Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sermon on the Mount

There is a Chinese saying that if you do not open your big mouth, nobody will say you are dumb. Ms Ho Ching has finally opened her big mouth ostensibly on the Temasek debacle, but not quite. She started off with a red herring, quite rightly because of the public wrath, to divert Singaporeans from the real issue by offering so-called co-investors a stake in Temasek Holdings. Just like the slick operator she is, she either deliberately or absent-mindedly left out the details. And what are Singaporeans to make of this seemingly castle in the air?

This was an excellent opportunity for Ms Ho Ching to transcend her egregious persona and to show, even for a fleeting moment, the persona of an upfront Temasek CEO to explain the reason behind the abrupt departure of the CEO-designate Mr. Charles Goodyear instead of hiding behind the terse stereotyped "unresolved strategic differences". Instead of redeeming herself from disastrous track record of recent colossal losses of Temasek's assets, she glossed over the real issue to digress with the entertainment of bombastic salesmanship.

Can Ms Ho Ching blame Singaporeans for speculation when she is uncommunicative on the reason behind the sudden departure of Mr. Charles Goodyear? The public has a right to know and Ms Ho Ching has a moral responsibility to disclose. How long is she going to keep this charade under wrap is what the public wants to know. Like a closely-sealed hen egg which can hatch into a chick (a Chinese saying), whatever secret will eventually appear on the grapevine.

Whether this whole episode is a masquerade to allow Ms Ho Ching to perpetuate in her pet appointment as Temasek CEO is a moot point. One has only to listen to coffee shop talks to follow this trend of opinions. Be that as it may, Ms Ho Ching has now to shed her past inept persona and show more astuteness in making financial investments of Temasek. Her track record in this respect could hardly stand up to scrutiny.

Temasek may not be a government entity but is nevertheless a government-owned company.So any substantial financial losses in injudicious investments involve taxpayers' money and must be answerable to the public. But so far this has not been the norm and Temasek seems to be a law unto itself.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Temasek Conundrum

There is a Chinese saying: Human sympathy is as thin as the paper; world affairs are like playing chess where each game is new. The sudden departure of Mr. Charles Goodyear as CEO-designate may sound like a bombshell but is not actually unexpected. The antics of Temasek Holdings have ceased to intrigue right-thinking Singaporeans.

But Singaporeans will certainly be more interested to know more than just the terse reason of "unresolved strategic differences" given for the dramatic flip-flop. But we must accept that it is not uncommon for government-linked companies to hide behind stereotyped statements for any administrative or financial lapses.

There was considerable fanfare when it was announced by Temasek Holdings early this year the appointment of Mr. Charles Goodyear as the CEO-designate to take over fully from Ms Ho Ching on lst October. It has found this gem of a prospective CEO after continual search and approached him as early as 2007. It seems that Temasek had spent more than a year wooing Mr. Goodyear, who was interviewed by board members individually and as a group. If Temasek had gone through such elaborate and meticulous efforts to recruit this eminent personality, there was no reason to believe that it could not have foreseen any flaw in its recruitment plan which now has to be aborted. Having interviewed the candidate so thoroughly, it is quite unbelievable that is could not have detected any sign of intransigency in his character, which appears to be the root of the present fiasco.

Now there is the question of compensation as a farewell gift to the gracious Mr. Goodyear for his noble acquiescence to leave, thus saving Temasek from an intractable situation if he chooses to remain in his career. The compensation can run into millions of dollars but then this will be only a drop in the ocean in Temasek's coffers. It is known to have lost billions of dollars in the sales of its stakes in Bank of America and the British Barclays Bank without any compunction. The Chinese press reported that Mr. Goodyear decided to leave on his own accord in which case the question of compensation is a moot point.

Singaporeans were quite elated on learning the news early this year that Ms Ho Ching was relinquishing her CEO post in Temasek to make way for Mr. Goodyear. Now will the news that she is going to helm Temasek indefinitely following the leadership transition fiasco have a welcoming or dampening effect on Singaporeans is going to be a million-dollar question. This will depend on whether she is astute enough not to merrily squander away Temasek's assets. Her track record in this respect has been disastrously unimpressive, losing billions of dollars of public money with impunity.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

ASEAN's Pipe-dream

Asean seems to be moving with its head in the clouds where Myanmar is concerned. Asean leaders are either naive to an unbelievable degree or they are so blinkered that they cannot see the wood for the trees. Myanmar military junta leader General Than Shwe has shown himself time and again to be an untrustworthy despot whose heinous oppressions of his country's democratic fighters, especially the iconic Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, are world renowned. And yet it defies human sanity for Asean founding members to invite, perhaps in their mind, a benign Myanmar to join their august organisation.

Whilst the whole democratic world was outraged and making vitriolic attacks on the despotic military junta of Myanmar for the trial of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi on a trumped-up charge, we were entertained to an incredible spectacle of a Singapore Senior Minister stating openly to the despotic General Than Shwe that it was Myanmar's domestic affair. The Senior Minister could have been in a state of euphoria when he said it probably because of the overwhelming receptions accorded him on his visit to a so-called utopia state. What signal his impetuous utterance had given to the democratic world is not hard to guess.

The latest antics of the despotic General Than Shwe in rejecting outright the request of the United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki Moon to interview detained Aung San Suu Kyi should be a wake-up call to Asean. If the Singapore Senior Minister thinks that his ingratiating talk to the despotic General Than Shwe had softened his heinousness, the Singapore Minister had better think again. This is a typical example of a leopard never changing its spots.

So a world personage of no lesser prominence than a UN Secretary-General has now received a first-hand rebuff from what Asean considers to be its most promising star. Does not this egregious act of the Asean darling Than Shwe fly in the face of Asean leaders? Mr. Ban Ki Moon is chief of the United Nations and what kind of world reactions can Asean expect on his outrageous treatment by the leader of its over-cherished member.

Myanmar will be like an albatross round the neck of Asean if the latter is still under the illusion that it can democratise Myanmar with a well-intentioned but unworkable policy of constructive engagement. This can have a deleterious effect on the impeccable reputation of Asean in the long run, a reputation it has painfully built over the years.

Perhaps Asean leaders may take note of this Chinese idiom: Rein in your horse on the brink of the cliff.