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The Big 4 and Everything In Between

June 20, 2017

The big 4? Well, it’s not a discussion about the accounting firms but of an issue closer to heart. The Presidential Council for Minority Rights (PCMR) put forth a discussion on the nitty gritty aspects of self-help groups in Singapore and attempted to tackle the many challenges faced.


In the beginning, there were 2 polarising stands in the PCMR that clashed on whether there was a need for an extra subsidiary. One believed that since there was already a self-help group coordination office, there wasn’t a need for another subsidiary while the other believed that there was a need for it so as to enhance efficiency. At the end of the extended unmoderated caucus, delegates were finally able to come to a common consensus as concluded by the delegate representing Halimah Yacob which was that there was no need for an extra subsidiary and that the PCMR would instead use whatever funds they currently have.


Afterwhich, the delegates moved on to talk about the issues regarding people with mixed blood and how they did not fit in the present CIMO framework. The crux of the debate lay in whether a new self-help group should be formed or whether the current self-help groups should simply be improved. The delegate of Dr Tony Tan pointed out that with the expansion of current self-help groups it would only result in more bureaucracy and thus greater inefficiency thus encouraging the creation of a new self-help group. There was, however, heavy criticism regarding the creation of a new self-help group from the delegate representing Mr Goh Chok Tong who felt that the new self-help group would face the problem of insufficient funds so it would hence be unable to cater to specialised groups of people. The delegate representing Lee Hsien Loong supported these statements and stated that it would bring about ‘hurtful sentiments towards mixed blood’. He then suggested a fiscal policy distribution paired with data collection to help them.


After having some refreshments, the council gathered back in the room for another heated discussion. The delegate representing Lee Hsien Loong directed the debate towards the issue on funding. Instead of 6million given separately to the 4 major self-help groups, he felt that the total sum should instead be given to the coordination office who will then decide how to distribute the money depending on the project proposals sent to them from the self-help groups. The delegate representing the Chief of Justice and the delegate representing Goh Chok Tong both agreed that funds should be collated with the delegate representing Goh Chok Tong stating that the 24 million fund would ‘make sure the national priorities are met’ and it would also be able to ‘target efficiency without increasing funding’. However, the collation of funds was frowned upon by the delegate representing Abdullah Tarmugi who claimed that it would only result in a lack of individuality in the self-help group. As such, he felt that they should instead be allowed to decide how they wish to use their funds. This was later addressed by the delegate representing Dr Tony Tan who stated that since the self-help groups are to plan their proposals for projects they aim to carry out, it will hence still retain their individuality.


Moving on, delegates had a moderated caucus on how to allocate the funds in the committee. The situation got intense when the delegate of Othman Wok stated that redistribution should be given to those with poorer average income as it may potentially ‘exacerbate the racial divide in Singapore’. This was hotly refuted by the delegate representing Associate Professor Lee Cheuk Yin who claimed that the redistribution would result in one race receiving more help them another and would instead ‘sow racial tensions’ as there would be inequality. The delegate representing the Chief Justice rebutted that statement by stating that the race which receives the additional help would receive this aid solely because they are in need of more help. In attempt to consolidate these opinions, the delegate representing Goh Chok Tong summarised that there was a need to label urgent projects and for more transparency to be exercised amongst self-help groups.


The delegate representing Halimah Yacob raised the motion to introduce the working paper, where many delegates pointed out that although it had the main idea, the paper was not specific enough and required refinement in many areas. An interesting comment was made by the delegate representing K Shanmugam who suggested for a business venture and collaborations to be made between the self-help groups in case the funds run out.


This comment was raised in the form of a motion with the help of the delegate representing Lee Hsien Loong, who believed that it was a good direction for the discussion to move in. The delegate representing Halimah Yacob placed forth 2 ideas: First, monthly dialogue sessions are to be held with representatives of various self-help groups coming together to talk about the problem. Second, donation drives are to be held to expand the influence of self-help groups. The delegate representing Dr Tony Tan endorsed the measures in view of the limited funds by implementing measures that can alleviate the monetary strain but mentioned that with these measures, the minority self-help groups would potentially be sidelined. The delegate representing Goh Chok Tong promptly replied that despite the discussion, there was still a lack of concrete effort so to resolve the issue, there should be more recommendations provided to the groups and businesses.


After a clarification of the term ‘business venture’ by the delegate representing Halimah Yacob, the discussion continued with the delegate representing Abdullah Tarmugi bringing to attention the existence of a conflict of interest between the goals of industries and those of non-governmental organisations like the self-help groups. The delegate representing Dr Tony Tan then replied that conglomerates have a social corporate responsibility and he quoted the example of Coca Cola and their actions to stop discrimination.


As the end of the discussion drew near, the delegate representing Lee Hsien Loong stated that expecting businesses to provide the self-help groups with money is not possible as it may cause unhappiness among businesses. It may also cause them to reduce their investments in Singapore. The delegate representing associate professor Lee Cheuk Yin then proposed the formation of a GIRO account for businesses to donate a percentage of their monthly profit into the central fund but the delegate of Halimah Yacob found it ‘too strong a measure to push forth’ and felt that the current framework was already acceptable. The delegate representing K Shanmugam pointed out that there should not be too much intervention by the government and campaigns and seminars should instead be conducted to attract the attention.


While I agree with the views of the delegates to a large extent and as they continue their discussion on how to deal with funding and business corporations, how these new implementations will affect the overall structure of the self-help groups is also questionable. If they expand, would it not result in more bureaucracy and greater inefficiency as the delegate representing Dr Tony Tan foreshadowed?


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