30 Mar 2006

Email gaffe highlights Temasek's image sensitivities

Wed Mar 29, 2006 2:59 PM GMT

By Sara Webb

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Reporters rarely get a glimpse behind the scenes at Singapore's notoriously secretive state investor Temasek Holdings.

But the company accidentally revealed more than it intended this week when it emailed an internal document to journalists that set out how Temasek officials should reply to tough questions from the press.

"We are trying to find out what happened," said Temasek spokeswoman Eva Ho in an email to Reuters on Wednesday.

The briefing document, received by Reuters and other news media, covers 59 potential questions ranging from the firm's government ownership and potential conflicts of interest to its motivation for buying banks and telecoms companies overseas.

While it is standard practice around the world for company officials to be briefed by "spin doctors" on how to handle the media, the document shows which areas Temasek considers particularly sensitive.

The 13-page briefing spells out what to say when the media ask whether the appointment of Temasek CEO Ho Ching -- the wife of the prime minister -- was "politically motivated" and whether there are conflicts of interest because Lee also heads the Ministry of Finance, which owns Temasek.

"We are not here to discuss politics since we are not politicians or a political organisation. Our CEO is accountable to the board of directors, who is headed by an independent chairman just like any other commercial organisation," is Temasek's official response.


Temasek's chairman, S. Dhanabalan, is a former cabinet minister who entered politics in 1976 and who held several cabinet positions between 1980 and 1993 including Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Minister for Trade and Industry.

He was also chairman of DBS Group Holdings , Singapore's biggest bank, which is partly owned by Temasek.

Temasek, which has been snapping up stakes in banks and telecom companies in Asia, already has major holdings in Singapore's blue-chip companies such as Singapore Airlines and telecoms firm SingTel, whose CEO is the Prime Minister's brother.

The document, which mainly covers Temasek's purchase this week of an 11.55 percent stake worth $4 billion in emerging markets bank Standard Chartered, shows how sensitive Temasek is about its image at home and abroad, as well as its relationship with Singapore's government.

"The Singapore government, as a shareholder, is not involved in our investment decisions and business operations, much less in the businesses of our portfolio companies," is the official reply to questions about the government's involvement in business.

Temasek has helped spark a political crisis in Thailand and attracted hostility when it led a consortium that paid $3.8 billion for Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's Shin Corp..

"Our investment in Shin Corp reflected our confidence in Thailand's long-term growth," is the answer to two different questions -- question 46, on the Shin takeover, and question 47, which reads: "Now with Standard Chartered, you are seen as taking over Thailand's financial services as well. Isn't this politically motivated?".

One stock reply in the document sounded all too familiar to reporters covering the firm. In case of a news leak about the StanChart deal before the signing of the deal, Temasek spokespeople are instructed to say: "We do not comment on market speculations."

All 59 Questions available here.


Anonymous said...

someone's head will roll for sending that email - major crossed wire

temasek is 100% owned by singapore government, but does not want to be treated like a government body; typical "wanting it both ways"

independent board and chairman eh? a major shareholder, or someone with independent resources, could conceivably talk down to the management of a company; people whose ricebowls depend on the management and its backers, how independent could they be?

soci said...

I have come across one commentator who posted a reply to an article related to Temasek and Shin Corp and the comment toes the company line. I wonder just how many anonymous comments have been written by Temasek staff?

Anonymous said...

very few; why would any employee in the know want to risk it?

Anonymous said...

[temasek is 100% owned by singapore government, but does not want to be treated like a government body; typical "wanting it both ways".]

It's just like the NKF. "The Board approved it.." or "I did no wrong.." or "Everything I did is for the good of the patients" wails Durai.

Matilah_Singapura said...

Wonderful! A small turd has hit the fan,

Temasek, how about an encore? Why doesn't someone leave the (cooked?) books of accounts at a bus stop somewhere!