Something's Gotta Give
By Toh Hsien Min
It's like 1999 all over again. The stock market is hot, there're slick ads on the television and in the press asking the public to put their funds into the entity whose merits are being discussed by journalists in the newspapers, because of the benefits that the public would be able to reap from doing so. Statistics of all sorts are bandied about, to show how the market for the services provided by the entity in question is projected to grow over the next five years. Everyone's talking about it.
If this were an IPO, there would be a prospectus with virtually too much information to process: from the salary ranges of the CEO and the key executives through to the breakdown of revenues and operating expenses, from risk factors to independent consultants' reports. But if the scenario above describes the National Kidney Foundation's fundraising events, it's somehow not only okay but necessary for the public not to know exactly how the funds are being used.
On principle alone, the ideal of full disclosure ought to apply to charities just as to any company on the stock exchange. Although the NKF may not be a publicly listed company, it certainly is a public organisation, with the public as stakeholders in fact if not shareholders in name. Public stakeholders need to be given the necessary information with which to make their decisions, even if there are hazards to full disclosure. For example, in the 1920s, American investment bankers began calling their preliminary IPO prospectuses red herrings as a warning to investors that the documents were not final; but then it didn't take long for them to realise that the more information they provided the less likely it was that investors could see the big red flags in the company being promoted. In the case of the NKF, had the chief executive's salary always been disclosed, there would not have been as much of an outcry as we have witnessed in recent weeks - in fact, there would have been a ready defence. Nonetheless, the transmission of information need not be a cynical exercise; it could carry its own moral bearing. Full disclosure may not allow the NKF to build reserves in the hundreds of millions, but it may insure against the opposite outcome as well: if the reserves do fall to dangerous levels, an ongoing practice of disclosure will bring out the best in Singaporeans more effectively than what appears to have had been the case, of crying wolf, would.
This brings me to my other point. I cannot deny feeling some amount of outrage over the pay package revelations of recent days, even though I accept that T.T. Durai would certainly be able to command the same pay working elsewhere in the private sector, and even though I accept that the pay package is not obviously out of proportion to the funds the NKF manages. I feel disappointed because I believe what a charitable organisation needs is not just someone of high calibre but someone who will come in and say, yes, I can draw X-amount in the private sector, but because it's a charitable organisation and because it's a cause I believe in, I do not wish to draw more than half of that. Someone like that would not need to sue anybody for defamation, because he knows his deeds speak louder than anybody's words. It's only those whose reputations are vulnerable who have to sue.
QLRS editors are all unpaid volunteers, and for that reason I appreciate what the team of editors do to help keep this volunteer collective going and respect the decisions they've taken to step forward - and, when the time comes, alas, either to retire or to take a break. With this issue, we say farewell to Siok, Lesley and Yueh Chin, who have all done fantastic work in their time; and we say welcome to Ruihe and Wei Chian, both of whom have written for the journal before.
This July issue has been a challenging one to put together, even leaving our personal circumstances and obligations out of it. What I thought was an extraordinary crop of poetry submissions in the last issue repeated itself this issue, and I had such hard decisions to make. Kai Chai has picked another good set of short stories, including two more from Chan Ziqian, who had been the only contributor with two short stories selected for the Italian anthology of QLRS stories. We had some trouble finding good material for our critical sections this time round, but I respect the decisions made by the respective editors not to use articles we did have in hand on the basis that they were not quite up to our usual standards. One critical article that did come in posed an unusual problem: I wasn't sure whether to send it to Essays, Criticism or Extra Media, but the writing on modern Chinese art was something well worth a place in any of the sections.
Hope you enjoy reading this issue - and if so, do call our 1900 number. I promise not to install gold taps.QLRS Vol. 4 No. 4 Jul 2005
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