The Temasek Foundation (TF) has announced that it will be providing every household in Singapore with one free oximeter to help residents regularly monitor their blood oxygen levels. This falls under the foundation’s Stay Prepared initiative.
While this may sound like a very philanthropic and generous offer on the part of TF, it may be worthwhile for Singaporeans to take a step back to consider where the money comes from and whether or not this is really necessary.
TF is the philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings (TH) and we are all familiar with TH – it is the sovereign wealth fund of Singapore. In other words, TH manages the country’s money, which will often be derived from the country’s surplus reserves. Unlike other sovereign wealth funds, TH is run like a hybrid entity with elements of both government agencies and private companies.
Broadly, TH is incorporated under the Singapore Companies Act. It pays taxes and pays out dividends to its shareholders. However, the only shareholder TH has is the Ministry of Finance, very much a government agency. In other words, TH manages public money via its own private board of directors and management team. This means that we have a situation where non elected people can affect the finances of Singapore.
Elected officials such as members of parliament (MPs) are kept accountable through the ballot box. Private employees will not have this safeguard. Who then has oversight of how TH and TF (by virtue that its initiatives are funded by TH which in turn has control over Singapore’s money) spend our money?
The authorities will no doubt point to the safeguards that are in place to protect the money that TH has control over. For instance, the approval of the President of Singapore is required for any transaction which is likely to result in a draw-down of Temasek’s cash reserves. The president also has the right to appoint, terminate, or renew the members of Temasek’s board of directors. However, past controversies over how the president exercises his or her limited power plus how the president is chosen may give us pause for thought as to how much of a safeguard the office of the presidency really is.
When former president Ong Teng Cheong asked questions about the nation’s reserves all those years ago, he was stonewalled and rebuffed at every turn. When it looked like former Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) and current leader of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Dr Tan Cheng Bock might just win the presidential election, the rules were coincidentally amended such that the current president, Madam Halimah Yacob was the only candidate that qualified, making her the elected president by default. This has led many to say that she was “chosen” and not elected. With that in mind, can a candidate that may have been “chosen” really bite the hand that feeds her?
Besides, would the president really have told the Prime Minister’s wife that she could not have the top job at TH? Perhaps…. But unlikely.
What we effectively have here in TH, is a privately run commercial entity, operated by non elected personnel (such as the wife of Prime Minister, Madam Ho Ching) in charge of our country’s nest egg. Our public monies being managed by people who the public have no oversight over. To put it another way, non-elected people being able to make huge financial decisions without any public accountability.
Going back to the provision of an oximeter per householder by TF, it is imperative to remember that the money behind this initiative comes from TH which in turns comes from our nation’s money in which each one of us is a stakeholder. Yet, we have literally no say in how such monies are being spent or utilised!
The oximeter is just an example of what could be a colossal waste of our nation’s money. Why does every household need an oximeter anyway? By TF’s own admission, oximeter readings may be inaccurate due to reasons such as trembling or shaking hands, or perhaps even the use of nail varnish. TF also stressed that blood oxygen level readings do not replace a COVID-19 test as low levels may be caused by other underlying conditions besides the virus. With that in mind, could the money have been better spent elsewhere?
Take a further step back, who is really keeping TH and TF accountable with how they spend our money?