July 24, 2005 10:45 AM
Transparency Issue Hits Singapore Big Time
By Jackson Sawatan
SINGAPORE, July 24 (Bernama) -- Singapore's biggest charity body, the
National Kidney Foundation (NKF), staggered back to its feet this
week to regain public confidence after being laid low by a
controversy over the way it manages public donations.
The government had to intervene in the affair that prompted the
resignation of its chief executive officer T.T. Durai and NKF's
entire 15-member board.
Although allegations of greed and extravagance infuriated
Singaporeans, the underlying issues of the controversy were clear:
lack of transparency, accountability and good governance.
It began with an article published in the island's premier daily, the
Straits Times, in April last year about the foundation's lavish
spending not befitting a charity organisation, like the installation
of a gold-plated tap in a toilet at the CEO's office.
Durai sued Singapore Publishing House, the publisher, for defamation
but during the trial of the case on July 11, more startling details
were revealed, including Durai's remuneration which amounted to S$1.8
million (RM4 million) over a period of three years from 2002 to last
Durai withdrew the suit after conceding there was nothing defamatory
in the Straits Times article.
The revelation in the court sparked an outcry among Singaporeans who
questioned the amount paid to him to head the charity, and the lack
of transparency in not revealing the amount to the public who had
been contributing to NKF's coffers.
The reaction that followed was uncharacteristic of the usually
acquiescent Singaporeans. In a rare display of public protest, angry
Singaporeans defaced the foundation's building with spray paint
spelling out the word "Liar" while others threw rotten eggs into the
Another started an online petition calling for Durai's removal. Then
days after, about 15,000 donors cancelled their donation to NKF, an
organisation that relies solely on public donation.
For the record, two out of every three Singaporeans had donated to
When the affair threatened to escalate, the government intervened and
Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan met Durai and members of the board,
then promptly announced their resignation, a move he said would
enable the NKF to start afresh.
On Wednesday, Khaw announced in Parliament the appointment of a new 8-
member board headed by Gerard Ee, a retired accountant who is also
president of the National Council of Social Service. Khaw said: "No
expense ratio or disclosure requirement will be tight enough to catch
a gold-plated tap -- that is a matter of self-restraint and tone of
the organisation and its leaders."
NKF was set up in 1969 and prides itself as a model for social
entrepreneurship in Singapore. In 1987 NKF established the world's
first public-funded dialysis programme. It now has 21 centres island-
wide, benefitting about 1,800 kidney patients.
It also has about S$260 million (RM590 million) in reserves -- an
amount that many attributed to Durai's hard work. NKF staff described
him as a man who "works 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week".
They praised him for turning NKF into a money-raising organisation
that saved many lives.
Durai as a dedicated NKF head is best reflected in a poignant e-mail
his daughter wrote to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, asking that her
father's honour be restored if no wrongdoing was found.
The junior high school student wrote: "Since I was young, my father
had very little time to spend with us...I always asked myself why my
father had no time for us. Were we less important to him than his
To some, the NKF affair was a case of a good man falling prey to his
own lapse of judgment and paid dearly for it.
As for the S$600,000 pay cheque a year, there are those willing to
accept that, arguing that "a good man must be paid a good wage".
Still, many NKF donors wanted nothing to do with such extravagance,
saying they donated money for the kidney patients, not for the luxury
of one man.
But what hurt the most was probably the lack of transparency in the
way public donation was managed.
The dust finally settled on NKF this week with the appointment of a
new set of board members.
Angry donors who previously stopped or threatened to stop giving, had
begun to come to their senses that in the debate for greater
accountability and transparency, the kidney patients should not be
made the losers.
It's now time to move on, they said.
Nevertheless, the affair will be remembered as a case of good
governance, transparency and accountability hitting Singapore big
Someone has generously provided a well written letter. You might want to consider attaching your name to it and sending it to CNA.Dear Editor
I have just been to your website and am disappointed that your media is taking the liberal opportunity of presenting pro-PAP news features at the expense of the opposition, which doesn't do much to reduce the very widespread perception that your media company is a propaganda tool of the ruling party.
A quick glance of your homepage shows about 12 stories dedicated to the PAP's promotional campaigning while stories of the Opposition parties number a paltry few. Your "jumping" on the PAP bandwagon on defining the Opposition parties along the James Gomez minority form fiasco and the pending defamation lawsuits involving the SDP have not gone unnoticed.
Singapore Inc. has acquired a notorious reputation overseas in terms of its repressive political and social environment, having become bedfellows with some of the most oppressive regimes in the world including Burma, Saudi Arabia and China. Perhaps it may be a good strategic policy for your media to move away from your affinity with the establishment and move towards establishing yourself as a credible, independent media that peoples of the world can come to admire.
I am a member of your target audience group (the PMEBs) and I know that many of us having travelled widely and being educated, sophisticated world citizens are no fools in discerning and recognising the blatant bias in the reporting in your media.
From: Carl Kapeland
To: Mellanie Hewlitt
16 July 2005
Legitimized Corruption Understood
In the latest developments the entire NKF Board and its CEO have
taken the easy route out and resigned. That's leadership for you,
when things get messy, just get up and leave the mess for someone
else to clean up.
But I don't think the new CEO or Board will do much cleaning up.
Looks like they are replacing one bunch of rotten apples with another
bunch of potentially more rotten apples. It does not address the real
WHAT IS THE REAL PROBLEM?
There are several recurrent issues here. Singapore is in this current
mess because Lee's PAP Government has forgotten that not everything
can be reduced to money. You cannot throw money at all your problems
and expect it to magically disappear.
The material base that motivates Singapore's "leaders" is only too
evident when the NKF's transit CEO (Gerald Ee) hinted
that "SGD600,000/- may not be sufficient for the new replacement to
take office"!!! Money is the only motivating factor and if they have
elected a leader and a board who is motivated only by money, its only
a natural and unavoidable result that they will end up with an
organization which has forgotten its once noble purpose and replaced
it with more materialistic pursuits.
Have they (Singapore) appointed a Wolf in sheep's clothing to guard
their precious flock? For positions like these in charity
organizations, THE CHIEF MOTIVATING FACTOR CANNOT BE MONEY! as they
are not running an investment bank. The same applies senior public
service positions and for ministerial positions. NOT EVERYTHING CAN
BE REDUCED TO MONEY. But Lee's PAP Ministers have used this holistic
approach to address any and all issues under the sun.
Lee and his ministers simply CANNOT RUN A COUNTRY THE SAME WAY THEY
RUN A COMPANY. Why? Because a country comprises of flesh and blood
and spirit. A company is merely a corporate vehicle that is often set-
up for the sole purpose of reaping a monetary profit.
SINGAPORE AS A COUNTRY, IS NOT SINGAPORE INC!!!! And even if it is,
its directors (and that means Lee and his million dollar cabinet)
have to remain accountable to the shareholders (Singapore citizens).
Singapore MINISTERS have to be transparent, and they are not
especially as regards their salaries and the management of the
Consider this, the NKF was originally set up as a supposedly
charitable organization. In form and function it appeared above board
and reputable. But in actual practice it had a hidden agenda to
siphon wealth from the public into state coffers. And what happens to
all this money (all SGD200 million of it?) No body knows.
These same similarities in the NKF saga are reproduced on a grander
scale in overall state administration in Singapore. Whether its the
CPF, LTA, GLCs, Temasek etc they all relate to the the same basic
issue. It goes back to the same bunch of corrupt leaders paying
themselves and their cronies humongous rediculous salaries, approved
and legitimized under a set of bogus laws that they legislated in the
But even before this NKF scam, transparency issues have dogged
Singapore's state administration for decades and repeated requests by
the World Bank, IMF, FTA and other NGOs for greater accountability
and transparency have basically fallen on deaf ears.
These are basic transparency issues which plaque management of public
moneys by all state entities (whether its the CPF Board, GLCs,
Temasek, LTA etc). There is massive deception on a grand scale and I
suspect the latest NKF debacle only surfaced due to internal friction
within Singapore's "inner-circle of elite politicians." Perhaps
someone amongst Singapore's Ruling Elite wanted a bigger portion of
Think about it. Durai commenced his latest law suite on the confident
assumption that it would be a "no contest" walk-over like his two
previous suites. But whilst the Singapore sham courts had no problems
finding in his favor in the 2 previous suites (which were taken
against private individuals and a volunteer who correctly questioned
his lavish spending), the latest suite was against another state
bureaucracy. And it was inevitable that the sham court found in favor
of the bigger devil. So even amongst the thieves there is a power
struggle over who gets a bigger piece of the loot.
So this then is justice ala Singapore styled. Who you are and who you
are connected with ultimately decides the outcome of the law suite.
The material facts of the case (and legal premise) have little
relevance in the kangaroo's court final assessment.
But by far the most troubling problem is that of Legitimized
Corruption. You (Mellanie) have used the term "Legitimized
Corruption" very accurately, but failed to elaborate on its true
meaning and implications.
Legitimized Corruption means essentially that the corrupt act itself
is made perfectly legal. That is why there is a possibility that the
external audit on NKF may turn out nothing because Durai and his
actions may have been all perfectly legitimate and authorized
according to the internal constitution of the Board.
In a normal organization with bona fide controls in place, the Board
would not have approved and allowed such unreasonable and lavish
expenditures. However, in Singapore's setting where "anything goes"
it is possible that the board were within their discretionary powers
to authorize such lavish expenditures. Mind you these are
expenditures which (by any ordinary definition) would have amounted
to an immoral mis-management of public moneys for unauthorized
applications. But if the internal rules of conduct of NKF allowed the
Board to act in this manner, it would then be an authorized and
So even after the process of audit has concluded it is perfectly
possible for the auditors to conclude that the use of donor funds for;
a) Durai's pay of SGD600,000 and his salary of SGD1.8 million;
b) All expenses and application of donor funds used for purchase of
SGD990/- god taps;
c) All expenses for first class air travel;
d) The levying of a 30% Admin Fee;
e) The hiring of personal drivers and limos.
All of the above are authorized and legitimate.
Anyway we all know that the so called "audit" of the NKF accounts is
merely a publicity stunt to show case to the world that the current
government and the new board is taking steps to remain accountable.
But does this make the above acts any more acceptable and morally
correct. NO! Of cause not. An atrocity is still an atrocity even
though it is legitimized. One clear example is prostitution in
Singapore. It is legal and the fact that it is legal does not detract
one iota from the fact that it is still immoral, depraved and inhuman.
Of cause there are critics who will argue that moral values are to
subjective concepts and we cannot always use these imprecise measures
to define what is right or wrong. And I concede that there is some
truth in this as we live in a world coloured in grey.
However, there will always remain some acts which are so blatantly
wrong that they remain morally objectionable and immoral by any
standard and yardstick. And the NKF scam (as well as Singapore
ministerial salaries) fall within this category. It is morally wrong
by any measure and this is not a grey area at all.
This same logic applies on a larger scale as regards ministerial
salaries and the process that is orchestrated to "approve" such
unreasonable and lavish salaries (amounting to millions of dollars
Legitimized Corruption works much like Money Laundering, but is
worse. In essence Legitimized Corruption is corruption which is made
legal. These perpetrators attempt to do what drug cartels and money
launderers do;- basically "launder" the money (or the dishonest act)
and make the final product appear nice and clean.
But senior politicians differ from your average drug lord or mafia
boss in one important respect;- these ministers are much more
sophisticated. They know the system (and probably designed it) and
know how to manupulate and tweak the system so that they can have
access to the ill-gotten gains without getting their hands dirty.
Next to them, Gordon Gecko and the God-Father look like novices and
However make no mistake the underlying act itself remains wrong,
dishonest and morally objectionable but is hidden under a cloak of
legitimacy. Drug money (and money from dishonest trades) is still ill-
gotten loot. Behind this elaborate sham are a host of corporate and
state entities (GLCs, state owned entities and yes, charitable
organisations) which are set-up to place a corporate veil between the
real perpetrators and the morally objectionable and dishonest
The fact that it is perfectly legitimate does not itself make it
MORALLY CORRECT. This is especially the case when you have a
legislature that is totally removed (and remains out of touch) with
the moral values and aspirations of the people it is supposed to
serve and protect.
In fact, this kind of legitimized corruption is the worst possible
kind as it means the corruption has infiltrated the most senior ranks
of management (and the political leaders). Compared to this elaborate
deceit, the more obvious corruption in Indonesia are crude by
comparison and far easier to identify and correct as it is
acknowledged that such objectionable acts itself are WRONG and are
not endorsed by the country's laws.
How do you ask a cop to catch a thief when the cop himself is a
Legitimized Corruption by its very nature is more sinister and
difficult to identify. For instance, a government official who
accepts bribes worth $1.6 million a year is guilty of corruption. But
what happens if this same official or minister receives this money as
part of his "LEGITIMATE" salary. In both cases the act itself is the
same unconscionable and immoral act. But in the later case, there is
no need for the official to hide his ill-gotten gains as it is
formally endorsed by an equally corrupt legislature/parliament who
has a hand in the ill gotten gains.
The definition of a Parasitic Leech is as follows: "leech: a follower
who hangs around a host (without benefit to the host) in hope of gain
The kind of legitimized corruption already endorsed and prevalent in
Singapore's state machinery is far worse. It is a cancerous malice
which is more surreptitious and insidious. The festering rot is not
immediately apparent to an external casual observer but is eating
away the core of the its host. Left unchecked, such parasites will
consume a once healthy body before discarding the empty shell and
relocating to another unwary host.
Legitimized Corruption is also like cancer. It is a chronic ailment
which rooted itself very deeply within the host (and the state
machinery). Such a chronic ailment did not occur over night but took
place over decades of accumulated unchecked accesses. Durai himself
was in the NKF for over 30 years and it is no mere coincidence that
Singapore has been under the same government (and people and family)
for over 30 years.
This is precisely the reason why in the US and other bona fide
democracies there is a mandatory change in administration every 4-8
years. A new administration brings forth a completely new government
which will was away unchecked accesses and commence things tabula
But somehow in Singapore it appears that only families starting with
the Lee sirname or who are closely affiliated with this first family
are the only candidates who qualify for election. What a quaint and
family friendly arrangement! Its just too bad that the average
Singaporean is excluded from this elitist inner-circle.
However, Singapore's Ruling Elite also have to be wary of the
accompanying dangers of in-breeding which can occur from a small and
exclusive gene pool. Cancerous deformaities can result after
generations of in-breeding.
And the Cancer has many signs and symptoms. There have already been
many evident tell tale signs of the internal rot and its accompanying
putrid stench. However, Singaporeans in their numbed state of
awareness may be mistaking the over-powering stench of decay for
sweet perfume. The entire state machinery is orchestrated to maintain
this state of illusion and deception.
In the normal mechanics of an open and transparent state legislature
and government, the moral values of the mans on the street is
reflected (although not perfectly) in the policy formulation process.
This is not the case in Singapore and your "leaders" know it. Just
challenge them to run a referendum regarding their salaries and it
will be evident that 90% of the population are totally disgusted by
such blatant acts of greed. Of cause the local state owned media will
somehow always paint the picture of an adoring and obedient public as
part of an elaborate charade. So the truth never ever gets out.
Corruption of this scale starts form the top and slowly works its way
down the ranks to pollute every senior arm of the state machinery
from the Judiciary to Legislature to the Executive and especially to
a docile and compliant state managed local press. It cannot be
stopped easily without external intervention.
Slowly but surely what started off as a morally unacceptable issue
becomes part and parcel of "accepted norm" which is disguised behind
a pile of state endorsed laws and bills. Even the once sacred
document, the Constitution, is not spared and is re-written to the
whims and fancies of those they serve. How many Singaporeans are
aware of the fact that the country's Constituion has been amended to
allow state owned entities and GLCs easier access directly to the
country's reserves? And it also does not take a genius to work out
that it is the close affiliates of the Ruling Elite who sit on the
management boards of these state owned entities and GLCs.
The following is a fascinating observation. The exact size of
Singapore's foreign exchange reserves and the management of thses
funds is designated as a STATE SECURITY FOR INTERNAL SECURITY
REASONS. Is it mere co-incidence that the conservative ball park
estimate of the net worth of the Lee family is roughly equivalent to
your country's reserves? (USD130-140 billion?)
What you have in Singapore are a bunch of hired mercenaries who are
ripping off the very people they are supposed to look after.
Singaporeans. This is your country and your life. If you continue in
this state of drugged apathy, you will cease to have any control over
your own faith and destiny.
Do you really want to hand over your life to the devil?
Do you want to have a Singapore with No Singaporeans?
Its time to wake up from your state of denial and confront the harsh
reality before your very eyes.
For more details on the above, see "Lifting The Veil On Singapore
Does splashing white paint on a black car make the black car white?