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Companies are best placed to encourage volunteerism: Heng
Companies may feel that they cannot donate as much as before, given the weakened economy, but they still do their part by rallying their employees into contributing time and effort to meaningful causes.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on the sidelines of a community event in Bukit Merah on Wednesday: "There are some businesses which say it's a slower year and therefore they may have less resources in terms of money to provide, but they are happy to contribute resources in terms of staff strength."
He added that he hopes to see such businesses tap the new Business and Institute of a Public Character (IPC) Partnership scheme, which is designed give a strong boost to corporate social responsibility.
Announced in last week's Budget, the scheme will give tax breaks to firms which send their staff to volunteer and provide services at IPC-registered charities. Under the pilot scheme to run from July 1 until the end of 2018, eligible businesses will enjoy a 250 per cent tax deduction on wages and incidental expenses if they do so.
This is subject to the agreement of the receiving IPCs, namely, registered charities which are able to issue tax-deductible receipts for qualifying donations.
Deductions will be capped at S$250,000 per business and S$50,000 per IPC each year.
Mr Heng cited the schools for doing a good job of inculcating a culture of volunteerism in their students under the ongoing Values in Action (VIA) programme, which gives them greater ownership over how they give back to the community.
Mr Heng, who was Education minister when he first spoke of the merits of the VIA in Parliament back in 2012, added: "When (these students) leave school and start working, companies are in the best position to organise this volunteering effort."
He was speaking to reporters after visiting the Thong Kheng Senior Activity Centre, where he met some elderly residents who were engaged in handicrafts and sandwich-making or listening to talks on nutrition.
Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor and Tanjong Pagar GRC Member of Parliament Joan Pereira were among those with him for the 90-minute visit.
The seniors centre is in Ms Pereira's Henderson-Dawson constituency, where just over a third of the 40,000 residents are aged 50 and above.
Mr Heng also gave an update of the new Community Networks for Seniors pilot programme, unveiled at last week's Budget as well.
He said the aim of the programme was to shift the centre of care from hospitals and other healthcare settings to the neighbourhood, so that Singapore's rapidly greying population can age "with dignity and vitality".
For the pilot programme spanning several ministries, the plan is to roll it out in three to five precincts first in the next few months; if it is successful, it can be scaled up to include other areas.
A small team of full-time officers will be tasked to study the health and social needs of seniors, and connect them to caregivers. The government hopes that the programme will help them manage their health better and encourage those who are healthy to remain active.
Mr Heng said the authorities will also enlist volunteers from grassroots networks, voluntary welfare organisations, schools and businesses and have them work with public agencies such as hospitals.
"By integrating the resources better, by understanding the needs more fully, we can do a better job. These needs will change and evolve over time. We must have the flexibility and real-time understanding for us to do a better job," he said.