Learning from the NKF bullshit…


It’s been piercing hot past the 32 degree Celsius mark in Buffalo, NY for the past few days, making me feel quite uncomfortable even though I come from warm tropical Singapore. Likewise, prominent events have taken place back home which just like the weather, I’ve little control over.

My friend Nelson sighed, “Poor Zoe Tay… she had to do bone breaking stunts in NKF tele-thons for nothing… if you don’t pity the kidney patients, at least pity Zoe Tay.”

It’s hard to avoid a big bullshit on the information superhighway… like hitting a deer, it’s better to go full speed and hope the splatter goes over and behind you than to go slow and end up smashing your windscreen. Hitting the top of the technorati charts just yesterday, the “National Kidney Foundation” drama plays at a computer screen near you. Every other popular Singapore blogger has already addressed it, yet as a true blue red & white blooded Singapore, it is my duty to follow likewise, subserviently without any hint of subversion (ok, maybe a little) to talk about the public outcry at the “misappropriate management of funds” by the National Kidney Foundation (NKF).

There’s a lot of B.S. going on… which can be seen here from a wonderfully produced timeline of events. From the national newspaper first reporting the incident, to the newspaper (Singapore Press Holdings) being sued for defamation by NKF’s CEO T.T. Durai, to public outcry to NKF’s ridiculous use of funds, to finally the CEO’s defamation retraction and subsequent resignation.

Durai was a guy who was paid up to S$600,000 (US$350,000) annually and took first-class flights while working for the so-called charity organization. Furthermore, Davinder Singh, the lawyer acting for the Straits Times, alleged that the NKF was misleading the public since it claimed it was treating more patients than it had, while its reserves of S$220m were adequate to help kidney patients for decades, instead of three years as NKF claimed.

That’s not the bad news is it?
I’m sure we all know there’s much more to it. My personal opinion (which is share by a few I talked to) is that Durai was but a “fall guy”, a scapegoat of a bigger case of public fraud. If you look at the NKF board of members, you’ll see some political heavyweights in there… ’nuff said. In fact, I wanted to deeper in a second podcast to address NKF conspiracy theories, but after chatting with a few other Singapore bloggers online, the idea seemed unpopular (so what’s new… I’m not famous). Two cited reasons: It’ll fall on deaf ears. Also, given the ease in which defamatory suits are filed in Singapore, even though I am in the United States, it isn’t worth pursuing such matters altogether. As with the Acid Flask incident, anything can happen. As such, it ends here… sadly, because no one dares to say anything. Even listening to the Acid Flask Interview might have been viewed as dangerous to some (as seen in the little comments that article received).

On a lighter note, an awesome textbook example of public relations was executed by the CEO of another major Singapore organization (which is actually for profit). The CEO of NTUC Income, Mr. Tan Kin Lian, addressed the issue of how much he was getting paid in a timely yet candid fashion on his blog (yes, it’s cool that’s he’s really representin’ his corporate homies). Commenter Tony Hamil reminds us that NTUC Income is part of a Coop, benefit for coop member outweigh self benefit. Kudos to humble Mr. Tan, who definitely doesn’t disappoint…

I will give a hint. I earn less than 50% of CEOs of large listed companies that are reported regularly in the newspapers. I wish to state the following:
– I fly by economy class, including long distance travel
– I drive a 8 year old Mercedes E200 and will keep it for a few more years.

If only all CEOs were this open yet transparent for the benefit of their public.

9 thoughts on “Learning from the NKF bullshit…

  1. While in this particular case it does seem cogent to blame NKF for finagling statistics on patients treater and expecting treatment, it seems unfair to say that CEOs of charitable organisations should work for less than they are worth, if the charitable organisation is doing well, that is.

    While the work of a charitable organisation is always ongoing, and transparency in terms of payments is desirable, it is definitely unfair to expect of the CEO to be any more charitable than the general public. After all, hardly no one is going to give half their salary to charity, are they?

    I’ve sought to draw a comparison between high salaries for civil servants and those for CEOs of public trusts and charitable orgs on my blog.

  2. As replied on Onkar’s blog:

    Good balanced perspective (and good reason for writing this… 😉 )

    Having highly paid ministers who do their job well is, as you say, nothing we should raise our arms about. In the case of NKF, the charitable organization was clearly in the wrong when the money was not used as it should be. Facts and figures were wrong, including actual number of patients treated and how long the reserves would have lasted for NKF. I think it was wrong to continue urging the public to donate under such incorrect numbers. The truth was distorted to elicit more donations. A highly paid CEO only makes known where the money was going instead. The sick thing about this is how it feels like they were exploiting kidney patients.

  3. hey kelvin, been reading your blog for awhile now. have a look at what i’ve written about the durai affair here

  4. Sleepless in Malaysia: You’re right! As of July 2005, NKF had S$262 million in reserves. Bah, what’s a few million more right? 😛

    PigPog: Thanks… interesting perspective as reflected on your blog. Here was my reply as posted:

    One thing about Singapore is that the local government has a foot in every large corporation. It seems as though the real privatized industry merely exists as SMEs (Small Medium sized Enterprises). With such overarching control over the local economy, there is a higher chance where their position could lead to abuse. Granted Durai was never convicted of anything and the only court case was that of defamation (or counter-defamation). After all, if Durai were to be convicted of anything (e.g. public fraud), it would start to raise all hell within all the existing larger govt-controlled corporations where we know little of what they actually do with money they make.

    This is just my two-cents… part of being a Singaporean seems to be that one has to accept and not disrupt the existing structure of things in Singapore. I believe Singaporeans don’t know, and don’t want to know because they only know they can’t do anything about it.

    Finally, there are no real losers… people have a choice to either stay and see if they can improve the system, or leave the country and go elsewhere where they can have more say.

  5. Ermm, ok BaitX, whatever you say (unfortunately BaitX is a friend of mine and so membership has it’s privilages, including posting crap) 😀

  6. Don’t U think this thing smell fishy??? For those who serve N.S. have they tried indenting something from Mindef. They’ve to put up with helluva paperwork and redtape. On top of $600000p.a. salary and perks it amazing that NKF people can claim reimbursements for spending that are hardly peanuts. Amazing!!! Every one must be thinking the same way. How they pull it off and blatantly doing for so many years is really fishy. Sad this commie or comic isle suppress even the smallest fart

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