“While the Government refuses to give us information about how much the PM’s wife is paid out of public funds, about the size of the reserves, about the fake Budget accounting, we have every right to make educated guesses,” said Secretary General of the Reform Party Kenneth Jeyaretnam on his blog today (21 April).
In an article titled, “Singapore Fact Checking Website Refutes Ho Ching Salary Claim Without Giving Facts”, Mr Jeyaretnam, who is also an economist, explained that he has, for years, been openly asking the Government to be transparent about what it does with taxpayers’ money.
The issue he is referring to, of course, is the recent resurgence of questions over the salary of Temasek CEO Ho Ching when a Taiwan news talk show reported that she makes about S$99 million a year in salary.
However, Mr Jeyaretnam noted that instead of transparency, the Government “put more and more obstacles in the way”, referring to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) and the Government’s ‘Factually’ website which it uses to clarify what it deems to be falsehoods.
He stressed that Singaporeans do not need to fear the anti-fake news law as he has openly defended a woman who was served with POFMA but no action was taken against him.
Mr Jeyaretnam said, “Here is a fact, Singaporeans. You do not need to be afraid of POFMA. I also wrote an open letter to Heng Swee Keat defending an ordinary citizen when she was served with a POFMA for daring to make a guess about what percentage of the Resilience Package went to Temasek. Nothing has happened to me.”
Addressing the Government’s fact-check website Factually, which Mr Jeyaretnam described as “devoid of facts”, he said that the site contains “highly disingenuous and irrelevant arguments”.
“The goalposts for POFMA have moved from telling a lie being the falsehood to making a mistake and now in the absence of facts making a guess or even in my case an educated estimate is breaking the law. It is all cock and the more of us who call it out the better.”
To illustrate this, he presented a “thought experiment”.
“As a thought experiment imagine this. I blog and say the Prime minister was given a deep discount on a prime condo in a new development. I do not know how much but I guess about $1million. I am issued a POFMA and Factually says this is a falsehood because he was not given a discount of a million dollars. In fact five other members of his extended familiee were given deeper discounts. He did not even get the biggest discount. The Government do not deny a discount, they just say it is not the sum I have guessed. It is preposterous, right?”
Relating that to the recent debate about Mdm Ho’s salary, Mr Jeyaretnam explained that each time someone receives a correction direction under POFMA for guessing the wrong figure, the guess can be adjusted again and again until the Government reveals the actual figure.
He remarked, “So Ho Ching DOES NOT earn $100 million. Let us guess instead that she earns $89 million. Each time our citizens get POFMAs we can change the figure because until the Government gives us the actual figure we are not telling falsehoods. We are giving our best guess.”
Mr Jeyaretnam then acknowledged that Factually stated Mdm Ho’s salary as CEO of Temasek is not the highest in the company nor is she among the top five highest paid employees. He noted that this suggests that “she is not essential and could be replaced by someone who isn’t in the Prime Minister’s immediate family.”
He went on to say that Singaporeans should not be fooled by Factually’s use of the word “annual” which is merely more “dissembling”.
Drawing from his past experience as a hedge fund managed and working 25 years in the finance industry, the party sec-gen said he knows how people are paid.
“She could be paid a S$1,000 annual salary and still have billions in the Temasek bonus scheme accumulating free of tax.”
“Do not forget the golden handshake when she finally retires, either,” Mr Jeyaretnam added.
He asserted that Singaporeans have a right to know Mdm Ho’s total compensation including salary, bonus, long-term incentive, and pension schemes paid to her since she was appointed as CEO of Temasek in 2004 by her husband and father-in-law.
Mr Jeyaretnam also hinted that Factually “tries to hide behind the preposterous claim that Temasek is somehow independent.” To this, he remarked that it is an “easy mistake to make”.
He went on, “Factually says the Government holds the Board responsible for Temasek’s performance. Clearly the Government appoints the Board and the Management. Lee Hsien Loong is the head of the Government. As I have written in a previous blog in 2012 the members of the Board are all beholden to or have received favours from the Government. Nothing has changed since then.”
Government must come clean about Ho Ching’s total compensation
In his blog, Mr Jeyaretnam also asserted, “Until the Government publishes the total compensation of Ho Ching over the last sixteen years and how much is due to be paid out to her in the future we can and we absolutely must ignore its attempts to bully us into acquiescence.”
He stressed, “Not only must the Government come clean about Ho Ching’s total compensation, it must also require her to disclose any funds she and her husband have co-invested with Temasek or any early stage investments she is cut in on. In fact any conflicts of interest or favours must be disclosed.”
In that same vein, the economist also demanded to know the same about PM Lee’s earnings, assets, and investments, noting that PM Lee’s position as chairman of GIC is a conflict of interest with his job as prime minister.
To drive home the point about this conflict of interest, specifically relating to Ho Ching, Mr Jeyaretnam provided some examples.
“To show how indefensible Factually’s desperate equivocations are, consider this. Having the PM’s wife run Temasek would be like President Trump appointing his daughter Ivanka simultaneously to run Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Disney, J P Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Walmart, United, Delta, American, Exxon, etc. etc. Or the UK PM appointing his girlfriend to be head of the Bank of England, BP, British Airways, the BBC, ITV etc.”
Mr Jeyaretnam concluded by encouraging everyone to keep guessing about Mdm Ho’s salary.