20190504_The Business Times<br/><h6>Is Asia Giving Back Enough?</h6>

20190504_The Business Times

Is Asia Giving Back Enough?

Article Link: https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/brunch/is-asia-giving-back-enough-0

By Chantal Sajan

IN the 1992 film version of Dominique Lapierre’s novel City of Joy, set in the squalor of Kolkata’s slums, Patrick Swayze plays a down-in-the-mouth American doctor opposite Om Puri’s penurious Indian rickshaw-puller. The story is about small acts of everyday heroism that are the guiding rubric of caring, commitment and community. The film ends with a quote that is flashed across the scene, sans voiceover or any semblance of audio: “All that is not given… is lost.” That poignant line has probably haunted everyone who left the theatre that day, almost three decades ago. Today, giving goes beyond unquantifiable random acts of everyday heroism to the headline-making news of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) paying it forward to their communities, even going where governments fear to tread.

While in the West, the wealthy have set up trust foundations and pledged to give away half or more of their wealth – as in The Giving Pledge signed by billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates – in Asia, the perception is that not enough is being done. As of April 2019, the Pledge has 190 signatories: wealthy individuals and couples from 22 countries, mostly from Europe and North America. Only a few Asians such as India’s Azim Premji and Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing have set up substantial foundations.

A matter of incentive?

As National University of Singapore economics Professor Sumit Agarwal notes in a March 2019 article titled Why it’s time to talk about death and taxes, “whilst the region’s wealth has soared, levels of giving have remained relatively static or at best sluggish”. He points specifically to Asia’s generally low or non-existent levels of inheritance tax, allowing individuals to pass all or most of their wealth on to their families after their death.

In the West, onerous inheritance taxes provide one motivation for the rich to give to charitable causes and reap the rewards of sizeable tax write-offs. In Asia, this incentive is largely absent.