Knowing when to give
PM's sister too harsh calling Singaporeans gullible but
she's right about need for rationality. By Seah Chiang Nee.
Oct 31, 2005.
future of expensive, complicated surgery, including the
separation of conjoined twins from poor nations that has
gained Singapore wide recognition, is shrouded in uncertainty.
controversy is over money and the concept of charity.
nothing to do with medical capabilities and comes at a time
when Singaporeans are already feeling a little fatigued
and cynical about contributing.
raised questions whether Singaporeans who pour out large
sums of money to a sad tale are charitable or gullible,
given that medical treatment is complex and normality is
often not possible.
operations may require follow-through care for years that
may tax the generosity of the Singaporean public, a burden
that some people feel is unreasonable.
The government has officially made no decision on it, but
the sister of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Assoc Prof
Lee Wei Ling, has described the high-profile Nepalese twins
separation as "a medical mistake".
as the Director and Senior Consultant of the National Neuroscience
Institute, Dr Lee said that while the operation, largely
funded by Singaporean contributions, was technically successful,
the twins would "never have a normal life".
it to work, it required long-term treatment that could be
continued in Katmandu, she said.
the mother and grandfather of the girls insisted on coming
to Singapore, refusing to let the Nepalese surgeon treat
was revealed later that S$70,000 of the funds left with
the family for this purpose is unaccounted for.)
also wrote of another case in which an Indonesian baby with
a grossly swollen head landed here for surgery.
sympathy again produced enough funds for a palliative operation
to be done. Last seen at age 21/2 years, the baby was severely
disabled, mentally and physically," she said.
led Lee Kuan Yew's daughter to the point she wanted to make.
"I am disappointed with my fellow Singaporeans' gullibility,"
to her, people sometimes react too naively to sob stories.
Her appeal is for a more rational response to charity.
there was the saga of the Yishun siblings who had an operation
for deep-brain stimulation done in Taiwan at tremendous
cost, again paid for by the Singapore public," she
said. This could have been done here at a fraction of the
reports claimed it was a "miraculous" success,
and the siblings were shown walking with assistance.
they are no longer able to walk, not even with assistance,"
years, Singaporeans have gained a reputation both at home
and abroad for their eagerness to open their wallets to
anyone in need.
past, the government would frown on the media playing up
sad stories that appealed for public funds, saying they
would encourage abuse.
its reluctance probably reflected the psyche of Kuan Yew.
The word charity did not sit well with him.
his early leadership when Singapore was a poor squatter
community, he had rejected the idea of receiving aid.
wrote: "I was convinced our people must never have
an aid-dependent mentality. If we were to succeed, we had
to depend on ourselves.
warned our workers on Sept 9, 1967, that the world does
not owe us a living. We cannot live by the begging bowl."
it didn't want, it wouldn't give, too. Singapore then rarely
offered aid to countries hit by disasters on the rationale
that it was too small to make any significant difference.
tsunami disaster ended this no-aid era with a bang. The
government, armed forces and private charity responded with
a substantial package of "rescue and rebuild"
help to Aceh and Sri Lanka.
sent helicopter and medical teams to Katrina-hit New Orleans
and earthquake-ravaged Pakistan.
a whole generation of Singaporeans has been raised on Lee's
disdain of welfarism as a means of helping the poor. He
felt it would promote laziness and a crutch mentality.
repeatedly told his people that "there's no such thing
as a free lunch", which spoken often enough was being
read to mean that "if you don't get a free lunch, you
also don't give a free lunch". It wasn't the best way
to promote compassion.
evidently reflects a bit of her father's hard-nosed concept
about charity. She blamed the press for its "propensity"
to sensationalise stories that helped bring out "the
gullibility of Singaporeans".
involved Huang Na, the eight-year-old girl from China who
was kidnapped and murdered here.
intense press coverage of the tragedy raised public sympathy
to a feverish pitch, resulting in an outpouring of donations
to the victim's mother.
declined to reveal the amount of funds collected but it
was estimated to have run into hundreds of thousands of
dollars. She later returned to China where she used the
money to refurbish her house.
asked incredulously, "But what good is that money to
Huang Na who has died?"
comments about Huang Na struck a chord among many Singaporeans
in the wake of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) scandal.
Its CEO and board resigned en masse following public anger
over the misuse of donations.
not all agree that charity should be an affair of the head
based only on rationality and proof of need.
would rather live in a country where people are compassionate
rather than critical and demanding," said one writer.
was published in The Sunday Star on Oct 30, 2005)