How Many More Years Will Go by Before We Learn How Much the Lees Have Paid Themselves While in Public Office?
I am pleased to see that Workers Party MP Png Eng Huat finally plucked up the courage and asked a question in Parliament about the remuneration of the top 3 officers at Temasek and GIC. Since 2010, both in the articles on my blog and in the public statements by the Reform Party, I have been questioning Ho Ching’s suitability to be CEO of Temasek and drawing Singaporeans’ attention to the fact that her remuneration is not only secret but is very likely to be in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.
In November 2018 I wrote an article entitled “Should PM Lee Be Forced to Reimburse the Taxpayer for His Wife’s Earnings at Temasek?” in which I questioned why, if, as Lawrence Wong claimed in response to Png’s question, Temasek (and GIC) have an arms-length relationship with the Government and the Government does not interfere in their Boards’ decisions, was Ho Ching appointed head of Temasek when there were doubtless many other better qualified candidates.
This is what I wrote:
“Was Ho Ching the obvious choice to helm Temasek? Her Wikipedia entry says she has a First Class Honours Degree in Engineering and was one of the top A level students in her year. But there must be thousands of others just in Singapore who have the same or better qualifications. She never worked in finance and therefore would not seem the obvious choice to oversee an investment company.
Nor would it be a defence to argue that Ho Ching had done a good job, or at least a competent one, as CEO of Temasek…
Her performance as CEO has been mediocre at best, disastrous at worst, over the fifteen years she has been allowed to remain at the helm.Temasek’s claimed 15% annualised return over the last forty years is a fraud since as I have written repeatedly since 2012, it depends on the fact that Temasek’s legacy assets were injected at below book value by the Ministry of Finance which produced enormous gains when the companies were subsequently floated. We have no insight into how Temasek is really doing since it is under no obligation to publish accounts. About 40% of its portfolio is unlisted assets where valuations are often determined by the last price paid even where the buyer is the fund owning the asset. Even on its own figures, Temasek’s average annualised return over the last ten years is only 5% p.a or just over 60% compounded. Over the same period the S&P500 has tripled, or an annualised return of a little under 12%. Along the way we have have had astonishing errors of judgement such as the decision to buy out Olam’s equity at a high price when the equity was probably worthless …
In 2009, after Temasek suffered a loss of at least 40% in the financial crisis, there was the charade of hiring Chip Goodyear as a successor to Ho Ching, who then left abruptly before taking over with an undisclosed payoff in return for a Non-Disclosure Agreement. In Parliament then Finance Minister Tharman famously refused to disclose why he left and what his payoff was. In his last year as CEO of BHP Billiton he earned in excess of S$50 million. I suspect that this was nothing more than an elaborate benchmarking exercise to justify hiking Ho Ching’s compensation. I have long said that she probably earns in excess of S$100 million p.a. and possibly much more in the form of long-term incentive plans. Why did the Temasek Board not look for other better qualified candidates rather than taking the decision to reappoint Ho Ching?
Most Singaporeans cannot get their head around comprehend the mind-boggling magnitude of Ho Ching’s likely earnings. For too long their anger has been focussed on the still obscene but relative peanuts of the compensation of the PM and his ministers. While completely unjustified by objective benchmarking against other heads of government, I have said that the $3 million total compensation of the PM is without question only the tip of the iceberg as far as his and his wife’s earnings and assets are concerned.
So why have WP finally asked this question when for years they have behaved like good little boys and girls in Parliament and not questioned how much the ruling family are paying themselves out of state resources under the guise of being public servants? I remember during the 1995 Nassim Jade scandal my dad asked Low Thia Kiang to ask a series of questions in Parliament to establish that the discounts that LKY, his wife and son, the current PM Lee Hsien Loong, received from Hotel Properties Limited would be presumed as corrupt under Section 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Low declined to ask the questions, proving his usefulness to the PAP, who reciprocated by moving to exclude him and the WP from the defamation suits brought by the so-called Tamil “worthies” and Jayakumar which achieved the objective of removing my dad from Parliament. In fact, at his final press conference, my dad said LKY was very pleased with Low Thia Kiang for having got rid of JBJ from WP.
I believe WP’s new found focus and courage (for them) stems from conversations I had with Pritam, Sylvia and Dennis Tan when we were in Armenia last year at the invitation of the Prosperous Armenia Party. A number of Singapore political parties were invited, including WP, Reform Party, SPP and PAP. I asked Sylvia why she hadn’t asked about Ho Ching’s remuneration and she said she thought it was in Temasek’s annual report. When I insisted it was not, she said that she would check and if it was not she would consider asking a question about it. However when I asked Dennis Tan whether he would ask a question, he frostily said that Ho Ching’s remuneration was not a fit subject for Parliamentary questions. WP’s new found courage probably stems from the fact that they have seen how many times I have questioned why Ho Ching was appointed to lead Temasek and have not yet been sued. In fact I have continued to point to the gaps in the Government’s Budget, the fake accounting and the missing assets and nothing has happened to me.
If I am wrong about the likely billions of dollars Ho Ching has been paid, then why has the Government refused to tell us her earnings? Why is it a state secret? It is both grossly arrogant and insulting to Singaporeans’ intelligence for Lawrence Wong to pretend that the Government, as the sole shareholder of both Temasek and GIC, does not decide the compensation received by the CEO and Chairman as well as the other top officers. To quote from my article again:
Of course Lee Hsien Loong did not appoint his wife directly. The board of Temasek appointed her. Temasek says on its website that:
“Our shareholder’s [the Ministry of Finance] right under the Singapore Companies Act to appoint, reappoint or remove our Board members is subject to the President’s concurrence. The Board’s appointment or removal of the CEO is also subject to the President’s concurrence. These constraints are part of the “second key” concept, to safeguard the integrity of our Board and CEO in protecting Temasek’s past reserves.”
However as we know the President is a puppet who can be removed from office on a 2/3s vote of Parliament. When the PM is threatened by the election of someone who might provide the smallest shred of opposition to his wishes, he changes the rules as he did to ensure Halimah Yaacob was elected instead of Dr. Tan Cheng Bock.
The Board of Temasek is similarly made up of people who are either ex-PAP ministers, MPs, civil servants and executives of GLCs with a few crony capitalists such as Philip Ng, whose property business depends on keeping on the right side of the PM, and a sprinkling of foreign CEOs and investors who would not wish to jeopardise the the tax benefits their investments in Singapore enjoy. I wrote about this in 2012 in “A Case of the Pot Calling the Kettle Black?” All of these people, who are dependent on the PAP Government and the PM for patronage, would not stand in the way of his wife’s appointment.
At least the fact that the WP have asked a question for the first time is a breakthrough of sorts. But Singaporeans still seem to have little interest in what their leaders are making and, in particular, the wealth the Lee dynasty has accumulated. The PAP abolished death duties so that Singaporeans would not be able to find out the assets of LKY’s wife and, later, of LKY himself. The PM is able to get away with concealing his wife’s salary and his family’s assets because Singaporeans let him, presumably because they think it disrespectful for lesser mortals, as Charles Chong put it, to ask how much their rulers have made. I remember at GE2015, when I had made a speech questioning the Lees’ huge hidden wealth and how they had managed to accumulate so much, the civil servants from state media seemed shocked. Instead Singaporeans are fooled by images of our humble first family picnicking in the Botanic Garden and the $15 ITE handbag that Ho Ching took to the dinner with President Obama into thinking that the royal couple are one of us. And because they gullibly swallow these carefully crafted images of austerity, Singaporeans are quite content to receive a few hundred dollars in handouts each Budget while being told that taxes have to go up while at the same time even a conservative analysis of the Government’s finances shows that in the absence of fraud or extreme mismanagement there must be trillions of dollars in net assets including land and over a trillion dollars in reserves.
Hopefully Singaporeans will realise by the next election that the only reason that Ministers like Lawrence Wong (and before him Tharman Shanmuguratnam) can get away with concealing facts and contemptuously stonewalling questions is because Singaporeans let them. In a democracy the people have the right to know how much their public servants are paid and to hold them accountable for poor performance. The timid mice that consider themselves to be in coalition with the PAP (despite last week’s questions) are not going to change that. Only electing real Opposition will.