What if it was his own money?

August 17, 2010
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

In a pique of defiance, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr Vivian Balakrishnan told reporters that “if I knew that it was going to cost this amount ($400 million), would I still have proceeded to bid for the games? The answer is a definite ‘yes’.” In fact, the minister pointed out, he would “have budgeted a larger amount in the first place.”

Dr Balakrishnan’s remarks comes in the face of a slew of criticisms of his organisation of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) and the extravagant sum of money spent in staging it.

It was even reported that a private Gulfstream jet was chartered for a princely sum of $7 million just to transport the Olympic Torch.

In 2007, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) initially estimated the bid for the YOG to be about US$32 million (S$50 million). By the time Dr Balakrishnan was done convincing the IOC, the budget had more than doubled to US$76 million. Two years later, the expenditure exploded by nearly eight times the original amount to $390 million – and counting.

Certainly the minister was very generous with our money, betting on the fact that the expenses would be justified by the international publicity the event would generate for Singapore.

As it turns out, major news organisations have been every economical about carrying YOG news. BBC did report on the event but its focus was on the lack of interest, budget explosion and slow sponsorship uptake.

Hindsight is always perfect, it is said. In this case, however, there were distinct elements that one, let alone an entire multimillion-dollar cabinet, could have forseen.

First, the YOG is a competition of youths. While we want to encourage and nurture young sporting talent, getting the public to pay to watch the competitions is quite another matter. Talent is developed in schools and sports academies. By the time the students graduate and mature, they must be good enough to attract a paying public.

As it stands, the youths competing in the YOG are still learning their sports. Did our ministers not foresee that there would be limited public interest in watching these students compete against each other?

Jacques Rogge betting on his future with our money?

Second, the event is an experiment. The IOC said that its president, Mr Jacques Rogge “took a great risk to organise these Games and bet on its future. The world is going to look at it and see if it works or not.”

Let’s see, Mr Rogge took a bet of $400 million with Singaporeans’ money to see if the YOG works or not?

And Dr Balakrishnan went along with it?

Did the minister not do some market research of his own to see whether the YOG was a feasible project before plunging in and making the wild bid for the event?

This is the problem when a government is left holding billions of dollars of public funds with no  accountability.  

Businesspeople invest their own money and if they make a mistake they pay for it with their own money. The ministers, on the other hand, spend the people’s money and if the venture fails, they lose not a single cent from their own pockets.

It is only in such a system that Dr Balakrishnan can be so stridently arrogant despite the mounting criticism.

Question: If the minister was made to invest his funds, say just one cent of his own money for every public dollar that he spends, would he “have budgeted a larger amount in the first place?”