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Uniquely Singapore

Uniquely Singapore

Public Accountability

Leong Sze Hian

In all the Parliamentary Debates, Singaporeans have never been told what the amount of our reserves is, by way of the Government Investment Corporation (GIC) and Temasek's assets.

In the ChannelNewsAsia report,

“Young NTUC members ask wide range of questions at forum” (15 March 2008), it states that :

“The audience also got the answer to perhaps one of the biggest money question of them all.

Mrs Lim (Hwee Hua, Minister of State for Finance) said: "You asked how much reserves we have. I'm sorry – I am not able to give you that answer. There are many, many people who are interested in how much we have. It has nothing to do with not wanting Singaporeans to know. It's only if we go public with you, a lot of other people will know."

What harm can there be to disclose this information to Singaporeans? Wouldn't it cause greater harm to Singapore's reputation and standing by not disclosing?

Perhaps one possible reason I can think of may be that if we know the total assets, then it may have to continue to be disclosed every year. Then, we may be able to track the ups and downs of our investments and assets.

Are Budget surpluses and CPF added to the funds of GIC or Temasek? This is perhaps reminiscent of our late President Ong teng Cheong's remarks, that when he asked for a listing of the nation's assets, he was told it would take 54 man-years.

The Bloomberg News report (Mar 21),“Temasek Says It's Not Affected by Paulson Pact on Wealth Funds”, states that “An agreement by government-run funds of Abu Dhabi and Singapore to increase transparency won't shed more light on Temasek Holdings Pte's $118 billion portfolio, because the company said it already meets disclosure guidelines.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said recently that funds, including the Government of Singapore Investment Corp, agreed to adopt rules for greater disclosure. Temasek, owned by Singapore's finance ministry, said it already provides more information than government-run funds.

Temasek is not a sovereign wealth fund,'' spokesman Mark Lee said by telephone today…. Temasek has to sell assets to raise cash for new investments and doesn't require the government to give approvals.''

Temasek discloses a lot more than GIC and always has a strong sense of corporate governance,'' Lee said. Paulson's statement will not have any impact,'' he said.

The company seeks approval from a board consisting of independent directors and a representative from the Ministry of Finance, its only shareholder, Lee said.

Temasek in 2006 headed an investor group that bought almost all of the stock in a Thai telecommunications company from the family of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, triggering a chain of events that led to the Thai premier's ouster in a coup.

The company also faces opposition in neighboring Indonesia, where the antitrust regulator has accused it of using stakes in the nation's two biggest mobile-phone companies to fix prices.

Temasek is ultimately controlled by the government and it is not a private organization,'' said Cohen of Action Economics. Temasek has many similarities to GIC.'' (Bloomberg)

So, “Temasek is not a sovereign wealth fund”? A sovereign wealth fund is accountable to the citizens of it's country – is it or isn't it?

Why is it that there is so much information in Singapore that is secret?

I attended the Human Rights and Trade programme conducted by UNSW in March/April 2008, and stumbled upon another secret.

Secret settlement - If all money recovered, why so secret?

I refer to the editorial "Singapore's great civil servants" (BT, Dec 12), the articles “UNSW agrees to repay $32.3m” (ST, Dec 12), "Australian varsity agrees to settlement" (BT, Dec 12), and media reports about the settlement.

The EDB would not reveal the total amount or the repayment period. An EDB spokesman said, “We are bound by the terms of the agreement which are confidential”.

As it involves about $32 million of loans and grants, which are taxpayers’ money, shouldn’t there be more disclosure and transparency, since the question had been raised in Parliament ?

Since it has been reported that the media “understands that UNSW has agreed to repay the full $32.3 million worth of grants and loans”, why does EDB still maintain that “the terms of the agreement are confidential” ?

Isn’t EDB contradicting itself by saying that it would not reveal the total amount or the repayment period, but yet the media “understands that UNSW has agreed to repay the full $32.3 million worth of grants and loans” ?

As UNSW officials also declined to comment, how did the media obtain its understanding that UNSW has agreed to repay the full $32.3 million ?

What about the $30 million to remove steel and concrete pilings already driven into the university campus site, which earlier media reports had said that the university would have to pay ?

In line with the Government Investment Corporation’s (GIC) statement on 10 December, 2008, in conjunction with its $14 billion stake in UBS, that going forward, it would set an example for others to follow, in providing more disclosure and transparency, government agencies should also do the same.

Are not government agencies accountable to Parliament and Singaporeans, instead of saying that the terms of any agreements are confidential ?

Surely, the least that Singaporeans can expect of our world class civil service, is to be told how many cents out of every dollar in total, will be recovered, and how long it will take!

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