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A Moneyed But Miserly Singapore

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Do you ever notice that when it comes to the pursuit of money and any other will-contribute-to-money-making-related accolades, the PAP government and its controlled State Media are always waving the flag prominently? Think Most Competitive Index, BERI’s Best Investment Destination, Most Transparent Country (…only insofar as related to business), Students’ PISA score Math Score etc.

Everything, it seems is about “money, money, money, it’s a rich man’s world”. It’s little wonder that on a per capita GDP basis, we out-ran every other country in the world in terms of improvement in ranking the last 50 years.

But when it comes to areas related to the human spirit…tsk tsk tsk. After all, man does not live by bread alone. Aside from the pathetic ranking by Reporters Without Borders and the even more pathetically-defensive spin by our PAP PM himself (“I have given up on that. I do not take them seriously. They put us somewhere around Zimbabwe, I said, so be it.”), here’s another index that we Singaporeans seldom read about in the State Media all these years: World Giving Index. No surprise since SG has been way down there in the index – until now, that is. Again, no surprise since there appears to be some commendable move up the ranks in 2015, giving the State Media a chance to spin it the way Singaporeans need to read only the right stuff. You can read it here and here.

Please do not stop at just reading the spin. Below is an alternate view arguing why Singaporeans should question the very edifice upon which we have been led to live our only one earthly life here under the strongly re-elected PAP government. You can trust Chris Kuan to give the matter an incisive take that no State-sanctioned editor or reporter can or will…

Here is something Singapore is not ranked Top 10. The Charities Aid Foundation’s World Giving Index ranks the world’s most charitable nations. The researchers based the index on three forms of giving: financial, help given to strangers and time spent volunteering. The fieldwork is conducted by the research firm Gallup as part of its World Poll initiative. The 2015 index is as follows;

1.     Myanmar 8. Sri Lanka 15. Norway 22. Indonesia 29. Puerto Rico
2.     USA 9. Ireland 16. Guatemala 23. Austria 30. N. Cyprus
3.     New Zealand 10. Malaysia 17. Bhutan 24. Kuwait 31. Finland
4.     Canada 11. Kenya 18. Kyrgyzstan 25. Liberia 32. Iran
5.     Australia 12. Malta 19. Thailand 26. Hong Kong 33. Luxembourg
6.     UK 13. Bahrain 20. Germany 27. Uzbekistan 34. Singapore
7.     Netherlands 14. UAE 21. Jamaica 28. Sweden 35. Taiwan


Singapore comes in at a relatively low 34 given that it is one of the world’s wealthiest economy, ranked No.3 both by the IMF under its projected data estimates and by the World Bank based on actual data averaged over the past 3 years.

National Wealth and High Taxes not constraints

18 Third World are ranked higher than Singapore including the closest neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia. So is Hong Kong which is often compared to Singapore. The report infers that countries with high Buddhist or Muslim observances are more inclined to be charitable.

15 of the most advanced nations are ranked ahead of Singapore, all of whom have substantially higher taxes. High taxes which reduce disposal income do not appear to constrain charitable behavior. Of particular note is that the English speaking nations (USA, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, UK) are among the 6 most charitable. The report attributed this to their particularly strong civil society whereas wealthy nations with strong state welfare such as France and Italy tends to have lower levels of giving since there is a much greater expectation of state intervention.

Et tu Singapore?

High density of wealth and low taxes ought to imply Singapore should rank much higher than a relatively paltry 34. That it is not, suggests that civil society is weak and that Singaporeans are not particularly inclined to be charitable even though the tax and financial transfer policies significantly favours accumulation of wealth, e.g. the relatively low caps on CPF contribution provides higher investable income which is then favoured by tax free interest and dividends, and by the abolition of estate duties.

But more to the point why are Singaporeans less inclined to be charitable to the society or the nation to whom they belong? That perhaps has a lot to do with the observed behavior of Singaporeans taking on the characteristic of the authoritarian government that has ruled the nation since independence.

The government has accumulated enormous surpluses over the past 50 years and the nation has vast financial resources. Yet it provided not only few social entitlements to the citizens but also makes it difficult to gain access to these entitlements, e.g. making elderly citizens use their children’s CPF for healthcare before accessing state assistance. Therefore many see the government as having an uncharitable “you die your business” attitude. As such it should be unsurprising that Singaporeans in turn are not inclined to be charitable.

Reinforcing this mindset, one further needs to consider the corrosive effect of overplaying the “self-reliant” and “meritocracy” ideology. In Singapore if one is poor or disadvantaged, one can be seen as being somehow deficient in “self reliance” and in “merit”, almost like having a sickness. There is no place for exogenous factors such as fate or accidents that can cause one to fall by the wayside or being born in the wrong socio-economic strata that cause one to be disadvantaged. So one cannot expect help while advocates of a fairer society and assistance for the needy are labelled “champagne socialists” or worst even “communists”.

A significant proportion of the population are foreigners. This also strongly suggest that Foreign Talents who flocked to Singapore for high salaries, are not inclined to contribute to the very society that welcome and gave them the opportunity in the first place. But then why should they? Especially when they perceived the government and the citizens themselves as not particularly charitable despite the reputed wealth.

Concluding, one of the universal recommendation from the CAF is to

promote civil society as an independent voice in public life and respect the right of not-for-profit organisations to campaign”

In this, perhaps one can see how far Singapore needs go to become a conscientious nation. The means are there but the spirit and the will not.

Chris Kuan


One thought on “A Moneyed But Miserly Singapore

  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 13 Nov 2015 | The Singapore Daily

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