Lessons to be learnt from NKF saga?
There are a few lessons to be learnt from the NKF saga.
1) We cannot place total trust in anyone or anything in Singapore. Despite many years of suspicion and rumours about NKF, we were told repeatedly by the best and most respected people in the government and GLC's that they were not true and that we the man on the street was wrong. We were assured time and time again that there were systems of checks both by the government, private accounting bodies and NCSS to safeguard against such problems occuring. NKF was even lauded for having such stringent checks in place and taking the lead for other charities to follow. Today we read our Health Minister telling us that the "systems" were just structural but there was no action to support it. This is in contrast to what we have been hearing for upteen years.
2) With the best structual systems of checks in place, we still need good people with proper "moral compasses" to make it work. We hear that NKF had a moral compass shift when it became incorporated as a company. What about other areas of our society in Singapore. Would we look back 10 years from now and say our moral compass had shifted when we approved the Casinos or the politically correctly called "integrated resorts"? A spade is a spade. Or maybe the government's moral compass had shifted the day they decided that Ministers should be paid "market value" because "when you pay peanuts you get monkeys". I have always felt that with this change, we could never ever tell if our leaders in office were there truly to serve the nation or for the "market value" remuneration. Another downside of our leaders spouting such remuneration philosophies is that it sends a message to every Singaporean that they should be paid what they are worth and everything is about remuneration. No one wants to be called a monkey and stupid because he accepts a lower than "market" value remuneration. But that is the message. The scholars learn it, and thus they break their bonds to join ego boosting lucrative paying international companies rather than serve out their bonds and "serve" Singapore. Bearing in mind that most of our leaders are from similar cohorts of scholars, you can conclude that they all share the same philosophies. And then the leaders in office chide their own peers, the scholars for caring only about the dollar and not about repaying the nation. Ironic.
3) Who watches the watchmen? TT Durai got away with a lot of "mishandling" all the while playing within the rules. Who checked on him? He is perhaps unparalleled in Singapore as a fund raiser. Hence no one dared to check him for fear of jeopardizing the "essential" fund raising system. Are we going to continue to be too scared to check on the people in power because it may jeopardize the "system"? This is a question we must all find an answer to.
4) Is there transparency in Singapore? Perhaps there is apparent transparency only. If a supposedly transparent organization like NKF could "hide" legally and effectively their misdeeds, what then can we say about those openly declared "non-transparent" companies and organizations? TT Durai shot himself in the foot by choosing to disrupt the balance by suing SPH. If he had not done so, he would today still be leading NKF and building it into a bigger "Taj Mahal" for himself. We really should thank the man for turning himself in. What other non-transparent organizations should we be concerned with? How about the biggest? Temasek Holdings.
5) There is no such thing as a total democracy, total freedom and total trust. Which is why it is always good to have change. Have a rotation of the people in power. Change them regularly so you never have a situation where one individual becomes too "charismatic", influential and powerful. This should be applied to all levels of governance. After all isn't this what we do with the SAF? The SAF is a very powerful organisation which if controlled by a despot could cause great danger to the nation. We change the generals regularly so no one has too much power and can potentially stage a coup? The questions begs then, if it works for the SAF, why not for the other organisations?