Wednesday, July 13, 2005

NKF Saga: A Watershed In Local Court Case Reporting!

他中计了! (Please don't sue me, my personal unreliable opinion only.) NKF CEO finds himself A Few Good Mened after he's forced to reveal his salary ($25,000 a month + 12 months bonus = $600,000 a year) during cross examination in the latest interesting defamation case of the National Kidney Foundation against the Straits Times' owners. The NKF "is taking issue with a Straits Times article by senior correspondent Susan Long published on April 19 last year, which stated that a gold-plated tap had been installed and later replaced in the private bathroom in Mr Durai's office suite." So yeah, Mr Durai has forgotten that his opponent is a media empire, they naturally control how the news is reported. Secondly, he has enough skeletons in his own closet to warrant letting the matter rest. But no, he has successfully sued two people who said he traveled on first class in 1998, and won the court cases. And he wants to continue this winning streak by suing the newspaper. Now, as things stand, maybe Durai's last resort defense is going to be this: if we don't pay good people well, there'd be corruption! If this really happens, it'd be too funny, for it's MM Lee's lawyer Davinder Singh who is going to counter this argument LOL Anyway, another interesting thing is the way this news story is reported. Obviously, since the newspaper is the defendant in the case brought on by the NKF, they decide to be as objective as possible, including printing almost an entire page of verbatim court statements. Isn't this just wonderful? Let's hope that other defamation suits can result in similar treatments in the future, especially the more 'interesting ones'...;) So the next thing people are going to wonder is how come the Board (according to Durai) approved of him travelling in First class when he's only supposed to travel Business. (His explanation was that he used the same monies for SIA Business to exchange for First class in other airlines.) A quick check reveals that Mrs Goh CT is the patron of NKF (she walked out halfway through the proceedings), and also Prof. Chia, my favourite ACS principal! I don't think they were so unaware of these sorts of ethical slippery slopes to allow for such things to happen. Maybe there's yet more to come. Now lets hope that with more disclosures and increased transparency, the money would go to the folks who need it more... More from tomorrow.sg . Update (!): The NKF has dropped the untenable suit at the end of day two... Update (!!): In day two of the trial, more was revealed, including the underestimation of its reserves to last for 3 years (instead of 30-40 years), the overestimation of the number of patients it's helping by about...uh... 50% (if I'm interpreting it correctly), revelations of conflicts of interest with another member of the Board, and the access to a personal Benz for him and his wife (not really of material importance but good cannon fodder for Singh nonetheless!) Ms Goh Chok Tong (wife of ex Prime Minister and current Senior Minister) has been photographed together with Durai at the end of the trial. I'm still trying to understand what the pictures editor was thinking when he or she chose this particular justaposition of the two persons... (Click on the picture to see bigger version.)
"She [Mrs. Goh] said it did not make sense to her to attack an organisation which helped the sick. All the NKF had wanted from The Straits Times was a retraction, she said, but the case had been extended to question NKF's transparency and 'expensive things'. 'Why make a fuss out of it?' she asked. She said she would continue as patron, and added: 'I have complete trust in the NKF and Mr Durai.' Asked if Mr Durai's annual salary and bonuses were 'excessive', she replied: 'For a person who runs a million-dollar charitable organisation, $600,000 is peanuts as it has a few hundred millions in reserves.'
I think even if that was what she really felt, this is turning very quickly into profoundly disastrous PR, and not just for Durai. I wonder what the real story behind all this is... Anyway, I can't believe I'm linking to such a vulgarious blog, but Rockson's analysis is simply brilliant (adult material). (I really like the airline seats part.) Update (!!!): The entire Board, the CEO and the Patron has stepped down. I wrote in the forums yesterday that I'd have prefered the CEO to hang around a little longer.
I don't agree that Durai should resign at this point in time. He ought to remain as CEO for as long as it's beneficial for the national consciousness to debate the issues that has surfaced: transparency, high pay, peanuts, ivory tower viewpoints, entitlements etc. This does not just pertain to this particular charity organisation, but should also touch on the rest of the national governing machinery. (I'm sure expensive things are not only found in NKF office.) If Durai is gone, we'd quickly forget about the rest of the related issues... I think the only way to salvage 'image' is to have the organisation say something like "we regret this...Durai was wrong...we need to reexamine our policies", but so far, nothing of that sort has come out. This suggests to me that the folks with the organisation still sincerely believe that there's nothing wrong with what there're doing so far. The ends justifies the means. There are strong arguments to justify this point, depending on what worldview one subscribes to. The NKF managament will continue to think this way unless there are clear indications of 'spoilt votes' in the upcoming shows. If Durai goes, people would say "ok lah, he's gone, but the patients still need our help, this is the time to continue supporting the NKF, so I'm going to call the number, maybe can win a car also."... I don't think Singaporeans would stop giving if NKF can't salvage its image; there are alternative places to contribute. I just think this is an excellent opportunity to open up the debate. The idea of winning the car as a final end to me is as, or more, insidious to the national fabric and cohesiveness than theatrics concerning gold taps, all things considered...
Luckily, I don't think Singaporeans are letting the matter rest so soon. I dare say some sort of psychological barrier has been broken both in the population as well as the folks in the Straits Times. Thursday's forum page dealth entirely with the saga, most expressing 'strong views'. The first forum letter with the title "Flabbergasted, appalled, disgusted by revelations" ended with the challenge "Am I going to be sued now, NKF, for speaking my mind?" For the first time ever, forum letters seem to have become adversarial, passionate, honest! Would staffers take this opportunity to break free from political correctness and ride on their new found freedom from the past few days? In Friday's Forum, Mrs "Peanuts, No Fuss" Goh was not spared as well. I think Mrs Goh was sincere in what she believed in, because that's the worldview she subscribes to. Also, the CEO and Board have not stated they did anything wrong (because so far, everything is legal). Anyway, I'd hope that in this drive for transparency in charities, other things should also be made more transparent. As someone used to say, 'where's the money?' I think it's all part of the importance of disclosure when public monies are involved. Where's the money, how much do you have, how are you going to spend it? Anyway, what saga is without a movie tie-in? Watch it now!! (via mrbrown, please don't sue, similarity to similar persons is entirely coincidental ) Update (!V): More reactions from the local blogsphere; Mr Wang (court room proceedings tutorial, auditing charities and more from the Act, bits and pieces), HuiChieh (links this saga back to the Xiaxue Doctrine, Technorati victory of NKF over the evil Karl Rove, links and a reproduction of the news article that started it all.), CEO Tan of NTUC Income talks about transparency and reveals how much he earns. And almost 7000 blog entries on this story.

17 comments:

ANDY said...

"if we don't pay good people well, there'd be corruption!"

Boy that will really be too funny lol.
But doubt Mr Durai have the guts to do that ;p

elyrie said...

As a fundraiser working in a nonprofit, I would like to challenge the assumption that nonprofit workers must be paid peanuts. To attract the best, you have to pay. Nonprofits without good staff members are routinely mismanaged and under-utilized. To say that job satisfaction is enough to compensate for low wages is naive and insulting.

Nonprofits in the States are currently being run more and more like corporations, with people being poached from the business world. This is a move to maximize the potential of the nonprofit.

Sure I agree that gold-plated toilet fixings are excessive, but I'll take umbrage at the suggestion that nonprofit workers should be suspect just because they have a high salary.

jeffyen said...

hehe elyrie, the context of what I wrote refers to a Singaporean inside joke in which Lee Kuan Yew claims that one of the most useful ways to combat graft is to raise ministers' salaries to a very large sum. You can read more about what I argue here. Funny thing is that Mr Lee sometimes hires Senior Counsel Davinder Singh in his own defamation suits against others, so this time round, Singh would have an awkward time arguing against this if indeed Durai brings it up. But like andy says, he won't have the guts LOL

But you also raise an important counter argument, the notion that money does attract good people, and there's really nothing wrong in that, per se. I agree with this.

However, in this present court case, it's not really his pay that's under scrutiny. It's false information, intent to deceive justified by a higher call, cooking the books and all the rest of it. The other problem is one of arrogance. Durai is sueing the newspaper for something that's actually not defamatory but actually quite true. I suggested that it's due to his previous court victories that he decided to do this and his belief that he would win easily...

andy said...

I agree withh jeff. The point is that NKF haven't been truthful the public.

I actually don't mind the high salary if he is open about, but the way he goes about hiding it makes people lose trust in NKF. However I do feel 12 months bonus for both 2003 and 2004 is excessive.

wandie said...

From the photo, it seems that Mrs Goh also likes gold plating. Or maybe it's just my monitor calibration gone awry...

elyrie said...

It seems to me though, that Singaporeans are more concerned about the $600,000 than the actual facts - like the lack of transparency and cooking of numbers - behind the case.

I do know about your inside joke...heh. And this case does raise eerie parallels. Should we expect ministers to live in HDB flats and commute by bus to work, just so they can better experience the lives of the ordinary Singaporeans they are supposedly working for? Just like we expect nonprofit executives to earn peanuts? I mean, both of these organizations are funded by public money.

Andy said...

To elyrie,

You are correct in the observation that a big portion of S'poreans are more concern about the $600,000 then the other aspects of the case.

Perhaps this is because large majority of the S'poreans earn less than $7500/month and S'pore economy had been in a soft patch for a long time.

However I am personally more concern about the lack of transparency, cooking of numbers and baseless defamation suits launched by Mr Durai.

jeffyen said...

I don't think people at top management should receive peanuts/low pay. I don't think anybody would reasonably object to a reasonable salary for a CEO, Minister etc.

But if I don't want them to receive peanuts, what is the equivalent of 'non-peanuts' that I think he should get? Ah... I think this is where the trouble lies.

As it stands, this 'non-peanuts' actually represents a sum of money way, way above and beyond what most people even dream the CEO's income actually is/should be.

While in most people's minds, perhaps this 'non-peanuts' should be a reasonably high amount of salary.

I think this dramatic discrepancy between these two sets of expectations is what's fueling the lynch mob (plus of course, with the style of ST's reporting. TODAY's reporting is almost robotic, non-emotional LOL)

As for the rest of the 'cooking of books/PR releases', people just can't believe that in the context of a social entrepreneurship project funded by donations, with the implicit trust and carte blanche (well, almost) that the donor grants the organisation to do whatever is necessary to help the patients, that this trust would be so dramatically breached (helped by Davinder and the newspaper) right before our very eyes.

Nice catch, wandie. Mrs Goh's jacket, pants, and handbag are all of the same colour: Kodak Gold. Now, who's going to get a golden handshake? Maybe Durai knows now that silence is golden... :)

Cloudywind said...

殺人放火金腰帶,鋪橋補路無屍骸…

wandie said...

Has there been a falling out between the Gohs ans the Lees to warrant such 'sensational' reporting in the ST

/end tinfoil hat

jeffyen said...

hehe Wandie, I've been entertaining that line of thought in my head also. It is certainly a conspiracy theory and I'm thinking of it like this...

One thing that is so out of place is: obviously there is a possibility that Durai is not so ignorant as to mount this untenable case against the newspaper. Was he somehow 'forced to do it'? Was there a possibility that big brother knows something already, and needs to think up of a grand plan to achieve three things: to project and reinforce the idea that large orgs, charity or public, must be 'clean', two, to shore up ST's reputation as a fair media entity doing a public service (为民除害), and three, to draw the battle lines between possible 'factions'? :)

Remember that there's only one thing that the establishment is wary of, the reputation of graft and breach of trust. If there is indeed some dirt in the largest local charity org, it needs to be exposed, but how? We now know that Davinder has access to information not accessible by the public....hmm...

Then again, this theory of mine is too far fetched in some areas to be realistic. Still, there is certainly something the papers have against Mrs Goh (the editor normally won't allow this sort of statements to be published)... what is the real story here? hehe

justice4nkfdonors said...

What is the real story?

ST was surprisingly cheeky in depicting Mrs Goh (BTW what is her real name anyway) as the Evil Patron.

ST must have some axe to grind with Goh Chok Tong or his wife because of some unknown incident in the past. ST is certainly playing its own secret game.

jeffyen said...

Maybe, justice, maybe not. The conspiracy theory I've described is quite untenable by most standards. And I've always thought that her name is similar to her husband's due to sheer coincidence!

Anyway, Watertapgate has just resulted in the stepping down of CEO Durai, the entire Board, and Mrs. Goh who's the patron. Obviously, the theory will suddenly come alive if a certain someone's wife takes over her position when the new team has been assembled! OK, enough of ridiculous theories. :)

Auditor said...

Looks like it will take some time for Singaporeans to part their money from their tight death grip hands after watching the NKF FIREWORKS !!!

Pretty sad to think that ppl confuse personal calling to secular vocation

should we call religious leaders to take over..

justice4nkfdonors said...

Although Durai has stepped down, he is giving the impression that is the government which forced him to do so.

There is no remorse, only a smug relief that he has money from his NKF job stashed away safely. I am still waiting for a public apology and explanation from him. The saga is not over. I don't want to move on yet.

But what about his other business he has his fingers in which still deals with NKF? Is Durai totally out of the con?

Heavenly Sword said...

He has enough money to retire comfortably...The only thing he suffers now is a not-so-good reputation...

jeffyen said...

I think reputation is probably peanuts compared to very high pay. :)