SINGAPORE — Leslie Fong, a former editor at the Straits Times who left in 2016, pointed out in a Facebook post last Saturday that seven members of the SPH Media Trust’s leadership team, such as its Chief Executive Officer, Ms Teo Lay Lim, Chief Financial Officer Mr Andy Hui, Chief Transformation Officer, Mr David Pang, and Chief Technology Officer, Mr Kaythaya Maw, were all former Accenture employees.
“Coincidence? You draw your own conclusions, my friends,” wrote Mr Fong.
He added, “The board of the company, to be funded by taxpayer money to the tune of $900 million, does not appear to have any problem with the composition”
SMT to be funded by Singapore Govt
Before selling off its assets and delisting from the Singapore Stock Exchange, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) craved off its publishing business into a nonprofit entity in 2021 which is named SPH Media Trust (SMT).
This was said to be in light of the declining publications revenue.
In a press briefing on 27 January last year, SMT’s chairman and former People’s Action Party (PAP) Minister Khaw Boon Wan, said SMT has a “justification” in asking the government for funding when it comes to capability building as “quality, credible journalism is a public good”.
He also shared how SMT will set up a fact-checking service to debunk fake news, so that public debate can be informed by reliable information.
True enough, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo announced in Parliament last February that the Government will fund SMT to the tune of up to S$180 million annually over the next five years, or S$900 million in total.
After this, SPH gave a pittance to the new entity and left the responsibility of caring for the business to the Government.
Significant members of top management employed in SMT after Ms Teo became CEO
A check on LinkedIn shows that the individuals mentioned by Leslie Fong did, in fact, work in Accenture at some point in their careers.
Ms Teo Lay Lim, former chairman of IT services and consulting firm Accenture Singapore, was publicly announced as SPH Media’s CEO in February last year, taking over from interim CEO Patrick Daniel, which ended a leadership succession process that lasted nearly nine months.
According to Ms Teo’s LinkedIn profile, she worked with Accenture from 1988 until August 2021 before being appointed as Executive Director of SPH Media in December 2021, before becoming CEO.
According to his Linkedin profile, Andy Hui served as Accenture’s Southeast Asia CFO and Geographic Operations Managing Director for 11 years since 2011.
He only joined SPH last year.
Mr Kaythaya Maw worked for the firm (then known as Anderson Consulting) from 1998 until 2009, serving as its Senior Manager for Head of Portals & Content Practice in Australia before joining Amazon.
He was hired as CTO in SPH only in July 2022.
Mr David Pang was Senior Manager of Accenture from 2008 to 2013.
Ms Jennifer Lee, SPH’s head of Corporate Real Estate/Workplace Services, had worked for Accenture for 27 years before joining SPH.
Her last position at Accenture was as Workplace Solutions & Workstation Lead in Southeast Asia.
Ms Fen Peh has worked for Accenture since 2019, as its Marketing and Communications Southeast Asia lead. But no update has been made to her Linkedin profile.
As for Mr Melvin Tan, no public records of his alleged employment at SPH Media can be found.
In any case, it would appear that these senior management staff from SPH Media were employed after Ms Teo was appointed as CEO. They also would have been her former colleagues at one point, given that Ms Teo had worked at Accenture for 33 years since 1988.
Opaqueness and question of independency of SPH Media management
SPH Media’s website offers little insight into the make-up of its senior management team, with only eight faces posted on its “about us” page. Four of these eight individuals are former Accenture staff.
We do not know how many other senior appointments there are in SPH Media or who is filling those positions.
Furthermore, we do not know how the former Accenture staff were hired to assume the top positions at SPH Media, or what role Ms Teo played in their employment.
If it were not for Mr Fong, we too would be in the dark as SPH Media was far less transparent in its appointments, even though SPH is a listed company with annual reports. While it may not have been of interest to the public in the case of a private limited company, it is different for SPH Media, which is funded by taxpayers’ money.
As Mr Fong has rightly questioned, we also wonder why the background of the top management team of SMT did not raise any eyebrows among its institutional members, including its Chairman, Mr Khaw.
Were the institutional members and directors of SMT ever informed of this?
If the top management at SPH Media is indeed as close to Ms Teo as we presume, who will be responsible for stopping questionable executive decisions?
And if SPH Media was not a media company, would Ms Teo have allowed all the leadership positions to be assumed by former Accenture employees?
Singapore Govt hell-bent on funding SPH Media regardless of its flaws
This year, SMT was faced with a scandal after Wake Up Singapore (WUSG) exposed firings and penalties imposed on staff for misrepresenting circulation figures on January 8.
The scandal involved misrepresenting circulation data, counting lapsed contracts, printing and counting copies for circulation, and double-counting subscriptions across multiple instances.
A whistleblower alleged that at a town hall meeting over actions taken against executives connected with the misrepresentation of circulation figures, Ms Teo told her staff to “let the matter rest.”
Despite TOC’s request for confirmation, there has been no response from Ms Teo.
Despite the scandal, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo reaffirmed the Singapore Government’s commitment to fund SMT to S$180 million annually over the next five years for a total of S$900 million.
She said the Government has yet to make payments pending agreement over the Key Performance Index used to assess SMT for the purpose of the funding.
Mrs Teo told the Parliament that there is a need to preserve local news in the public interest amid severe disruption in the media industry and that circulation numbers of the SMT’s publications were not a key consideration in assessing the funding required for SMT’s transformation.
She, however, notes that “SMT’s Board and management must also be mindful of their public duties, their responsibility to maintain the public’s trust in their newsrooms and journalists, and the need to discharge these responsibilities in a diligent and timely manner.”
Despite Mrs Teo’s disclaimer made in Parliament, even if Ms Teo is found to have appointed her former colleagues to top positions due to their past connections, taxpayers will still be obligated to fund the SGD 900 million promised to SPH Media Trust given the Singapore Government’s commitment to its propaganda machine.