong added that he was not blowing his own trumpet like Mr Chiam’s suggestion nor was his act a “ploy” like Mr Jeyaretnam’s.
Sharing an excerpt from the national broadsheet article that covered the incident and linking to Mr Cheng’s post, Mr Loke wrote: “It’s worth bearing in mind some history here before hurling accusations about Pritam’s intentions. I don’t typically speak up for (or against) current day politicians, preferring instead to maintain some historical distance in my writings. But I had to call this one out.”
I am baffled at the hue and cry from some quarters about Pritam Singh donating half of his new Leader of the Opposition…
In case you cannot read the above:
“I am baffled at the hue and cry from some quarters about Pritam Singh donating half of his new Leader of the Opposition salary. It reminded me of an episode from the past which I covered in “The First Wave”:
“In 1985, Wong Kan Seng (then a Minister of State) challenged J.B. Jeyaretnam and Chiam See Tong to donate half their MP’s allowance and their own salaries from their legal practice, to “show their sincerity in feeling for the less fortunate”.
“Wong announced that he had written out a cheque to the Community Chest to donate half his ministerial salary and his MP’s allowance. Quite unbelievably, Wong denied that he was “blowing his trumpet” when Chiam took him to task.
“The context was that Jeyaretnam had simply asked the government to consider making a symbolic gesture of matching workers’ sacrifices by cutting ministerial salaries by 25%. It was Singapore’s first post-independence recession that year.
“It’s worth bearing in mind some history here before hurling accusations about Pritam’s intentions. I don’t typically speak up for (or against) current day politicians, preferring instead to maintain some historical distance in my writings. But I had to call this one out.”