Last Friday (13 Sep), India’s mainstream media, Times of India, reported that the Indian state government of Odisha has appointed the “well-known development strategist and financial expert”, Mr Sopnendu Mohanty, as the state’s advisor of digital and financial technology. He will enjoy the rank and status of an Indian minister of state, said the news report.
His job as the Odisha’s state advisor includes giving suggestions to the various ministers in the state as well as working in co-ordination with the chief minister’s office. It is said he would have a key role in preparation of annual budgets for the state.
Mr Mohanty himself came from Odisha. Coincidentally, he is currently also working as the Chief Fintech Officer of Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
MAS set up a new FinTech & Innovation Group (FTIG) and appointed Mohanty as its Chief Fintech Officer to head FTIG back in 2015. FTIG was setup to be responsible for regulatory policies and development strategies to facilitate the use of technology and innovation to better manage risks, enhance efficiency, and strengthen competitiveness in the financial sector. Part of his responsibilities is to ensure safety and security in the use of FinTech in Singapore.
Prior to him joining MAS, Mohanty was working in Citibank as its Global Head of Consumer Innovation Lab Networks & Programmes. As the Chief Fintech Officer, Mohanty reports directly to the Deputy Managing Director (Monetary Policy & Investment/Development & International) at MAS.
Netizen questions MAS’ agreement to Mohanty’s appointment in Odisha state government
Upon receiving the news of Mohanty’s appointment as advisor to the state government of Odisha, a netizen by the name of Jeremy Cho immediately raised the alarm of potential conflict of interests with Mohanty wearing two hats, one in Singapore government and the other in an Indian state government.
Jeremy sent an email to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, DPM Heng Swee Keat, former Minister Lim Hng Kiang, Minister Shanmugam as well as other alternative media platforms, asking why Mohanty could go work in India and still get to keep his job in MAS. He also forwarded an article with regard to Mohanty’s appointment in Odisha in his email.
Mohanty was born in India. It’s unclear if he is presently a new citizen of Singapore or remains as an Indian national.
Interestingly, MAS replied Jeremy on Tuesday (17 Sep). He also forwarded a copy of the reply to TOC. Ms Sherry Theng from MAS’ Corporate Communications Division replied on behalf of the Singapore government.
Ms Theng’s reply indirectly confirmed that Mohanty has indeed been appointed as advisor to the Indian state government of Odisha. She said, “The article referred to in your email incorrectly describes the nature of Mr Sopnendu Mohanty’s engagement with the Odisha Government in India. He is not appointed as a Minister of State and is not part of the Odisha Government.”
Ms Theng further defended Mohanty’s appointment saying that he agreed to be state advisor to Odisha Government in “his personal capacity”. He also won’t “draw any compensation” and there is no conflict of interests.
She said, “Mr Mohanty was approached by the Odisha Government to advise them on enhancing financial inclusion through the use of FinTech and digital technologies. He does so in his personal capacity and will not draw any compensation. It does not conflict with his role as the Chief FinTech Officer in the Monetary Authority of Singapore.”
“As Chief FinTech Officer in MAS, Mr Mohanty’s mandate is to help develop the FinTech sector in Singapore and help create new jobs in this space. He has played a key role in establishing Singapore as a leading global FinTech hub,” she added.
Mohanty enjoys rank and status of a minister of state in India
In his counter argument, Jeremy replied and copied to TOC, saying that it’s disappointing to see MAS treating Mohanty case as a small matter. He pointed to the Times of India article indicating that Mohanty will “enjoy the rank and status of a minister of state”. This was what the Odisha Government told Times of India, as reported in the article.
“What does Mr Mohanty ‘enjoy’? How is that not a conflict of interests?” asked Jeremy.
“He is advising a foreign government who is according him elevated status. That is gratification, even if it isn’t monetary. Is he going to account for every meals, car rides and gifts he get in his capacity? And he is such a senior figure in MAS, how sure are you he is not sharing (Singapore) state secrets?” Jeremy enquired further.
“And what do you mean in his personal capacity? He is a full time employee of MAS. Where does he have (the) free time to advise a foreign government? Does he take leaves to do this ‘personal undertaking’. Does he travel on MAS expense? Does he do it all exclusively on weekends? You stated his job is to support Singapore’s industry not India’s. So why was he allowed to undertake this role?”
“Are you sure he won’t favour vendors from India?” Jeremy asked a crucial question. “This appointment is troubling… how much of our tax payers money is going to such persons who are not giving 100% to the people of Singapore?”
In his counter reply, Jeremy also copied it to Leo Yip, the head of civil service. He also asked Mr Yip, “As head of the civil service, are you encouraging public officers to take up such ‘personal’ engagements that are fraught with conflict of interests? Is it your view that it is okay for (Singapore) public officers to advise foreign governments as long as it is in their ‘personal capacity’?”
“There’s a fundamental lack of accountability here,” stated Jeremy. “MAS should minimally publicly disavow that Mr Mohanty is acting in any capacity related to his MAS appointment. As it stands, all public information points towards his appointment being linked to his current role.”
Do you agree with Jeremy?