NFK saga symptom of bigger problem in S’pore

The matters surrounding the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) make for sorry reading. But as ghastly as the revelations have been, the saga is only symptomatic of what ails our system, which is the lack of transparency and accountability.

Can anyone say that he/she is truly surprised at what has been revealed about the pay and perks of NKF? Didn’t our Ministers set the tone for Singapore – that we should pay top dollar for top talent even though “top talent” is open to wide interpretation, and that the idea (and ideal) of public service and sacrifice is no longer worthy of consideration in this country?

Why should our executives not demand out-of-this-world salaries when our Ministers do? Is it any wonder then that the authorities are not speaking out on the matter? How can they without looking like unmitigated hypocrites?

If Singaporeans want to get to the root of the problem, then they cannot but look at the way the Government handles itself. Not only is the pay that our Ministers pay themselves an outrage, there is no accountability as to why they are paid more than the president of the United States when our economy has just come through two recessions in five years and presently hovers on the brink of a third. Working Singaporeans continue to see their pay packets shrink and bankruptcies rise. The result? It affects the Ministers’ obscenely lavish salaries not one iota.

Singaporeans knew very little, until recently, about the problems of the NKF. But this is nothing compared to the darkness that shrouds the Government’s handling of our financial reserves. Most people continued to have trust in the NKF and donated generously to the charity whenever called. Now they’re up in arms. Will our lack of holding the Government accountable for the use of our reserves also result in a similar problem? The difference here is that in the latter case, our futures and lives are at stake.

The lesson from this episode is clear: transparency and the ability to verify what those in charge tell us is absolutely essential. They are the tenets of democracy and good governance. As indignant as Singaporeans are with NKF, they should target their concerns at the real problem – the Government. The question is: will Singaporeans realize this or have the courage to act before it is too late?

Chee Soon Juan

14 July 2005