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Baby Asha, Mr Xiao Gang & Singapore Inc governance

By Law Kim Hwee

Since 1984 when I started work for MNCs, I always stood proud of my Singapore background with colleagues the world over at meetings, seminars and discussions. I remain proud to be a Singaporean. Proud of the Singapore Inc heritage that our fathers and mothers have bequeathed to us. But two events in recent days put that pride a full notch or two lower, much lower.

Baby Asha

With the tragic death of Benjamin Lim still very fresh in my mind, the report that “Doctors at a Brisbane hospital have refused to release a one-year-old girl, badly burnt on Nauru, until a “suitable home environment is identified” hit a raw nerve.

Over in First World Australia with 2015 GDP per capita slightly lower than Singapore’s, doctors stood up firmly on the side of their professional responsibilities and rightly told the police that they had no business to take over a baby, one who is not even an Aussie citizen but the child of refugees.

In a statement on Friday, a hospital spokesman said the baby would not be discharged until a “suitable home environment is identified, as is the case with every child who presents at hospital”.

“All decisions relating to a patient’s treatment and discharge are made by qualified clinical staff, based on a thorough assessment of the individual patient’s clinical condition and circumstances, and with the goal of delivering the best outcome,” the statement read.

Contrast Brisbane’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital doctors’ actions with that of the principal, discipline master and counsellor of Northview Secondary School, who released 14-year-old Benjamin to, not one, but five policemen who came a-calling at the school. Those education professionals didn’t even think to inform Benjamin’s parents. And the police, according to their protocol, used Benjamin’s own phone to make a call to his mother. Even then that conversation was cut short by the policeman overseeing the situation.

Are our educators to whom we entrust our children’s lives to at their school premises not aware of their responsibilities? Or have they all been operating in the system for so long that theirs is a mindset washed to unquestioningly obey our men in blue, never mind if it’s within your school compound that the police are guests a-visiting? Or are they more concerned that their career paths and trajectories are not negatively impacted for standing up for what is right by Benjamin, by us parents, by our children?

Regardless the true reason, it’s scary that we accept such a state of affair. To those who trust and obey the System, don’t say it won’t happen to you and yours just because it hasn’t happened yet.

Mr Xiao Gang

Mr Xiao Gang was the Chairman of China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC). He was promoted to the post in March 2013. But on 20 Feb 2016, he was sacked. His sacking came after the recent “new ‘circuit-breaker’ mechanism, designed to limit any market sell-off, was deployed twice in January in response to the stock market fall, but then was scrapped altogether after it caused even more panic. “

Interestingly, in Jun 2015, when the “Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges lost as much as 40% of their value”, he still held onto his job. But the Shanghai Composite losing just 19% YTD proved to be fatal for Xiao.

CNN reported that Xiao’s departure came after him offering a surprisingly frank assessment of China’s boom-and-bust equity market.

“The volatility shows an incomplete trading system, an imperfect market system and an unadapted regulatory system….It also exposes loopholes, maladjustments and ineffectiveness of supervision from the CSRC.” - Xiao Gang

So, was Xiao sacked because someone has to take the fall for the ‘circuit-breaker’ failure or he was too frank about CSRC’s deficiencies for his own good? Or both?

In my view, not that it really matters. What matters is that, here in Third World China, is a case of accountability if not transparency.

But Singapore?

Where is the accountability for the more severe losses in some of Temasek's choices all these years? Often, none of such losses was reported, let alone discussed in parliament or accounted for. To date, the only top manager whose head got chopped off was that of Chip Goodyear. But then Chip hadn’t even sat in the CEO chair for six months and ten days to have been responsible for any bad investment decisions.

Perhaps, there has been a precedent set. When Mas Selamat, a most-wanted terrorist escaped from max-security jail, the minister-in-charge continued in his job like nothing terrible happened. As for PM Lee, he with his pink shirt persona, could not bring himself to admit that the buck has to stop somewhere within his cabinet. He merely blurted, ‘It’s happened. Let’s move on.’ For the record the last time any cabinet minister stepped down or, more likely, sacked was more than 32 years ago when Mr Lim Chee Onn was unceremoniously dumped by LKY as NTUC Sec-Gen.

Mr Lim had the integrity in him to resign as Minister Without Portfolio thereafter.

Since then, no minister, no civil honcho, no chief in any GLCs or Temasek Holdings has to worry that something like Xiao Gang’s sack will ever happen to them. Non-accountability for top managers is now part of Singapore governance culture. So, Benjamin Lim lost his life, but Northview Sec School principal, staff or AMK Policemen will not lose their jobs. They and Singaporeans just ‘move on’.

Comparing non-GDP per capital areas, whether with another First or Third World country, Singapore has much to learn. Or, indeed, unlearn.

I longer hold my head as high as I once did in the presence of foreigners.

The author blogs at secondsight.blogspot.com