The president’s good deed

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The president’s good deed

President Lee Myung-bak has added his name to a list of high-profi le philanthropists by donating most of his personal wealth, worth 33 billion won ($26 million), toward the establishment of a scholarship and welfare foundation.

In a televised campaign speech on Dec. 7, 2007, the businessman-turned-politician said that all he needed was a place to live and that he would donate the rest of his wealth to society if he were elected president. After 19 months in office, Lee has finally fulfilled his promise.

The Cheonggye Foundation, named after the landmark reconstruction project in Seoul Lee spearheaded while he was the city’s mayor, will be funded primarily by income from two buildings donated by the president. Income from the monthly rentals is estimated at 1.1 billion won a year. It is not common for a politician to honor his campaign promises, let alone give up most of his wealth. Many have doubted that Lee would prove to be an exception.

Philanthropy is still a rarity in mainstream Korean society. Money is not necessarily a prerequisite for acts of charity. There are many donors who leave to charity what little wealth they’ve managed to accumulate and self-made men who make contributions to scholarship funds. In donating his wealth, President Lee recalled that “those who helped a kid from an extremely poor family become a president were all, without exception, poor themselves.” His declaration of charity raised more eyebrows than applause due to the timing of the announcement. At the time, he was under attack for fraud and also the front-runner in the 2007 presidential election.

But the presidential candidate assured the public that his decision had been made a long time ago.

In his autobiography, published in 1995, he wrote that he and his wife were not planning to leave their wealth to their children.

The president’s promise of charity has now been realized and his act is likely to silence many of his skeptics. But it cannot be denied that the president has reaped the benefits of announcing his philanthropic activities. An act of charity is one of beauty, but can be marred when connected to politics.

Critics have found fault with the fact that the foundation will mostly be managed by the president’s aides and followers. Although it is natural for a trust to be administered by those close to the donor, it is recommended that a second set of hands participate in administering the fund.

Since the president has set an unprecedented example of generosity, he should live up to the promise of his actions by ensuring that the foundation in his name is managed with transparency and good faith so that many people will be inspired to follow in his footsteps.
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