[Editorial] Giving to others should not be seasonal act

Posted on : 2006-12-04 15:25 KST Modified on : 2006-12-04 15:25 KST

The winter freeze has begun in earnest, which means it is the season of worries for the common people and the poor. This year, without fail, Salvation Army donation buckets have appeared across the country and the Community Chest of Korea has raised a "Thermometer of Love" to track donations. You see reports of how businesses and volunteer groups are delivering heating briquettes and kimchi to poor neighborhoods.

In the past several years, donations collected by the Salvation Army and Community Chest have far exceeded their respective goals. More people are reaching out to help others, without being in easy circumstances themselves. That is truly a source of strength in maintaining the communal warmth. Unfortunately, small gifts by "common folk" (seomin) are not becoming more common. This means that service groups are increasingly dependent on companies and other organizations, and it shows you how household finances among regular people are becoming more strained as time goes on.

Individual donations and corporate contributions play the role of supplementing the social safety net in all its inadequacies. Strictly speaking, this is the private sector doing the government's job. When many give a little bit, the sharing can grow, like it is supposed to. However, the country still lacks the conditions and systems to facilitate the establishment of a culture of self-motivated, regular donations by the general populace. In September, the government's rules on private organizations collecting donations were somewhat relaxed, but the things that qualify for tax deductions are still far less than in fully industrialized nations. The country quickly needs to implement a system through which political donations under 100,000 won (US$110) are going to be given back in the tax process. Why does it have to remain so stingy about expanding the range of tax support for regular donations? There would be a far more vibrant culture of gift giving if the government allowed just a little more in the way of tax reductions and benefits. Doing so would also help solve the phenomenon in which 75 percent of donations are given at the end of the year. Instead of blaming the stinginess of private citizens, the government and National Assembly need to take a look at themselves and see what it is they should be doing first.

In addition, the culture of giving among companies needs to be more systematic and structured. The sad fact is that most of this giving happens at the end of the year or the start of the new one only (or after natural disasters), and thus usually end up being one-time events that are all for show or in response to criticism for wrongdoing of some sort. Some big companies see giving and volunteerism as part of the larger goal of corporate management and have offices dedicated to the activity, but even this is still in its infancy.

It was just the other day when an 80-year-old woman willed 3 million won to be used for need-based scholarships, cash she put together by saving welfare money that came from the government. A man who delivers construction materials for a living and owns nothing but his truck has for the past nine years helped the indigent with their moving tasks, all for free. Korean society has hope when people that themselves should be receiving help are instead choosing to help others.
Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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