Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Matter Of Choice

AsiaWeek 1995The ruling People's Action Party emerged victorious in Cheng San in the 1997 elections, though with just 54.8% of the vote.

"It cannot be said that people voted freely without their minds being trammeled by worries and fears of the consequences of voting against the PAP," said Jeyaretnam, who failed in his comeback after a 10-year hiatus. "The marvel is, in spite of all that, we managed to get almost 45% of the vote."

Chee Soon Juan of the SDP professed concern for the country's future: "It's a tragedy -- when we're talking about competition in the 21st century -- to use the upgrading of homes as the final bait."

Chee referred to the primary issue in the campaign -- and one which the PAP wielded effectively -- the upgrading of government flats, a program started in 1989 to bridge the gap between old and new apartments. The PAP sent forth a clear message: wards that did not vote for its candidates would be placed last in line for the upgrading program.

Said Goh to those who might have been leaning toward the opposition: "In 20, 30 years' time, the whole of Singapore will be bustling away, and your estate, through your own choice, will be left behind. They become slums."

This remark raised eyebrows and drew a rebuke from the United States Secretary of State Madeline K Albright.

Lim, a 33-year-old bus company worker, lived in the MacPherson ward. In the past five years, the government built four additional Housing and Development Board apartment blocks in MacPherson, added two children’s playgrounds, two power substations and a multi-story carpark. Ten HDB flats were upgraded, 15 others almost finished, and four about to be started.

Due in part to the upgrades, the value of Lim’s three-bedroom flat appreciated by more than $100,000. The government program extended Lim’s master bedroom, upgraded the toilet, brought elevators to every floor (previously they stopped at every other one) and spruced up the exterior. The work was done by the town council. MacPherson is headed by the recently re-elected Matthias Yao, 40, an up-and-comer in the ruling party.

In the Potong Pasir constituency, which is represented by oppositionist Chiam See Tong, 61, of the Singapore People’s Party, improvements have been more modest. In five years Chiam had overseen the construction of two walkways, five covered linkways, reroofing of 17 apartment blocks, expansion of playgrounds and installation of booster pumps to increase water pressure.

Longtime Potong Pasir resident Lian, 37, who works for the Singapore Armed Forces, said his neighborhood is “a fine place.” But he reckoned that the upgrading of flats has passed Potong Pasir by because it is opposition territory. “Chiam is very popular,” said Lian, “but he can’t do much. His hands are tied. He doesn’t have as much funds as the PAP constituencies.”

Chiam complained of the “very unethical disbursement of public funds.Town councils run by the PAP have almost unlimited funds. Their main source of money is the Ministry of National Development,” of which MP Mathias Yao is senior parliamentary secretary. Chiam had to make do with the maintenance rates collected from residents and the $280,000 that each town council receives annually from the government. “The world is divided between those who support the PAP and those who don’t,” said Chiam. “If you don’t vote for the PAP, you don’t get the facilities. These facilities are provided by public funds, yet the government is using public funds to gain votes.”

Prime Minister Goh countered that “you can argue that the money belongs to the people, but you still have to queue up to receive it.” Those who support the government and its programs most strongly, he said, get served first.

During a speech at the Nanyang Technological University, Goh argued against "Western-style" democracy: "Do you think we could have done even half of what was achieved in the last 30 years if we had a multi-party system and a revolving-door government?" he asked the students. "Do you think we could have done just as well if we had a government which was constantly being held in check by 10 to 20 opposition members in the last 30 years?"

Opined one local analyst: "If the government has its way, there is no place for an opposition in Singapore. It defines the opposition as inimical to stability and the Asian way of democracy -- of consensus. People who are articulate and vociferous and who rock the status quo are not wanted."

The PAP's answer to an alternative voice in Parliament is to select its own. Nominated MPs are appointed by the president based on nominations from a Special Select Committee. They can't vote on issues related to budgets or defense, but can debate and question the ruling party.

That won't satisfy everyone. In a Internet chat group, an "ashamed and disappointed Singaporean" lamented: "We have good government and the PAP has done a lot for the country, I concede that. But why do I have this bitter taste after watching the way the PAP conducted themselves during the elections?" On the brighter side, he could probably look forward to his apartment being upgraded.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Price of Truth

Aeromodelling instructor Piragasam Singaravelu had to pay $22,000 in damages and another $10,000 for the apology notices for saying he had seen NKF CEO TT Durai in the Singapore Airlines (SIA)first-class cabin. His price for telling the truth pales in comparison to what Tan Wah Piow paid.

Phey Yew KokTan was the student leader of the University of Singapore Student’s Union (USSU) in 1975 when he was caught up in the workers’ labour problems at American Marine. His nemesis was Phey Yew Kok, Secretary General of Pioneer Industries Employee’s Union (PIEU). Tan found himself jailed for 6 months for 'rioting' even though he was nowhere near the office where he was supposed to have 'broken some chairs' -- but the word of Phey Yew Kok, then PAP MP, now a fugitive in Taiwan, carried the day. The judge chose to believe Phey.

An Australian Queen's Counsel, Frank Galbally, who observed the trial for the Australian Union of Students, said: "In Australia, the case would be laughed out of court ... the evidence and procedure ... would, in my opinion, have aborted any trial in Australia ... [The three accused] did not get a fair trial. ... In my opinion, it is just a political trial."

Tan is now a partner of a law firm. The British national lives with his wife and 19-year-old son in London. He keeps in touch with Singapore politics through the Internet and visits the region often, usually to meet his 92-year-old mother, who lives here.

Extracted from USSU publication, “Awakening”, Issue 25, Tuesday 4th Feb 1975

36th Day of the Trial 3rd Feb 1975

Seow Yuet Leng a worker from Eminence Factory and a temporary representative of the PIEU branch, was testifying for the defence and told the court what she saw inside the PIEU premises on 30th Oct 1974.

On the 29th noon she was told by the secretary at Eminence that the Union called her and asked her to go for a meeting on the 30th October. She asked Lai Ah Choon on the night of 29th to accompany her there.

“When we reached PIEU at about 10.45 am I saw about 100 people in the field. Lai saw a Chinese male friend and went over to talk to him. I sat on the bed. After about 10 minutes she came over to sit on the flower bed. 5 minutes later we saw that the crowd had gathered in the field. We went up but could not hear what they said because we did not join them.”

“I went round the crowd once, then I held Lai by the hand and asked her to go into the premises. We then released our hands. When we reached the door I saw Robert Leow at the door. We were asked to go in.
When I went in, Lin Chin Siew asked why I was with those people in the group, and then Robert Leow had asked me to go in. We went into A department, Robert Liew went in first, followed by myself and then Lai.
Robert Leow told me that he went to the Ministry of Labour on the previous day. He said that he met Mr Leow there and he did not promise the $40 increase. He only promised an increase of 10%. He said that he was not sure whether the 10% will be added to the basic pay or on that with the extra. Confirmation of this increase could be made after the manager’s father return from America. He did not know when he will return from America.”

“Then there was a sound from outside – someone closing the door. Following this there were people knocking at the door. The door was knocked twice or thrice, pause then knocked 2 or 3 times, pause and carried on that way.
Then a person walked into the passageway. He walked a little faster than normal. Robert Leow stood up. He told us to wait for a while and he went out. He went up to the Hall. I also saw Lawrence Quek walking in that direction, to the hall. I then came out with Lai. While walking to the hall along the passage way, I saw Kwek listening into the phone in the passage way. Lai was just behind me. I wanted to go into the hall and I pulled the door a little. Kwek had his body leaning against the opened door.”

WP: Before you came out of department A, did you see any of the accused persons?
YL: I did not.
WP: Did you see me while walking along the passageway to the hall?
YL: I did not.
WP: Did you see anyone carrying a stick along the passageway?
YL: I did not.

When asked, Yuet Leng said that Kwek was then leaning over the counter phoning with his shoulders bent beside me.

"I had just stood still when Lawrence Kwek stood beside me. At that time the door had come closed. We were all in the hall.
After Lawrence Kwek came in to stand beside me, he said something in English. I did not understand what he said. He then punched the glass on the door with his right hand and shook his hand from the wrist a few times.
He then said, “Overturn the tables and chairs” and he himself overturned a table with his left hand. We stood there for a while. Lawrence Kwek wanted them to go in. They went in.
At that time I was very frightened. I heard “pomp” once and saw a person kicking the glass from outside."

WP: Other than Lawrence Kwek, were the tables overturned by anyone else?
YL: Yes.
WP: (Where) was Robert Leow and Lin Chin Siew at that time?
YL: They were in the hall too.

“I spoke in Lai in Cantonese that if she doesn’t run, I will run. I then ran out to the door, opened it and walked out.”

WP: Did you notice anything on the floor of the hall as you ran towards the door?
YL: Yes. The overturned tables and chairs. There were also pieces of paper.

“I went to the left after I had crossed the drain. When I was in the field, a Chinese man in his 20’s approached me. He said, “Miss, can I take a picture as a souvenir?” I scolded him. “You don’t take. What picture do you want to take.” He smiled and walked away.

“A few girls came up. One girl (she identified as Kim Hong, one of the USSU students) asked me what happened. I was too frightened and did not say anything immediately. Lai told them that he was the Assistant General Secretary. The short girl asked, “Why did they want to break it like that?” She added, “It appears to me they want to falsely accuse the workers with this matter.” I said, “I don’t know.”

“While we were there another middle-aged man came to talk to us. He left the site at about 12.55 pm.”

“At about 1 pm I went back to work. I spoke to four or five workers and told them about the event at PIEU that morning.”

Tan Wah Piow talking to Malaysiakini in June 2006WP requested for these 4 workers to be his witnesses.

Judge: If you are interested in staying till February, it’s your business.

SG: I object. He is calling these stupid and useless witnesses of his defence to prolong the trial because he knows that he had not handed in his assignments and that he is going to fail.

Raman (lawyer for one of the defendants) strongly protested. He said that these witnesses referred to by Wah Piow were also his witnesses and as such the SG’s suggestion was unfair.

The Judge said he will decide on this later.

Yuet Leng named the four girls as Wu Ching Ying, Wong Chin Liang, Chen Siew Fong and Lee Pui Liang.

“I told them that the Assistant General Secretary at AUPE, Lawrence Kwek broke the glass with his hand. I also told them that after he overturned the table he asked the union officials to overturn the tables and chairs. Lee asked me why they did all those things and I told them them I did not know and that I was very frightened at that time. I also told them about the 10% wage increase.”

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Eugenics in a Multiracial Society

Mr Michael D. Barr, Department of History, University of Queensland, wrote in the Journal of Contemporary Asia v29, n2 (1999) an article titled "Lee Kuan Yew: Race, Culture and Genes."

Senior Minister Lee Kuan YewThe thesis claims to be an attempt to "advance their understanding of Singapore's idiosyncratic version of multiracialism by casting new light on the thinking of its primary architect, Mr Lee Kuan Yew."

In it Singapore's multiracialism is said to encourage a high consciousness of one's race even as it insists on tolerance. Detractors allege a covert form of discrimination in favour of the majority Chinese and against the minorities, especially the Malays. It was written at a time when the Singapore government had an unofficial policy of excluding Malays from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) because of concerns about their loyalty. Malays were not required to serve the mandatory National Service in the Singapore Armed Forces, they were assigned to the Police Special Constabulary or Civil Defence Force. Despite much progress in this area, it was a sobering thought that, in the wake of September 11, the predominantly Malay police security personnel assigned to guard the residences of Singapore's Ministers were replaced by Gurkhas from Nepal.

The section on Cultural Eugenics makes interesting reading:


The last plank of Lee's racial logic is his view of cultural eugenics and dysgenics. Lee believes that some cultures have social customs which are naturally eugenic while others are burdened with dysgenic sexual mores. He believes, for instance, that the Catholic Church suffers from a dysgenic culture: "All the bright young men became Catholic priests and did not marry. Bright priests, celibate, produce no children. And the result of several generations of bright Fathers producing no children? Less bright children in the Catholic world."

Of more practical relevance to the development of Lee's politic I thought is his view that the genetic quality of the Malays is low because of their dysgenic Culture. In 1989 Lee confirmed his general agreement with Mahathir Mohamad's The Malay Dilemma, which argued in part: "Malays abhor the state of celibacy. To remain unmarried was and is considered shameful. Everyone must be married at some time or other. The result is that whether a person is fit or unfit for marriage, he or she still marries and reproduces. An idiot or a simpleton is often married off to an old widower, ostensibly to take care of him in his old age. If this is not possible, backward relatives are paired off in marriage. These people survive, reproduce and propagate their species. The cumulative effect of this can be left to the imagination."

Of these and other arguments which purportedly account for the supposed backwardness of Malays, Lee said: "From that book I realised that [Dr Mahathir] believed in it as a medical man - that these were problems of the development of the Malay race, Anthropological problems, and these were strongly-held views. Indeed, I found myself in agreement with three-quarters of his analysis of the problem - that the Malays had always withdrawn from competition and never really entered into the mainstream of economic activity; that the Malays would always get their children or relatives married off regardless of whether it was good or bad."

The Ashkenazi Jews, on the other hand, are among an elite of races which have a thoroughly eugenic culture: "From the 10th to 11th century inEurope, in Ashkenazim, the practice developed of the rabbi becoming the most desirable son-in-law because he is usually the brightest of the flock. ... So he becomes the richest and wealthiest. He marries young, is successful, probably bright. He has large numbers of children and the brightest of the children will become the rabbi and so it goes on."

The Chinese also have benefited from centuries of practising cultural eugenics, though his logic works only if you assume that a person's economic status directly reflects his or her-intelligence and energy: "In the older generations, economies and culture settled it. The pattern of procreation was settled by economics and culture. The richer you are, the more successful you are, the more wives you have, the more children you have. That's the way it was settled. I am the son of a successful chap. I myself am successful, so I marry young and I marry more wives and I have more children. You read Hong Lou Meng, A Dream of the Red Chamber, or you read Jin Ping Mei, and you'll find Chinese society in the 16th, 17th century described. So the successful merchant or the mandarin, he gets the pick of all the rich men's daughters and the prettiest village girls and has probably five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten different wives and concubines and many children. And the poor labourer who's dumb and slow, he's neutered. It's like the lion or the stag that's outside the flock. He has no harems, so he does not pass his genes down. So, in that way, a smarter population emerges."

If Lee believes that this is the natural order of affairs for Chinese, it is no wonder that he raised the possibility of reintroducing polygamy as part of his eugenics programme. Lee's propensity to identify intelligence with economic status seems to have been a deep-seated trait which had been with Lee since childhood. In his old age he told his authorised biographers, "In primary school, I had no trouble doing well. Probably because my fellow students were poor and they were not very bright and advantaged ... I had no trouble staying ahead of the class." It must be acknowledged that Lee was speaking retrospectively, and that his words stop just short of explicitly drawing a direct, let alone a causal link between the economic status of parents and the intelligence of children. His words are not, therefore, unequivocal proof that Lee formed these ideas in childhood. They do, however, suggest that many of his ideas of the elite are built upon the prejudices associated with economic class. For all of Lee's supposed empirical reasoning and his theorising, his elitism and geneticism looks suspiciously like the conceit born of a pampered and privileged childhood.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A Matter of Opinion

Ms Ho Ching, wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Executive Director of Temasek Holdings chimed in with her own unsolicited full page letter on the NKF saga in the tabloid Today, dated 18th July (my comments in italics):

I write in my personal capacity.

I have been a long-time admirer of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF).

The NKF has been outstanding in supporting kidney and other patients. They and their supporters have been tireless not just in raising funds. They have played a key role in providing life saving dialysis services for kidney patients and more.

They also counsel and sometimes cajole or even berate patients and their families to take responsibility for themselves and make an effort to live.
[What the NKF chairman Richard Yong actually said: 'If you want to die, go and die by yourself; don't come to us'.]

Patients and their families, including their children, are encouraged to work together to contribute to their own support, and not give up.

This helps them retain their self-respect and live their lives confidently as full members of society. I cheer the NKF for this enlightened philosophy.

Taking on a dialysis patient is almost like adopting a chronically and critically ill child. You take responsibility not just to give money at the spur of the moment in a flash of sympathy, or to organise dialysis sessions for the week in a spurt of enthusiasm.

You know that it is a serious life-long commitment of support. You know that any interruption of that support means fear, a loss of hope, and a death sentence of sorts. Many long-time Giro donors understand this.

The NKF has wisely built up strong reserves over the years. It is a sensible and responsible approach. The NKF's fears are understandable. No one likes to have the dreadful responsibility of deciding which patients should live when money dries up in an economic downturn.
[The strong reserves referred to is $262 million. Because patients are required to co-pay part of the dialysis expenses, NKF out of pocket per year is only $7 million per annum, which means they have enough for 30 years without soliciting an additional cent.]

What if 10 per cent or 20 per cent of their patients or their patients' breadwinners lose their jobs in an extended downturn? Surely, you hope to continue dialysis for them even if they cannot co-pay their part?
[Even if NKF were generous enough to subsidize the full cost of dialysis, estimated at $30 million/year, it was shown in court that the reserves will be good for 9 years!]

I would like to recommend that the NKF consider building and managing its reserves as an endowment. It also needs a sufficient buffer to weather a deep recession.

Perhaps this was what it had been trying to do. Perhaps the prolonged years of difficulties during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s and the earlier brink of the 1985 recession have spurred the frenetic pace of fund raising in recent years.

But this funding model needs to be properly modelled, analysed and communicated.

When the NKF completes its review and puts together its plans, do share them. I am sure Singaporeans and many others share a chord of sympathy for your cause.

On the issue of CEO pay, I believe that even charities ought to be managed professionally. How else can we extend high quality and impactful services including specialist educational and therapy support to those in need? After all, we do not expect CEOs of publicly-funded hospitals to be poorly paid, do we?
[The pay in question is $25,000 a month plus an annual 12 month bonus. Undisclosed to the board and public, there were additional income from several paid directorships each worth up to $25,000/year. How much is enough?]

Indeed, the NKF is more like a community hospital with multiple centres for high-quality, life-long critical care. It operates and manages dialysis centres to provide vital life-saving services at the highest safety levels. It does this with a heart, looking after the emotional and psychological well--being of its patients, too. Taken as a whole, the NKF has certainly done very well for its patients.

True, there will be volunteers, much admired and respected, with independent means who could help charities without having to take a single cent in salary.

There are also others - much loved and lauded - who for religious reasons or perhaps in memory of a parent, child or friend, would give selfless service to others. Society owes them all a debt of gratitude and applauds their spirit of charity.

But we should not then believe that all those involved in charitable causes should in turn be charitable cases themselves.
[The corollary of this is that those involved in charitable organisation should not seek to enrich themselves:
Q. I suggest to you, sir, that contrary to the suggestion in your affidavit indicating that you were making a sacrifice, the truth of the matter is that you wanted a situation where you would have both the benefit of pay from NKF plus the benefit of income outside NKF?
A. If there was a possibility to do so, I would have done so.

Q. So the answer is yes, is it not, that you wanted a situation where you wanted both the benefit of pay from NKF as well as income outside NKF?
A. Yes, that is true.]

Skilled specialists and experienced managers would soon turn to other careers and job opportunities if they cannot earn a living commensurate with their skills and ability. And we would all be the poorer for it as services drop in quality or wither away.

Sometimes, in a life-threatening illness, all the money in the world will not be able to bring a loved one back.

Mr Durai has helped make a difference in the NKF where medical science has offered a lifeline, though at a cost of tireless fund raising for life time dialysis support. I would not begrudge Mr Durai a proper and well-earned compensation and bonus. He probably earned less than what he would have earned if he had continued in his profession as a lawyer.
[Based on his performance in court, many doubt he will be employable in the legal profession. Typical exchange in court:

Q: You are aware, are you not, both as a lawyer and as a result of your many successful libel claims against a number of people … and we will come back to that in a moment … the difference between specific and general charges?
A: I am afraid not.

Q: You are not? Do you not know what the relevance of the word "specific'' is in the context of meaning?
A: Yes.

Q: You do; right? Therefore, you also know the relevance of the word "general'' in the context of meaning?
A: I cannot … I am not very conversant with that.

Q: In other words, if I said that A stole money on 5th July from B, that is a specific charge. Whereas if I said that A is a thief, then it is a general charge. You follow that, do you not?
A: Not exactly.

Q: Sorry?
A: Not exactly.]

Yes, some of the things that Mr Durai has allegedly done rather raise a questioning eyebrow or two. Some may have crossed the line of proper conduct in respect of conflicts of interest as well. If so, they should be corrected.

It is also important to put in place a set of practical governance guidelines to minimise conflicts of interest, especially for an institution of public trust.

While the leadership of a CEO is critical to shape and drive any organisation, it is equally important that the board balances its support and guidance for its CEO, with its fiduciary duty. It has to serve as an impartial guardian of stakeholder interest in a public institution.
[If Durai's testimony under oath is to be believed, the NKF board is very supportive of its CEO:

Q. The position is this, is it not, while you were expected to be and paid as a full-time CEO, you were earning fees outside NKF, which was not disclosed to the NKF or to the public; is that correct?
A. That is correct. The NKF board gave me the liberty of doing so.

Q. Are you saying that the NKF board actually allowed you to do this?
A. Yes, I was given the freedom of doing anything of my own together with my job.]

As a civilised society, we should not lightly condemn anyone in the court of public opinion without the benefit of due process and the right to a fair hearing. Even murderers have that right.
[The due process extended to TT Durai in his defamation suit:

Q. Mr Durai, the consequences are this. If you withdraw, you will expose yourself to a claim for costs because of the withdrawal, and the defendants will be entitled, as a matter of law, to costs unless His Honour rules otherwise.

If you do not withdraw, notwithstanding the state of play and your answers, then, to use a term used in defamation, you aggravate matters and your costs may go up to an indemnity basis. I want to be fair to you to tell you that that is how it might be played out going forward.

Having regard to the questions I have asked you and your answers, having regard to what I have told you about costs, and having regard to his Honour's very fair counsel about you thinking about it, please tell us what your answer is.

A. Your Honour, I will withdraw this claim.]

If there has been corruption or misuse of funds, then let the relevant authorities investigate and take the case through due process for a fair and proper judgment. There may have been errors of judgment. Most of us can accept and forgive this.
[TT Durai sued two individuals for saying he flew First Class on NKF business. Sample of his "error of judgement":
"No, I want to explain because at that point of time I was not travelling or I was not travelling using NKF's monies to buy a first-class airfare ticket. What happened, your honour, when I travelled to a location on a business class airfare, I paid the difference and then travelled on first class. That's what happened during those occasions. When I used to go to Madras, I used to take a night flight. The difference in price was only $50. I paid the difference myself and travelled and came. So the NKF did not pay for my full...for a first class airfare ticket at that point of time."]

On the other hand, we should resolutely guard against those with serious faults of character and not put them into positions of trust. But let's be fair and keep an open mind, and give the benefit of doubt until the full facts are known.

These deliberations and decisions have important long-term considerations and impact. They should be taken calmly and steadily, away from the acid of hate and anger of betrayal.

Understandably, many feel betrayed. They feel they have been deceived into making donations of hard-earned money. However, this is no excuse for vandalising the NKF facilities, or heaping abuse on NKF staff. Two wrongs won't make a right.
[Does the end justify the means? On Thursday 14th July, the NKF CEO and board approached Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan for "advice" on how to respond to the public anger. Without mincing words, Mr Khaw told them: "The status quo will not do." When asked if they should step down so that a new board and CEO could be appointed, he replied, "This would certainly be very helpful."]

Let us not forget there are real patients who continue to need dialysis support. I urge the staff of NKF to continue to support them well, and not let this wave of fury shake them from their mission and professionalism to serve their patients well.

I am sure it would be a tremendous comfort to both the patients and their caregivers if the rest of us can keep calm and give them our moral support.

Finally, whatever the transgressions or shortcomings, I want to put on record my deep gratitude for Mr Durai and the NKF and their supporters, including numerous donors, media artistes and volunteers as well as board members and patron.
[Among his supporters were Mrs Goh Chok Tong, the senior minister's wife, who defended Mr Durai's salary, saying,
“For a person who runs a million-dollar charitable organisation, S$600,000 is peanuts as [NKF] has a few hundred millions in reserves.”]

Together, they have been tireless in their efforts and contributions all these years to make a difference in the lives of many kidney patients in need.

I do hope that every one of us, including Mr Durai and the NKF, will emerge the stronger, wiser and better from this serious and unfortunate setback.

I am also grateful to all the volunteers and professionals working in the various other voluntary welfare organisations. They too have given tireless and dedicated service of time, effort, money, love and emotions, to the young and old, to those sickly and in need, in their respective worthy causes.

Whatever their faults and foibles, the volunteers, staff and professionals in our VWOs have collectively given hope to many amongst us, and made this island a better place.

In turn, I hope Singaporeans and my fellow men will join me too in supporting them, and show them our generosity and warmth of the human spirit.

Many drops an ocean make, and many hands will lighten the load. On my part, I will continue to donate to the NKF and other favourite charities.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Aftermath Of Disgust

By Low Ching Ling and Celine Lim
The New Paper, July 14, 2005

The vile words were splashed in bold red on the white walls of the building.

In what was a bold public display of disgust against the National Kidney Foundation and CEO T T Durai, someone - or some people - sprayed paint on the outer walls of its Kim Keat Road headquarters early this morning.

The New Paper rushed down at about 6am after a reader noticed the vandalism and called our hotline. A wall of red graffiti greeted us. On one part of the outer front wall were the words 'NKF=liar' written in English, and 'big liar' in Chinese - all spray-painted in bold. The word 'liar' was also written in bold on every alternate pillar. The culprits also vandalised the side of the building with the words 'Save Singapore' and 'Liar'.

A motorcyclist who was delivering newspapers was overheard uttering: 'Now the whole world knows.'

Said police spokesman Debbie See: 'At 5.20am, the police received a call about graffiti on the walls of the (NKF) building. 'We're still investigating.'

The graffiti invited curious stares from morning joggers and passers-by. An SBS Transit bus driver even stopped his bus for about a minute to look. A jogger who declined to be named said: 'The people who did this are very daring. The building is along the main road and they might have been seen.'

Cabby C W Heng, 50, who lives nearby, felt it was a juvenile act.
'They destroyed the property and the NKF will have to use public funds to fix it. If they want to express their unhappiness, they can write to the newspaper forum or call the radio station. It's a barbaric act.'

NKF spokesman Michelle Ang said security guards were informed about the vandalism some time after 5am by police officers. She had left the building some time after midnight and did not see any
graffiti then. The graffiti has since been removed, but Ms Ang was not able to say when and by whom.

She said: 'It's very unfortunate this has happened. Whatever the public read about the court proceedings is only one side of the story. 'We really hope they won't forget what the NKF has achieved in the provision of dialysis and in helping kidney patients over the years.' Ms Ang confirmed that some donors are planning to cancel their contributions to NKF. The staff have also received abusive calls from angry donors.

Cries of anger and threats to cancel donations to NKF rang out in one Shenton Way office yesterday when the news broke of Mr Durai being paid $25,000 a month. Mrs D Sim, 50, an administrator, said: 'Everybody in my office wanted to stop their monthly Giro payments to NKF as we were so angry.'

We spoke to nine people and the general feeling was that the public's trust in NKF has been badly shaken. At least five were upset with Mr Durai's salary and how NKF spends its money. Property agent Ray Lee, 40, said: 'NKF is always educating the public that every single cent counts. But I didn't know how the money I donated was used. Now it has come to light.'

Despite feeling disgruntled over Mr Durai's 10-to-12-month bonus, Mr Lim M O, 50, a businessman, will continue his yearly donations of $50 as his late mother had kidney problems.

Mr Saravanan M Govindasamy, 35, a prisons officer, will wait for NKF's explanation before deciding his next move. He said: 'We can't penalise the needy, sick people out there who need our donations.'

On Day Three 3,800 members of the public withdrew their donations from the NKF, and an online petition demanding the resignation of TT Durai drew 30,000 signatures on the first day.

On Day Four, the beleaguered NKF CEO and his entire board resigned. Durai, true to his characteristic liberty with facts, told reporters he was stepping down after 30 years for new blood to take over. The surprise element was that Patron Mrs Goh Chok Tong also decided to step down, adding fodder to the rumour mill.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Skeletons in NKF Cupboard

On April 11 1997, in a casual conversation with Mr Alwyn Lim (then NKF volunteer and current Vice-President) at the former Marco Polo Hotel, Mr Archie Ong Liang Gay, a former volunteer of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and real estate consultant, commented that NKF "squandered monies" and that Mr T T Durai, its Chief Executive Officer, "jets here and there in first class".

Durai and five members of the NKF Executive Committee successfully sued Mr Ong for slander on the basis that his remarks could damage the credibility of NKF and Durai, its CEO since 1992.

Mr Ong, in a public apology published on 18 April 1998, had to withdraw his remarks which allegedly implied that:

1. The NKF, which is a charitable organisation supported by the public, has squandered monies received from members of the public intended for the purpose of the NKF; and

2. Mr Durai as CEO of the NKF, travels on NKF business in first class and thus squanders NKF monies.

As compensation, Mr Ong had to pay the legal costs of the two suits against him. In another case in December 1998 NKF also took legal action in Singapore courts against aero-modelling instructor Piragasam Singaravelu, who said he had seen Durai in the Singapore Airlines (SIA)first-class cabin. Mr Singaravelu had to pay $22,000 in damages and another $10,000 for the apology notices.

Flies First ClassOn Day One of NKF's defamation suit against Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), for an article by senior correspondent Susan Long published on April 19 2004, which stated that a $900 gold-plated tap had been installed and later replaced in the private bathroom of his penthouse office suite, on the 12th floor of the $21 million building, Mr Durai, under questioning by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, admitted he had flown first class on some airlines.

His explanation: The NKF board allowed this as long as he did not bust the Singapore Airlines business-class rate.

Mr Singh countered: "Isn't it your duty as a trustee of people's monies to make sure that you get best value on a business-class seat instead of deploying this clever tactic... using it for first class on another plane?"

Mr Durai replied: "This is a decision made by the board. I used the entitlement." The entitlement, he added, kicked in only in the past two years. Previously, when he flew first class, he had paid the difference out of his own pocket, he maintained.

Mr Singh noted that although he now flew first class, Mr Durai did not correct his chairman Richard Yong's assertion in the April 19 2004 article that "there is no such thing as first-class travel".

"The reason you hide the truth is because you know that that is the wrong thing to do, using people's money, and you know that is mismanagement of donations."

Mr Durai was asked if he should now "do the right thing" by the two individuals who had paid him damages and costs for saying what he had now admitted in court. He said no, sticking to his claim that at that time, he did not travel first class using NKF funds and when he did so, he paid the difference himself.

The NKF, which is entirely dependent on public funds, offers dialysis treatment to kidney patients. Two out of every three Singaporeans contribute to it.

Gasps could be heard in the courtroom when it was revealed that on top of his $25,000 a month salary, the NKF CEO also received 10 to 12 months in yearly bonuses. That makes his annual salary between $550,000 and $600,000, or $1.8 million in total over the past three years, 2002 to 2004, a period when thousands of Singaporeans lost their jobs due to the economic recession and disastrous job retructuring exercises.

Mr Singh told the court he had on previous occasions asked Mr Durai three times, twice in court, to disclose this closedly guarded secret of the National Kidney Foundation. Mr Durai argued that he was not required by law to tell the public what he earned, even though he conceded that they paid his salary. Also, he wanted to protect his personal privacy.

Mr Singh asked: "The man who earns $1,000 a month who donates $50... every month thinking that it is going to save lives, should they not know that that is the kind of money you earn?"

Replied Mr Durai: "I don't see the need for him to know." He denied Mr Singh's charge that he refused to disclose his salary as he knew he would lose moral authority with donors.

Singaporeans are familiar with the glitzy NKF Fund raising charity shows which feature television personalities in "death defying" acts like climbing on a ladder of swords. But NKF's bread and butter is the $3 to $5 monthly Giro donations from about one million ordinary Singaporeans. With such a big base of small heartland givers - its website says nearly two out of every three Singaporeans are donors - the pennies add up. Incredulity greeted news of its amazing $189 million in reserves when it was revealed during the 35th anniversary celebration on April 7, 2004.

Even when administering its dialysis and patient rehabilitation programmes, the NKF approach is not without controversy.

NKF demands that patients co-pay for dialysis, hold down jobs and stick to their diet - or pay more. Patients' fees, for example, are reduced by $50 to $100 as an incentive, if they find a job, get promoted, tie the knot, give birth, or even when their school-going children score A grades.

Each patient is admitted for life - or until they are lucky enough to get a kidney transplant. Chairman Mr Yong says patients themselves pay from nothing to $800 each month for three-times-a-week dialysis which would cost at least $3,000 each month outside.

As Mr Yong says: "We don't dialyse them to go home and sleep. We want them to have jobs, bring home the bacon, contribute to the economy, have normal relations with their spouses and their children to do well in school. We say openly to them: 'If you want to die, go and die by yourself; don't come to us'."

As a result, 93 per cent of NKF dialysis patients work, support their families and lead productive lives, compared to less than 60 per cent worldwide.

The general philosophy, at least for patients, is: No free rides.

On the second day of hearing, TT Durai withdrew his suit against SPH and ended the court case dramatically when more revelations put to challenge the transparency that NKF claims to maintain:
- Durai had 4 to 5 paid directorships (each paying up to $25,000 per annum) not disclosed to the board;
- Durai had undisclosed commercial dealings with an ex-NKF female employee and current board member whose company he invested in sold call centre services to NKF;
- Durai admitted NKF only had 2000 patients, not bothering to correct the 3000 figure used by NKF;
- Durai had 8 cars at his disposal, yet the road tax, repairs and maintenance of his private Mercedes 200 was charged to NKF.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Tony And The Slapping Incident

Tony Tan was party to the much talked about "slapping incident", publicly aired for the first time in Goh Chok Tong's 2003 National Day Speech, and documented on page 150 of Ross Worthington's book "Governance in Singapore", Publisher: Taylor & Francis, Inc, Dec 2002:

"A major issue that has shaped bureaucratic/ministerial relationships for much of the past 10 years is the place and power of Lee Hsien Loong within the ministry and his possible future. While Lee has many supporters, he has also alienated many because of what is seen as his arrogance and the autonomy he demonstrates in his relationship with other cabinet ministers; characteristics which, seven years after he joined the cabinet under Goh's sponsorship, he had not curbed. One significant example of this was consistently reported by several respondents.

In 1990, an incident occurred in a pre-cabinet meeting which was the beginning of entrenching further among the many in the core executive, resistance to Lee Hsien Loong's long term ambitions for prime ministership.

Prior to this meeting Lee Hsien Loong had gone to the office of Richard Hu, the Minister of Finance, and removed a number of files without Hu's permission. At that time Lee's office was on the 48th floor of what is now Temasek Tower and Hu's was on the 50th floor. At the pre-cabinet meeting Hu took Lee to task for doing this and was supported by Tony Tan.

Lee's response was aggressive and insulting, he directly insulted Tan and Hu, a man of his father's age. This was a double insult to Hu, who was Lee's superior in cabinet and a person of an age who should of itself deserve respect in Chinese society.

Suppiah Dhanabalan intervened and chastised Lee for his behaviour, demanding that he apologise to Hu, withdraw his remarks and not interfere in other minister's portfolios. A heated exchange occurred into which a number of other issues intruded and eventually Lee lost his temper, and reportedly reached across the table and slapped Dhanabalan across the face. This caused an uproar in the cabinet and Lee was severely chastised by Goh Chok Tong. Dhanabalan stormed out of the room and did not return for some time. Lee, in response to a demand from Goh, subsequently apologised to Dhanabalan, Hu and Tan.

Hu, Dhanabalan and Tan all initially stated that they would leave the cabinet as a result of this incident. Goh later took up the matter with Lee Kuan Yew who reportedly verbally thrashed his son over the matter. This was apparently followed by a more sober, educational but equally critical assessment from Lee Hsien Loong's mother, a talented though background political adviser. Lee Kuan Yew reportedly met later that day with Hu, Tan and Dhanabalan apologised for his son's behaviour and requested that they not resign, supported by a similar request from Goh Chok Tong.

All held out for some time, but eventually Hu agreed to stay, but Dhanabalan and Tan both resolved to leave. This they did the following August 1991 elections, all without a public word against Lee Hsien Loong, continuing to subscribe to the tenet of all secrets staying within the PAP family."

Tony Tan was Lee Kuan Yew's first choice to be his successor. After his resignation, he returned to banking to run the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation.

In 1992, Lee Hsien Loong was diagnosed with lymphoma, but was pronounced cured after two years of treatment. B.G. Lee told reporters that when he fell ill, it is claimed he advised Goh Chok Tong to bring in Tony Tan to strengthen the cabinet. On June 28, 1995 Goh announced that the PAP's 55-year-old chairman, Tony Tan, would become a Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister.

Office Of The President Of Singapore

With the coming end of S R Nathan's term in August, the race is supposed to be running hot for the next elected president. Fresh fodder for the rumour mill comes from the extension of the date for Tony Tan's stepping down from his DPM post. Tony Tan, 64, had planned to retire when Lee Hsien Loong became prime minister in August 2004, but he was asked to stay on till 30th June 2005 to complete his assignment in home security.

The following extracts from an extended interview with the late President Ong Teng Cheong (OTC) in Asiaweek dated March 10, 2000 provide rare insight about what the job entails:

How are the President's duties spelt out?

President Ong Teng CheongOTC: At the first opening of parliament after I was elected, I was given a speech prepared by the government. I read the speech carefully. Besides ceremonial functions, it said that I'm supposed to safeguard the reserves and to help society become more compassionate and gracious. So I decided that, well, if that is what is said in the speech, then that's going to be my job. And I am going to do it. That's what I tried to do. In fact, during the six years I was president, I was very busy.

What does an Elected President do?

OTC: Well, I got involved in a lot of things. The Istana presidential palace and other places had to be renovated. All this had to be planned and these places got ready one by one, so that ceremonial functions and other business could go on as usual. I had to press the government to finalize the procedures for the protection of the reserves. A lot of the teething problems and misunderstandings were because there was a lack of clearcut procedures ofwhat to do. Towards the end of my term, I pressed the prime minister for a White Paper to be tabled in parliament that would set out all the principles and procedures for the elected president. Then I will announce my decision to step down. I want to get the job done.
The thing is that the elected president is supposed to protect the reserves, but he was not told what these are until five years later. From the day the Constitution was amended in 1991 to provide for an elected president, he was supposed to fulfil that role. My predecessor, Wee Kim Wee, although he was not elected, was supposed to play that role during the last two years of his term. But he did not actively check. So, when I came in in 1993, I asked for all this information about the reserves. It took them three years to give it to me.

How much is a President told?

OTC: I do not know. Don't ask me, because I don't have the answer. I've been asking them. In fact, in 1996, exactly halfway through my term, I wrote prime minister Goh a letter. At that time, everybody was expecting a general election in December or January. After the election, a new government would be sworn in. When that happens, all the reserves, whether past or current, become past reserves and are locked up on the changeover date. As president, I have to safeguard them and they can only be drawn upon with my permission. So I said to Mr Goh: It's already halfway through my term, but until today I still don't know all these figures about the reserves.

Is the President kept informed of developments?

OTC: I wouldn't be able to say that. Even in my last year as president, I was still not being informed about some ministerial procedures. For example, in April last year, the government said it would allow the sale of the Post Office Savings Bank POSB to DBS Bank. In the past, when there was no elected president, they could just proceed with this kind of thing. But when there is an elected president you cannot, because the POSB is a statutory board whose reserves are to be protected by the president. You cannot just announce this without informing him. But I came to know of it from the newspaper. That is not quite right. Not only that, but they were even going to submit a bill to parliament for this sale and to dissolve the POSB without first informing me.