Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Politics of soccer?

The Asean Football Champion Cup final at the Singapore National Stadium is now deadlocked over a controversial decision by the referee to award a penalty to Singapore. The replay showed that probably the Thai player did not do anything that warrant the penalty, but soccer players and officials should know that the referee's decision is final on the pitch. Yet the Thai officials and players are refusing to carry on with the game.

Oh boy, here comes another issue that the Thai Generals might nitpick. God help Singapore

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Charity under siege

Nowadays, it doesn't pay to do good. I mean it has never paid to do good any day. Rather, what I mean is that it should never pay to do good at all. Whenever the public finds out that the CEO of a charitable organisation is paid in excess of S$10,000, the alarm bells start to go off. While we must always be vigilant against excesses, it is also right that a person who works is deserving of his pay.

This is the dilemma that any person who runs a charity organisation or who is thinking of starting a charity organisation in Singapore needs to consider very consciousnessly and deliberately. Ever since the NKF saga, charities or Institutes of Public Character (IPC) are increasingly under siege - from the regulatory authorities, from the NCSS, from the donors and, ironically, from the volunteers themselves. Youth Challenge, an organisation that has channelled youths into charitable and meaningful activities for the last 30 years, has come under financial scrutiny due apparently to complaints received from its volunteers, whose behaviour and attitudes have been less than generous and charitable to start off with. The truth is now out, and its erstwhile CEO, Mr Vincent Lam, booted out together with it. (Well, yes, he resigned, but its the same as the boot, is it not?) This must be a sad day for Mr Lam, who spent 30 years building up YC only to be felled by it.

On the other hand, we have recently witnessed one of the largest charitable actions in the history of man. Mr Warren Buffet, the Oracle of Omaha, donated all of US$31 billion worth of his fortune, accumulated through his Berkshire Hathaway investment company, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That kind of money is good enough for me to retire a thousand times over. Mr Buffet is not even leaving that pile to his children, saying that he had already given them the means to make a living on their own, re-affirming the power and wisdom of that oft-quoted saying, 'give a man a fishing rod...".

Charities remain an important part of society. There will always be the poor, the downtrodden, the ones whose 'luck' has run out, who needs another chance, who are struck down by a malady that, without good medicine, medical and social care and concern, often means a painful existence that often and quickly slips into despair. Yes, we need concerned and generous people no matter if some among us are proven to be exploitative and wasteful - people who are not only good guardians of the resource entrusted to them, but who extend a helping hand when it is needed, whether that hand is a physical one or a monetary one.

More so, we need volunteers who are self-less and, more importantly, persistent in the work of charity. I recall, a few weeks ago, I received a call on my handphone from a lady who solicited help on behalf of a local charity. Unfortunately, I was in the midst of a meeting and asked that she call back half an hour later. She did call back much later, but by then I was already in another meeting. By then, I could guess what the call was about, but from the sincerity of the voice on the line, I apologised and again ask that she call back later. She did - for the third time - the next day while I was having lunch in a canteen that was so noisy I couldn't hear myself think, much less listen to the person on the other end of the line. So we agreed that she call in the evenings when I would definitely be free of any activities so that I could give her my undivided attention. She called, for the fourth time, and explained the case of her solicitation. For all her persistence and sincerity and the charity work that she was involved in, it didn't take long for me to decide to commit a modest sum of money towards her charity. I am relating this not to show what a generous and charitable person I am. I am sure there are many others who would contribute more than me. I relate this to illustrate how important it is for volunteers to be sincere and persistent in the work they do, even though rejection tends to be the rule rather than the exception in non-face-to-face solicitations. It is so easy for a respondent to just hang up, or say no. I can understand that people might have their suspicions about the genuineness of such calls but I suppose I took a leap of faith and left it to God to execute his judgement if needed. Ultimately, it looked above board as a person arranged to show up at my workplace to pick up my cheque. What I did not expect was that an official 3-ply receipt was issued to me (I didn't even asked for it in the first place) for my contribution. Ever since, I have not been contacted, but it is not for me to hanker for any praise or expressions of gratitude for carrying through with my commitment. It is enough for me to know that somewhere in Singapore, a handicapped person is able to move about more freely because I gave.

I trust that charity is not a seriously wounded animal in Singapore in spite of the bad press that IPCs have received in the last year (and into this as well).

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Meannie Friends?

Nowadays, my son refers to us, his parents, as meannies whenever we disallow him from doing something or having something. We, the parents, know better and any restrictions are for the child's good, so we believe. Thus being called mean doesn't really hurt us a bit. In fact, I detect a hint of affection whenever we are so labelled.

However, this doesn't seem to be the case in the recent spat, first between Singapore and Thailand, and most recently, between Singapore and Indonesia. Singapore has gone out of its way to court of its neighbours, preferring a prosper thy neighbour policy rather than the one-up-manship policies that the previous Malaysian government under Dr. M used to practice, with some degree of relish.

But alas! Even our best intentions and actions are sometimes not good enough. Singapore stands accused of spying on Thailand by no less than the General Boon-whatever-his-name-is (hope it doesn't rhyme with Baboon) who led a coup that toppled Thailand's previous premier, Dr Thaksin. As improbable as this may be, the Thai brass has already determined that this is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There was a time when we laid out the red carpet for each other, not only at the government level, but also on the business, educational and social levels. Catching a plane to Bangkok to shop has been every Singaporean's favourite past time. But then, it is probably the militarian's psyche that is at work here. Pretty soon, this psyche will also set the Thai economy back a couple of notches, if it has not already begun, that is. In retrospect, Temasek Holdings made a very ill-considered investment in gaining majority control of Shin Corp, an asset the Thai government considers strategic to its national interest. But what is done cannot be undone, unless Temasek divest its interests soon. But this is to kow-tow to the Thai military on a matter that Singapore considers a purely business transaction. So how? Wait for the wind to blow over, or the Thai military to stumble. Some are speculating that this is a diversenary tactic by the Thai brasses to cover up its incompetence at managing an economy going downhill. Whatever, it is Thailand that is in real trouble. As a friend, Singapore wishes them well.

Indonesia has suddenly woken up to environmental issues and is now banning all exports of sand to Singapore. Given that Indonesia consists of vast stretches of islands that span the seas between two major oceans with Singapore but a red dot, they cannot be serious that stopping the sales of sand to Singapore will make a significant difference in the environment? You'd laugh at this reason for their decision, especially when they haven't done any thing to stench the fires that destroy vast stretches of forests (over areas many times the size of Singapore) over the last few years. Just look at the map. Even if sand is dumped onto Singapore 10 times its size ten times over, it would not affect more than 0.01% of the land mass of Sumatra. It would seem that the Indonesia Minister and her minions who suddenly became environmentally conscious and dreamt up this restriction don't know their Geography at all. Again, Singapore must have stepped on sensitive toes when it complained about the haze originating from Indonesia to the UN recently.

What can we learn from all this? Singapore property is going to go on the up and up again. Obscene amounts of foreign money will now flow from Thailand to Singapore even as foreign sand from Indonesia stops coming. Singapore has turned an economic backwater into a vibrant economy which is the envy of many. It is now exporting water technology into lands where, ironically, desert sand is in abundance. Will Singapore invent sand now that it is in short supply? Well, if its history of the last 40 years is anything to go by, it probably will.

And Thailand and Indonesia will remain clueless...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The staunching of the dirt

Surprisingly, Mr TT Durai decided to throw in the towel of public scrutiny after just 1 and a half day's of the prosecutor laying out all the dirt that was dug up in 8 months of investigative work, including computer forensics. While much of the dirt wasn't all that new (well, dirt is never new anyway), some of it having been aired during TTD's suite against SPH back in 2005, the depth of it was, I suppose, just too much for TTD to bear. Actually, I think he is smarter this time around by cutting his losses and running. He probably figured that he has better things to do than to sit down in Court and have dirt thrown at him.

That leaves his cronies to defend themselves, which may be more interesting to most since much of what we are hearing is new to many, including myself. One lesson that has already come out of this is that sitting on the Board of any organisation is a very heavy responsibility. Just look at the sheer number of lawyers representing these various (former) board members (which reads like a Who's Who in Singapore) in Court who may or may not have been responsible for the mess at the old NKF.

The next time I get invited to take a board seat, I'd think twice, no, better make that thrice.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The dirt just comes pouring out

'Goodness gracious me', as an old and dear friend of mine used to exclaim when presented with an unusual situation.

This time, the NKF is yet again in the limelight, and possibly for the next 7 weeks, for that is the time set aside by the Singapore Courts to hear the civil suite filed by the new NKF against its former Board Members, led by its former CEO, Mr T.T. Durai, to recover S$12million big ones that was allegedly misappropriated. From newspapers reports of the account of this ongoing trial, a lot of dirt, and I mean a LOT of it, is being dumped out by the prosecutors from the erstwhile closed closets of the dependents.

Strangely, I feel glad that I have never contributed a cent to the NKF. Well, that's not strictly true. My wife and son contributed once, some S$50 of my money, for two reasons - to stand a chance to win the fabulous prizes that NKF was dangling, and I suppose, for the charity as well. I am not saying that my dearly beloved ones are less charitable, but they got caught up in the prizes thing that releasing money in the name of charity became that much easier - not to mention that those money belonged to me.

Well, if what the prosecutor has said so far regarding the profligacy of the old NKF CEO is true, about him using much of the contributions on expensive hotels and airplanes and polishing some people's asses, then I am glad that my contribution towards these is minimal. But I can imagine more charitable people now sharpening their knives, ready to plunge it into - themselves - for having been such fools. And I can imagine certain well-meaning artiste who risk their lives and limps staging those charity shows so that the money raised can contribute towards somebody's hugely obscene bonuses. And I thought that TTD's family was a bunch of angels...helping to shred incriminating documents...

Well, if day one is so shocking, we should be prepared to bring out our cardiac arrestor to make sure we survive the seven weeks. No point making the supreme sacrifice for such err...cronies and crooks. (say what? innocent till proven guilty?....)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Minority Oppression

The majority is often bullied by the minority. This sounds strange as anyone in a real democracy will tell you that that is not true. The majority decides, right? Well, no, not if you look at the coffeeshops in Singapore. Let me elaborate.

The law has stipulated that a part (20% to be exact) of any outdoor or non-aircon public eating places (such as local coffeeshops and outdoor spaces in Starbucks) must be demarcated as a smoking area. This means that a majority of spaces is for non-smokers. However, if reports are anything to go by, the majority non-smokers are complaining that smoke still gets in their eyes and noses, and in some cases, the law is broken by smokers blatantly smoking in non-smoking areas. Well, that's nothing new. There are people who find violating the law a particular challenge to be taken on head on.

The complaint, really, is that proprietors of these places of businesses are reluctant to help enforce the law because they are worried of losing the minority of their customers! That is strange logic indeed. I think there is a majority of customers who are against smoking at public places. Given a choice, would you be more concerned about the majority of your customers or the minority?

But of course, to a businessman, every single one of its customers matters. So they are reluctant to offend anyone. But if the majority non-smokers are complaining about the smoke still coming over to their side because of the ill-considered location of the smoking area, and the proprietor is not doing anything to resolve it, then I think the majority should just vote with its feet and not patronise that eating place. Wouldn't the businessman then have to go back to fundamentals and figure out that the majority actually contributes more to its profits than the minority? But of course, in Singapore, people rarely vote with their feet. They just do so with their mouth - all words and not action?

It is no wonder that some have a disdain for Singaporeans who complain incessantly and expect the authorities to do something about it. Well, we can't have NEA officers stationed at every eating place, otherwise our tax bill will just go up, which will be another cause for complaint.

The solution to this problem is actually very simple. And it must involve the people who are complaining. Just shut your mouth and go somewhere else that is more non-smoker friendly. After all, when the majority speaks, the business will take notice, right? Why should the minority oppress the majority?