By S. Murali
CHINA just blew US$41 billion ($58 billion) on staging the Olympics.
To put that in context, the amount is more than the annual gross domestic product of countries like Bulgaria, Uruguay, Serbia, Tunisia and Sri Lanka.
With such staggering numbers on my mind, it was difficult to imagine the Singapore Stock Exchange seeing the need to help a China charity build or rebuild schools.
Isn't building schools and other such institutions the primary responsibility of the Chinese government?
Especially one that has just splurged a mind-boggling amount on the Olympics?
And given that scenario, why is a Singapore company willing to raise money to help causes there?
On its website, the SGX explains that the move is 'to give back to the societies that it operates in'.
Perhaps it is just that.
With an increasing number of China companies listed here, perhaps it is good business to show your stakeholders that you do care for their interests as well.
Of course, if the money goes towards victims of unexpected calamities like the Sichuan earthquake, few would complain.
But when it comes to projects that should be planned under the purview of a government that handles the world's second-largest economy, the issue becomes more complex.
Would one, for example, be willing to donate money to a programme to help the US build schools in its poorer states?
Or how about Japan?
Yes, everyone should chip in when something unexpected takes place, like when an earthquake or tsunami strikes.
But otherwise, shouldn't we take great care in deciding who needs our limited funds the most?
And when we speak of the needy, countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh spring to mind, certainly not the people who put on the Beijing 2008 show.
Of course, there are many poor people in rural China, and the income disparity between the haves and have-nots is sky high.
But should Singapore companies consider such factors or should we expect the government and the people of China to make better use of their money?
In the end, we are probably not talking about huge sums that SGX will raise for the charity.
Perhaps that fits into the considerations of the SGX when it decided to make the China Youth Development Foundation its 19th beneficiary, the other 18 being Singapore-registered charities.
Still, it is difficult to understand how the same country that hoisted the Olympic flame in such a lavish manner can now put the other hand out, through this charity, on basic developmental issues such as building or rebuilding schools.
This article was first published in The New Paper on Sept 2, 2008.