Charity takes a step forward

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Charity takes a step forward

The decision by Hyundai Heavy Industries and its affiliates to set up a 500 billion won ($470 million) charity fund is a remarkable step toward the dream of sharing wealth with the less fortunate.

Quoting President Lee Myung-bak’s Liberation Day address, which stressed the importance of co-prosperity between big and small companies, closing the gap between the haves and have-nots has quickly emerged as one of our top priorities, especially after people expressed their anxiety and frustration with socioeconomic polarization in the June 27 by-elections last year.

To embody such good will to a full extent, the decision needs to be preceded by pure and prudent consideration. At present, over 400 billion won from the 500 billion won fund is supposed to be covered by Chung Mong-joon - former Grand National Party leader and the largest shareholder of Hyundai Heavy Industries - and its subsidiaries.

Simply put, the charity is led by Chung, a presidential hopeful in 2012. Political pundits assume that he sought to establish the foundation ahead of the presidential election fearing that his massive property holdings could cause trouble as he pursues the presidency. It would have been better if he had announced the plan earlier.

President Lee’s contribution of 30 billion won to a charity fund called the Cheonggye Foundation set a good precedent for our leaders. But Lee faced the harsh criticism that he was only seeking votes through the move because he made the pledge in December 2007, shortly before the presidential election in the same year. Five years ago, Lee Kun-hee, chairman of Samsung Electronics, and his family donated 800 billion won to establish a scholarship fund, which still provides financial support for cash-strapped students. But the fund would likely have received a more positive response from citizens if Samsung had been immune to various scandals and lawsuits.

Warren Buffett, America’s legendary investor and philanthropist, has stressed again that rich people should pay more tax. He is setting a good and lively example for a refined donation culture with no political, social or economic motivations.

With the latest move by Hyundai, Korea continues to build on its donation history. Samsung, Hyundai and LG, Korea’s iconic conglomerates, have now become pillars in the larger community. When led correctly, their efforts toward a mature culture of giving will help ease the growing social rift.
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