Helping the poor – too much money?

We refer to new PAP candidate, Mr Lawrence Wong’s interview with Razor TV.

Question from reporter: You mentioned that you want to help low-income people. Do you think that S$300-plus per month for people on the PA (Public Assistance) scheme is enough?

New PAP candidate, Lawrence Wong, former Chief Executive of the Energy Market Authority:

“I don’t think we should just look at what is in the Public Assistance Scheme per se. There is a whole range of social assistance measures that the government has put in place. PA is one of them.  There’s Comcare, there’re assistance programme for children in kindergarten. So I think if you look at that whole broad suite of programmes, I think there is a wide range of programmes that can be brought to bear in any particular situation. And very often it’s not just administering programmes but it’s dealing with the families and the individuals at a human level, understanding what the roots concerns are, and being able to address these problems.” – Razor TV, 4:27mins.

It seems that Mr Wong feels that assistance to the needy is enough, despite PAP MP Lily Neo having to do battle with the Minister for Community, Youth and Sports each year over more help for the needy.

Ask any social worker or volunteer in the Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs), and I believe almost everyone will tell you that there is never enough funds available to help the hundreds of thousands of needy they serve.

Practically everyday there are cases of needy Singaporeans struggling to survive, because they could do with more help.

In this connection, I would like to refer to the People’s Association 2009/2010 Annual Report.

On page 128, it’s reported that the “unutilised administrative grant” was S$2.782 million.

Does this mean that S$2.782 million, or about 13 per cent of the grant for the year, was not utilised? With so many needy Singaporeans struggling to make ends meet, why did we end up with an unutilised grant of $2.782 million?

In this connection, only about $1.57 million of the $6.25 million budgeted for the Comcare CCC Fund was given out after the first nine months of FY2008/2009.

Also, only 31 per cent of the previous year’s budgeted amount was disbursed (“The needy still lack awareness of help schemes”, Channel News Asia, Feb 3, 2009).

The above-mentioned $1.57 million disbursed for the nine months from April to December 2008 was despite the substantial increase in Comcare funds in that year.

“Between July and December 2008, ComCare gave out 67 per cent more from its Citizens’ Consultative Committee-ComCare (CCC) Fund,” the report by Channel News Asia said. “That is almost $400,000 more than the same period in 2007.” (Channel News Asia, Mar 21, 2009).

Have unutilised Medifund also?

The Medifund annual report says that over $64 million in Medifund was given out last year, and a surplus of $10 million will be converted to protected reserves when there is a change-over of government – that is, before the next general election. It will then become part of the capital fund, which cannot be used by the Government. Only the president can authorise its use.

In addition to last year’s $10 million surplus, the cumulative protected reserves from Medifund over the last decade or so was $76 million.

So, why is it that there are so much unutilised funds which could have been utilised to help needy Singaporeans?

I understand that practically every country in the world is always short of funds to help the poor. Hence, why is it that Singapore’s experience seems to be so different?