If you think the running of NKF was bad, read this…

May 11, 2008
Singapore Democrats

This post is at least a year old. Some of the links in this post may no longer work correctly.

It is impossible not to notice the striking resemblance between how the NKF operated and how the PAP runs Singapore. It would take someone foolishly blind not to be concerned with how our financial reserves and CPF savings are dealt with. Here are the similarities.

The Government now tries to exonerate itself by playing the innocent and gullible party duped by greedy NKF officials.

Mind-boggling salaries

Mr Durai was paid $50,000 a month. He charged an average of almost $33,000 a month to his corporate credit card.

He was paid overtime and given backdated salary increments. His leave that was not taken were converted to cash.

And yet, Mrs Goh Chok Tong, in all her wisdom, brushed these aside and defended Mr Durai saying that his salary of $600,000 is “peanuts”.

Compare this to what her husband, Mr Goh, said when the prime minister wanted to pay himself $160,000 a month and the ministers $120,000 a month: “You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

Peanuts seem to be a rather popular plant in PAP circles.

Mr Durai had apparently forgotten that his job was to help people stricken with kidney disease, not to enrich himself.

If wanted to earn the kind of salaries that corporate managers earned he should join a business enterprise whose mission is to maxi-mize profit, not a charitable organization like the NKF whose mission is to provide medical assistance to those are unfortunate enough to need it.

Again, how is this different from the ministers who claim that without the high salaries, they would not have the incentive to serve in the cabinet?

The simple answer is: There will be others who are no less capable, and even more dedicated, willing to serve this country.

Like Mr Durai, the ministers cannot claim that they deserve to get the mind-boggling salaries because of the work they do, especially when their performances have been quest-ionable given the hardships that Singaporeans continue to have to face in today’s high cost Singapore.

Lack of transparency

Right up till Mr Durai’s ill-fated court-room appearance, few people knew about the shenanigans that were going on within the NKF.

Everything was shrouded in secrecy until the jaw-dropping revelations recorded in the KPMG audit.

How does this compare to the PAP? The Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) is a business entity set up, and chaired, by Mr Lee Kuan Yew to manage and invest our national reserves.

Incredibly, the GIC will not give an account of its investments (how and where our money is invested, and the profits/losses they record) to the people. Even Parliament is not privy to the information. The GIC operates in secrecy.

The HDB is no better. It continues to stonewall longstanding questions about the actual cost of building the flats and the profits it makes when it sells these flats to the people.

What about the CPF? Many Singaporeans are still concerned that the Fund is broke and that is the reason why the Government comes up with all these schemes to retain our CPF savings even when we retire.

Defamation suits

Singaporeans have known this for a long time but it needed the NKF scandal todrive home the point: The use, or rather abuse, of defamation laws in this country has led to a situation where wrong-doings cannot be exposed.

Two Singaporeans, Mr Archie Ong and Ms Tan Kiat Noi, had raised the alarm on the abuses of NKF’s funds, accusing NKF officials of paying themselves obscenely high salaries and bonuses, and flying first class on business trips.

Mr TT Durai promptly smacked them with lawsuits.

Unable to fight the huge sums of money involved in a defamation suit, Mr Ong and Ms Tan capitulated and settled the case out-of-court, both having to pay damages and costs amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. This happened in 1997 and 1998.

This had the effect of silencing all critics of NKF.

It wasn’t until 2005 that Mr T T Durai decided to sue the Straits Times for making similar accusations against the NKF.

The difference was that this time, the Straits Times had deeper pockets than the NKF and could contest the suit all the way.

The truth spilled out and we now know that NKF officials had not only flown first class and paid themselves bonuses of up to 14 months, (not to mention Mr Durai’s $600,000-salary) but had also installed gold-plated taps, bought a fleet of luxury cars, and took trips to Las Vegas!

In other words, Mr Ong and Ms Tan were right. The only thing they were guilty of was that they were not rich enough to fight Mr Durai in court.

Doesn’t this remind you of the PAP?

Its officials, starting from Mr Lee Kuan Yew on down, regularly sue their political opponents.

The cases of Mr J B Jeyaretnam, Mr Tang Liang Hong, and Dr Chee Soon Juan are just a few examples.

Authoritarian control

It is obvious now that the NKF was run in an autocratic manner. The KPMG report said: “Power was centred around one man, and was exercised in an ad-hoc manner through Mr Durai and his coterie of long-serving assistants.”

Is not power in Singapore centred around one party, if not one individual?

With the PAP monopolizing power and making sure that no one has the means to challenge that hold on power (by banning protests, introducing GRCs, suing political opponents, making legitimate democratic actions criminal offences, etc.) are we not witnessing the NKF but on a larger and national scale?

If there is a lesson that the NKF fiasco has taught us, it is that good governance cannot do without demo-cratic practices which include openness, transparency and account-ability.

The use of the media

It would have been impossible for the NKF to raise the kind of money they did if it weren’t for the use of MediaCorp to stage all the charity shows and using teary-eyed artistes to pull at the heart-strings of donors.

With the control of the media, the PAP Government has likewise been able to present good news to the people and take credit for them (justified or not), hide the bad news, and portray the opposition in the most undesirable light possible.

Again, without a free media to expose the excesses of the Govern-ment, Singaporeans will never know what is going on behind the scenes and officials like Mr Durai and the PAP will continue to use their “victorious” lawsuits as a measure of competence and absence of wrong-doing.