Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran told Parliament yesterday (4 Sep) that he is “troubled” by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai’s remarks that DBS Bank does not have a “homegrown CEO”.
Mr Leong, who is from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), had said in Parliament earlier that he is “deeply disappointed” that DBS did not have a homegrown CEO 22 years after former JP Morgan executive John Olds was made chief executive of the local bank. The present DBS CEO is a former Indian national Piyush Gupta who obtained his Singapore citizenship in 2009.
“I was troubled when NCMP Leong Mun Wai lamented that we don’t have a homegrown CEO for DBS,” said Iswaran.
“By all means, let us passionately argue the case to do more for Singaporeans. But, as parliamentarians, let us also be careful about what our words convey; in this case, the message that we send to those who – to paraphrase Mr S Rajaratnam – have chosen out of conviction to become citizens of Singapore.”
Iswaran made the point that building trust with Singapore’s international partners is the duty of not only the Government and public service, but also of Parliament. “What we say, but also what we actively advocate in this House, and ultimately what we do, must all be aligned, because they are keenly watched,” he said.
“We have painstakingly built an open and inclusive economy – that is able to create opportunities for Singaporeans by welcoming competitive enterprises and talent. It is a precious asset that we must not squander.”
He also highlighted that it is important for Singapore to remain open. He said, “Our efforts to embrace openness must be matched by an equal if not greater effort to achieve an equitable distribution of the benefits and the access to opportunities; to preserve a sense of fairness.”
After Iswaran had spoken, Mr Leong rose to seek clarifications, while adding that the PSP is “committed to an open and inclusive society and economy”.
“I want to ask the minister whether the debate that we are conducting over the last few days, when we are questioning certain issues, rebalancing certain issues … is (it) against the spirit that he is trying to explain to us just now,” Mr Leong asked.
Iswaran replied, “We can always advocate the case for doing more for Singaporeans … The issue is when we lament that a Singaporean occupying a certain position is somehow not homegrown. Then I think we really have to ask ourselves the question – as parliamentarians, as elected representatives, what is the message we are sending to our citizens?”
He added, “What does it say to those who are the spouses, the children of Singapore citizens who have become naturalised Singaporeans?”
He then asked Mr Leong, “After this debate and all the information that’s been shared, does he still lament that DBS does not have a homegrown CEO?”
Mr Leong replied that he stood by his comments on DBS, saying, “I still hold on to my disappointment, I still keep to that.” He emphasised that in his speech, he had said that it was “over a period of 22 years”.
“Why didn’t the Government, in the process, put in certain safeguards or certain other rules to ensure that we have these skills transfer … at least to ensure that Singaporeans will be groomed to take over the job,” Leong asked.
“In that context, I don’t think it will be taken very negatively by the international community. Singapore is open enough, foreigners know that we are very, very open. In fact, if we fail to do certain things to safeguard the interests of Singaporeans, I am afraid we may be laughed at.”
Piyush Gupta still a PR when appointed DBS CEO
Piyush Gupta officially joined DBS in Nov 2009.
According to a DBS announcement on 1 Sep 2009, it said that it had appointed “veteran banker Piyush Gupta, 49, as Chief Executive Officer”. Also, on the day of this announcement, Gupta was still a Singapore PR and working at Citibank as Citi’s CEO for South East Asia-Pacific.
It was also announced that he would join the bank in Nov 2009, subject to MAS’ approval. That is to say, MAS would further take some time to decide if Gupta would be allowed to lead DBS as CEO, but if MAS didn’t object, Gupta would officially become DBS CEO in Nov 2009.
Gupta’s appointment came after DBS’s previous CEO Richard Stanley died of cancer, according to a Reuters’ report also on 1 Sep 2009.
Reuters also confirmed that at the time of appointment, Gupta was still a Singapore PR. Reuters reported, “A permanent resident of Singapore, with his wife and two teenage children, Gupta takes a keen interest in promoting education and advised the Singapore government on revamping primary education.”
“The Straits Times newspaper said Gupta is in the process of applying for Singapore citizenship,” Reuters added.
Subsequently, as reported by Straits Times, Gupta became a Singapore citizen in the same year 2009, probably right about the time he officially took over DBS in Nov 2009. In other words, Gupta wasn’t a Singaporean at the time when he received his appointment letter from DBS.
So, Mr Leong was not wrong to be disappointed, since DBS decided to appoint Gupta as CEO when he wasn’t a Singaporean but a foreigner.
Speaking of “conviction to become citizens of Singapore”, it’s not known what motivated Gupta to apply for his Singapore citizenship in 2009 on the eve of taking over DBS and why he didn’t apply earlier when he was with Citibank.
Conversely, would Gupta apply for Singapore citizenship if he wasn’t offered the post of DBS CEO?