[OUTLOOK]Samsung should manage its fundAbout 10 days ago, the Financial Times weekend section published a photo of Bill Gates, the richest person in the world, and his wife Melinda visiting a children’s hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Having flown from the United States and arrived early in the morning, they were dressed casually and caressing a baby lying on a hospital bed. What had moved their hearts and led them there? Although it was a photograph, I could read the touch and gaze of God in how Mr. and Mrs. Gates touched and looked at the baby. God has allowed them an enormous fortune, and they do their best to use the money properly.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has an endowment of about 30 billion dollars, which is larger than the size of the combined personal assets of the Gates, which are worth 26 billion dollars. The foundation spends more money on philanthropy than the World Health Organization. Some people view them with a jaundiced eye and think that their charity work is for tax benefits or to silence criticism over the monopoly held by Microsoft. However, Mr. and Mrs. Gates seem uninterested in such criticisms. Such envious reproaches have always existed. Instead, the concern of the couple is for poverty-ridden countries and the countless lives wasting away from dysentery, poliomyelitis, tuberculosis, and AIDS.
Samsung recently donated 800 billion won, about $827 million, to social causes. The group intends to trust the government and civic groups to manage the fund, and the government is working to draw up plans on how to spend the money.
Frankly speaking, I think that it is not right for the government to get involved with the management of the donation. Even if Samsung asked for the government’s participation, it is not something the government should take part in. The money is literally a private donation, not a fine or a seized fund. There can be different interpretations on why Samsung requested the government to manage the fund. It might have been meant as an apology and a sign of repentance. Nevertheless, it is not appropriate for the government to decide how and where to use the money, or to act as the main entity to spend it.
The government is an agency run with taxpayers’ money. It is an apparatus that forcibly distributes social resources through the means of power. However, a donation is something that is not coercively distributed but shared based on the concerns and love of the benefactor.
If the government initiates the distribution, naturally, the money could be exploited as a supplementary to its budget. President Roh Moo-hyun has already ordered the related officials to plan to use the money to prevent the legacy of poverty and polarization of educational opportunities. Eight hundred billion won is a lot of money, but only several tens of billion won can be spent annually unless the principal is used. It is not sufficient for the grand project of eradicating polarization. The fund should be used in relation to its size.
The person who is most interested in where the money is spent must be the donor himself. Mr. Gates was concerned for ailing children in underdeveloped countries and concentrated his efforts on saving some of those children. The Carnegie Foundation focuses on educational and cultural projects while the Rockefeller Foundation promotes public health, medical education and scientific advancement. Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee has already established a foundation for talented youth with an endowment of 450 billion won. The use of the money needs to be determined according to the philosophy and vision of the contributor. The suffering and misfortune of the people can only be healed by a sincere and warm touch coming from the hearts of individuals, not by the government.
If the government leads the spending of the fund, we cannot rule out the possibility of the money being wasted. The government uses money collected as tax and does not quite understand how valuable money is. In the worst case, the donation might be treated as a windfall. The person who can best value the money and use it most wisely is the donor himself. Also, when the government gets involved, it is questionable whether it can be fair in the process of distributing the fund for different purposes. It would surely have plausible justifications, but there is no guarantee that the government will not use the money with a certain political purpose in mind.
Therefore, Samsung made a mistake from the beginning by entrusting the management of its donation to the government. If Samsung has done something wrong, it should come out and pay the price, and then share its vision with society. Instead of gladly accepting the offer and saying that the fund needed to be managed by the government, the president should have said it was not something the government should take part in and that it would be better if the donor took an active role in its philanthropy. Samsung needs to find a way to use the money for the most appropriate purpose most effectively. Only then will a culture of proper sharing be established in Korea.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk