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Priscilla Goy
Sunday, Aug 31, 2014

Singapore

Self-help groups ask better-off to chip in more

The Straits Times | Priscilla Goy | Sunday, Aug 31, 2014

CDAC opened its first school-based student care centre at Bendemeer Primary School on July 1, 2014. The centre provides support to the pupils who need after-school care.

From next year, the Chinese, Indian and Eurasian self-help groups will raise monthly contribution rates. High-income earners face the largest increases. The groups said they need more money to cope with rising costs and to roll out new programmes. These contributions, which people can opt out of or give more if they choose, are deducted automatically from monthly salaries.

SINDA - Smaller community faces fund pressures

High-earning Indian professionals have been asked to step up their donations to their community's self-help fund.

From the current $7 a month, those earning more than $15,000 monthly will be expected to contribute $30 from next year.

This is the steepest rise among the increased rates announced by three self-help groups, including the ones for the Chinese and Eurasian communities, yesterday.

"The new rates are more progressive," Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah, who is president of the Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda), told community stakeholders at a forum at PGP Hall in Serangoon. "Those who earn more will contribute more."

A majority of the contributors - those earning between $1,000 and $4,500 a month - will not see any changes. The lowest income tier has also been broadened, such that those earning between $600 and $1,000 each month will be asked to pay $1 a month instead of $3.

The changes are expected to add about $3 million to the fund's annual collection of about $8 million, excluding the Government's contribution, other grants and programme fees.

As salaries go up and operating costs go up, contribution rates have to rise too, said Ms Indranee. Sinda last revised its rates 18 years ago in 1996, and decided on the latest round only after several focus group discussions and consultations with community leaders.

According to Deputy Prime Minister and Sinda board of trustees chairman Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the group had been spending more than it took in recently, and had to draw on its reserves.

Sinda has had annual deficits of between $1.3 million and $1.6 million over the past three years. Last year, its operating expenditure was $18.23 million, with more than half spent on education programmes. But its total income, including government grants, was $17.63 million.

"Looking long-term, we need a stable and expanded source of revenue. In the short term, we can run a deficit, not a problem. But in the long term, you can't," Mr Tharman said.

Sinda has programmes for both the old and young, including tuition and enrichment programmes which helped more than 6,500 students last year. It also runs a family service centre and a legal clinic offering free services to low-income families who have difficulty in engaging lawyers for advice.

As of last month, more than 127,000 employees of Indian descent - including Bangladeshis, Sikhs, Sri Lankans, Punjabis and Tamils - contribute to the fund. Workers on the foreign worker levy scheme do not have to contribute.

Sinda chief operating officer Ravindran Nagalingam said the Indian community's smaller size when compared with the Chinese and Malay communities means it needed to raise more to do more.

"The minority groups like Eurasians and Indians need to increase their contributions significantly more because of this," he said.

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