Written by Ng E-Jay
11 March 2009
Is there really no Singapore citizen who is fit to manage our own country’s reserves?
That was the impression Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew gave last week when he said at the Thomson Reuters Newsmaker Event that “there was nobody inside Temasek equal to the job” of CEO.
MM Lee was explaining the events leading up to Ho Ching’s resignation, from the Cabinet granting in-principle approval for her to step down last month, to the release of a Cabinet paper tabled by the Ministry of Finance laying out her reasons for retiring. MM Lee emphasized that his daughter-in-law’s resignation had nothing to do with Temasek’s poor investment performance last year.
MM Lee has since backtracked on his statement, which seems to imply that our country is so devoid of talent that we need to find a foreigner to manage our own reserves — wealth that our citizens built up over the decades with sheer hard work and diligence.
In a statement issued by his press secretary, MM Lee said that Temasek Holdings has “corrected” him, and that their succession options include both Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans, both inside and outside of Temasek.
I refuse to take this episode at face value, especially coming from a politician not exactly known for his graciousness in admitting his errors. MM Lee’s initial remarks clearly reveal that he had knowledge of Temasek’s internal succession planning and that no Singaporean within Temasek was up to the job of CEO in his honest opinion.
His backtracking is evidently made to ameliorate the backlash that would arise from inadvertently admitting that the PAP system has failed to produce talents capable to running the show.
Why is it that with our supposed first-world educational system and globalized population, we have failed to even produce one citizen capable of managing our country’s wealth?
Is this symptomatic of a larger problem our society faces, that a constant brain drain of our best and brightest towards fairer shores, as well as a dulling of the population through a rigid socio-political system has resulted in a talent deficiency within our borders?
If the PAP system has failed to produce talents amongst the local citizenry capable of taking over the helms of Government and managing the key pillars of our national infrastructure including our reserves, do they deserve to call themselves a first-world Government?
The level of opaqueness in Temasek Holding’s recruitment process and succession planning, as well as their lack of accountability to the people of Singapore regarding their risky foreign investments is unacceptable given that they have been vested by the Government to be stewards of our hard-earned savings accumulated over the decades.
Temasek’s website states categorically that it “is accountable to the Singapore Government, as its shareholder, for the overall performance of the group“.
But far from demanding accountability from Temasek Holdings, the ruling elite has defended all its actions and dismissed its staggering investment losses without ever putting its feet to the fire.
Had Temasek not pumped so many billions into failed US banks, the money, if reinvested locally, could have easily funded social assistance schemes for many years.
We can warily hope that Mr Charles Chip Goodyear will do a better job than Ho Ching, though without a proper system of checks and balances and accountability to the electorate, there is really no way of assessing his performance in a rigorous manner or assessing whether our nation’s wealth is truly in safe hands.
That should be something to think about, especially in this poor economic climate when the chips are down.