20 Dec 2005

Report lists failings of Singapore’s shamed charity

By Jake Lloyd-Smith in Singapore
Published: December 20 2005 00:47 | Last updated: December 20 2005 00:47

Singapore’s biggest charity yesterday attempted to draw a line under a debilitating scandal by releasing an independent report that catalogued the sustained failure of its former senior management.

The scandal at the National Kidney Foundation has triggered unprecedented public anger.

The 440-page dossier into the affairs of the foundation, drawn up by accountants KPMG, concluded that the group suffered “a lack of meaningful governance” and in many instances accounts were “manipulated”.

Led by former chief executive T.T. Durai, the NKF’s entire former board quit last July amid a wave of public protest triggered by disclosures that Mr Durai was paid up to S$600,000 ($360,000, €300,000, £200,000) annually and took first-class flights.

After the details emerged in a libel hearing, thousands of donors pulled out from the charity, the NKF’s premises were daubed with graffiti, and a grassroots internet campaign was launched for reform of the embattled group.

The affair made political waves after the wife of Goh Chok Tong, senior minister, the NKF’s former patron, dismissed the heated criticism of Mr Durai’s pay package, saying his salary was “peanuts”.

The NKF’s difficulties also drew widespread attention because they ran counter to the popular perception that Singaporean institutions are well managed and typically reinforce the country’s reputation for a lack of corruption.

Released online, the KPMG report said the charity had lost sight of its main mission to fund dialysis treatment; had an ineffective board, and manipulated its accounts.

The NKF said it might take legal action against its former directors including Mr Durai, who is already under investigation by the Commercial Affairs Department, Singapore’s white-collar crime unit.

Mr Durai was not available for comment yesterday but his formal responses to the 40-strong KPMG investigating team’s questions were widely quoted in the report.

The new board at the NKF said it had reformed the organisation in the light of the disclosures and was now committed to more efficiency and transparency.

Among the many failings detailed in the report were that Mr Durai and five staff members had attended charity events in Las Vegas. The purported need for the S$70,000 study trip was to gather fresh ideas for NKF fundraising. But KPMG said there was no evidence to support this aim, which was “difficult to accept.”

The report concluded “deliberate steps were taken to avoid the disclosure of Mr Durai’s remuneration”.

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