WP sets up fund for social causes

Workers' Party MPs during the party's thank you parade in Punggol East in January 2013. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Workers' Party MPs during the party's thank you parade in Punggol East in January 2013. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

WPCF's programmes will focus on financial and food aid, and health schemes

The Workers' Party (WP) has set up a charity fund to run community programmes like financial aid, food distribution and health screenings.

The WP Community Fund (WPCF) is structured like the PAP Community Foundation (PCF), the ruling party's charity arm.

The WPCF was registered as a company limited by guarantee in January this year and accepted by the authorities as a charity in February.

The party has been low key about the fund's existence, but according to company and charity records obtained by The Straits Times last week, its board of 10 directors includes WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang as chairman, and Members of Parliament Png Eng Huat, Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap and Lee Li Lian.

The other directors are understood to include doctors and lawyers. Among them are WP executive council member Dennis Tan and party member Terence Tan, both lawyers who are seen as promising new faces.

Responding to The Straits Times' queries yesterday, Mr Low said the WPCF builds on the party's previous charity efforts while drawing a line between political work and social and charity work.

"Setting up a charity is not new to the Workers' Party," said Mr Low, citing as examples the Hougang Constituency Education Trust set up in 1992 and the WP youth wing's charity work.

After winning Aljunied GRC in 2011, the WP set up a welfare fund under its Aljunied Constituency Committee to provide interim aid to residents, said Mr Low.

"After settling more urgent constituency and grassroots matters which then gave WP MPs a chance to look at how the WP can better assist needy residents, it was felt that setting up an independent organisation as a charity with clear objectives would draw a clear line between political work and social and charitable work," he said.

The charity will also consolidate the efforts and resources of party members, volunteers and well- wishers in helping "the underprivileged of our society, regardless of political affiliation".

According to the fund's charity records, it aims to run three types of programmes. One will offer short-term financial help to those with difficulties despite having government grants and subsidies.

The second will give food vouchers to needy families and distribute food in collaboration with voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs). The third centres on health, with schemes including screenings, caregiver training and home visits.

Mr Low did not disclose the amount of money in the WPCF's kitty or how it will raise funds.

However, he said the fund's current aim is to consolidate existing efforts to help needy residents and complement government-run social programmes.

Going forward, it will explore working with VWOs and other social agencies to develop new programmes for needy Singaporeans.

The WPCF's registered address is a Beach Road office belonging to law firm DennisMathiew, where Mr Dennis Tan is a partner.

The WP is believed to be the first opposition party to set up a community fund.

Democratic Progressive Party secretary-general Benjamin Pwee set up the Pwee Foundation in 2012, but in his personal capacity.

The PAP set up the PCF in 1986 with an initial $1 million contribution from the party. The PCF was registered as a company limited by guarantee in May 1986 and received its charity status a month later. The PCF took over running the PAP's kindergartens and today also runs other welfare schemes.

On the WP's move, political scientist Reuben Wong of the National University of Singapore said it could be taking a leaf from the PAP's early history by presenting itself as a party that also meets social needs. "The PAP was very successful in doing that in the 1960s and 70s," he said.

"This will be something new (for the WP) to show for themselves in the next election - that the party is not just thinking of votes but service to the community," he added.

Associate Professor Eugene Tan from the Singapore Management University said that given certain restrictions which the party may face regarding the money it can use for social causes, having a charity arm similar to the PCF would place it in a better position to raise funds separately for these causes.

The public would also expect a level playing field for both the PCF and WPCF, in terms of fund-raising and activities that they can carry out, he added.

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