Wednesday, May 24, 2006

More good money chasing bad?

New NKF seeks over S$12m in damages from Durai, four others
By Rita Zahara, Channel NewsAsia
Posted: 22 May 2006 1659 hrs

SINGAPORE : The new National Kidney Foundation (NKF) management is seeking more than S$12 million in damages in a civil suit against its former chief, three former directors, and a business associate.

Lawyers explain that several unquantifiable claims, upon assessment before the courts, could tip the scales beyond S$12 million.

All the claims were detailed in an 85-page statement to the High Court on April 24, and NKF lawyers Allen & Gledhill say unquantifiable ones make up a substantial portion of it.

The new NKF claims it suffered losses not only through improper payments, but also in its credibility, resulting in a drop in donations and support from volunteers and agencies.

The charity alleges that the loss of its reputation and goodwill in the eyes of the public has resulted in a drop in donations from existing donors as well as those who had cancelled regular donations.

Projects such as the charity shows were also affected and there has been a drop in the number of volunteers and support from medical, government agencies and corporations, both within Singapore and abroad.

It was therefore seeking compensation for breach of duty from the five defendants, TT Durai, Richard Yong, Matilda Chua, Loo Say San, and Pharis Aboobacker.

Said defence lawyer K Shanmugam, "Part of it is quantified; part of it is unquantified. Some parts of it, NKF has put a dollar claim -- what is the claim amount -- and some part of it is a matter for the court to make an assessment after hearing evidence as to how much is the damages."

The quantifiable claims alone amount to:
- S$2.1 million in salaries, bonuses and other benefits "improperly" paid to Durai;
- S$4.08 million for loss of donations in the form of Lifedrops income;
- Over S$556,000 in legal costs incurred when Durai and the old NKF brought a defamation suit against Singapore Press Holdings;
- And S$5.28 million paid to three companies linked to Pharis Aboobacker.

Mr Pharis, a friend of Durai, is in
India where relevant authorities are in the process of serving him the writ of summons.

He is the last of the five defendants to be informed that he is being sued by the new NKF.

Durai has been given additional two weeks, till May 31, to file his defence.

Richard Yong and Loo Say San filed their defence last Friday while Matilda Chua filed hers late Monday.

Failure to file by the stipulated time would allow lawyers for the new NKF to apply for judgment against the relevant defendants.

Channel NewsAsia understands the trial is expected to begin in six to nine months.

Meantime, the criminal cases against Durai, Yong, Chua, Loo, and former NKF staff Ragini Vijayalingam will be mentioned again on June 19 at the Subordinate Courts.

At the pre-trial conference on Monday, the defence asked the prosecution for more documents pertaining to the charges.

The New NKF is suing Durai and the old NKF team for over $12 million. This includes:
(a) $2.1 mil in salaries/bonuses/benefits
(b) $4.08 mil for loss of donations
(c) $556k in legal costs incurred when Durai tried to sue SPH; and
(d) $5.28 mil paid to companies owned by Pharis Aroobacker, a friend of Durai who is in India.

I have no sympathy for anyone who would fly 1st class (even at biz class prices) or install gold taps using money from primary school kids hawking donation cards who thought that their endeavours were meant to help kidney patients.

Still, I'd doubt it is possible (or even logical) to sue for donations lost because of the scandal, which I'm sure Durai really, really didn't want either! Salaries and benefits? Well, unless he took the money via illegal means, how can you justify asking for money back from an employee? Football players don't return salaries paid out earlier just cos they don't score. At worse, they lose any extra monies that are forthcoming. Even seeking the $556k in legal costs may be tough. Durai would probably argue that the costs were incurred in trying to defend the (old) NKF's reputation. And indeed it was. It just didn't work out the way Durai had hoped!

The most convincing portion of the claim is probably the $5+ million paid to Durai's pal. If it can be proven that the goods and services were not delivered, one can make a case for the $$$ to be returned. However, this Aroobacker is in India, and short of him writing the new NKF's lawyers a cheque, I wonder if anything can be done to get the money back even if our courts agree that he should.

So is this a case of more good money chasing bad? Perhaps not.

Perhaps the strategy is go for the sky, and this might motivate Durai to return some of the money. (I understand from my lawyer/police friends that this is a common approach). Perhaps the new NKF's lawyers are working pro-bono (or will only claim fees if the claims are actually paid). Or perhaps it is just part of the continuing exercise to appease (ex?) NKF donors who feel they have yet to extract their pound of flesh unless Durai and co are either bankrupted or imprisoned.

Let the chase begin (again).

Monday, May 22, 2006

Is the vote secret?

Siew Kum Hong's article in Today "Voting must be seen to be secret" appears to suggest that while votes are secret, serialised ballot slips, recording of serial numbers and allocated voting lanes (perhaps in tandem?) create the impression that they are not secret. And this fear had in the past caused his civil servant friend to vote against her conscience (presumably this means for the PAP).

Is the vote secret? There are two ways to look at it.

First, I think it is safe to assume that your INDIVIDUAL vote is secret. Your ballot slip (with serial numbers) get put in a box together with (probably) hundreds others. The boxes are unsealed and counted on polling night, with agents from both parties present. Theoretically, there's a tiny window of opportunity for someone present who knows your serial number to look out for your number, but this is not realistic. Now, after the results are out, the ballots get sealed in the boxes again and put with the Courts for 6 months, after which they are incinerated. So in these 6 months, someone could conceivably take out the boxes and sift out your ballot slip (assuming again he knows your serial number, which I believe most voters themselves would not remember unless they were planning to buy 4D). For this to happen, however, we would also need some level of corruption in the system (may be a low-level guard to take the box out; or at a higher level, some court/government official to authorize access to the boxes. It just seems like too much trouble in any case. If I wanted to know how person A voted, I could ask his friends, his family (or even person A himself) and probably get a pretty clear idea.

However, it is well known that politicians know how specific precincts or smaller parts of estates (possibly a block?) have voted, since each group is allocated a voting lane (and hence their votes go into the same box). So conceivably, an observant counting agent could tell what percentage of Blk 123X voted. So, your COLLECTIVE vote is not secret.

So why not get rid of serial numbers and voting lanes and make voting more fuss (and fear) free for all? The simple answer is that it is not in the interests of the ruling party. Why? Amongst the voters would be some who (a) would vote for the Opposition but are fearful that their vote may be found out and it would impact their job, HDB application etc; and (b) some who would vote PAP but want to make a statement against this not-so-seemingly-secret voting process. Everyone else -- lets call them group (c) -- is indifferent to the voting procedure, as long as the number in group (a) outnumbers those in group (b), it is in the interests of the PAP to maintain the status quo. Doing anything else simply benefits the Opposition.

Unfair? Probably. But why would they want to do otherwise? Hence, it fell to Opposition figure such as Low Thai Khiang to use their air time assure everyone that their vote was secret (or secret enough, anyway).

The Da Vinci Fallout – Much ado about nothing?

Christians should be infuriated after watching the movie, the Da Vinci Code. That’s what a forumer so strongly urged. Because it’s about all lies and it’s “insulting to Christianity”.

Well, the highly controversial movie opened in Singapore against a backdrop of protests. The Catholic Church has written a strongly worded letter to the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) about the film ban. The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), which represents the Protestant denominations, has also requested MICA to ban the film. Despite these attempts, the authorities in Singapore decided that it’s okay to pass the unedited version of the movie but restrict its audience to those at least 16 years in age.

It’s clear that Dan Brown’s novel contained historical fallacies and should be read as an intriguing fiction. Everyone loves a piece of conspiracy theory, don’t you?

So what’s all the fuss about? Especially when the movie falls short of the hype it had generated in my opinion.

Rather, Da Vinci Code brings to mind religious sensitivities that have to be handled with much care.

I generally agree with the Media Development Authority (MDA)’s explanation that the film “can be shown but at a higher rating as only a mature audience will be able to discern and differentiate between fact and fiction”. Note, the key word here is ‘discern’.

What is especially worrying however are the callous references made by forumers and bloggers that should such insults be made to other religions, the response of the believers would not be just “talking”. We have some forumers referring to the “Salman Rushdie” t(h)reatment and the burning of flags. Hey, the ensuing verbal dog-fights and inflammatory expletives against another religious faith could very well undermine the harmony of our society.

The Da Vinci saga is worrying because inflammatory postings on the Net can be the beginning of worse things to come. We may well be riding the slippery slope towards religious tension and conflict.

IMHO, we should have a low tolerance threshold for religious bigots. Equally important is maintaining a certain decorum in our postings and replies in cyberspace and steer clear of callous remarks that ridicules another’s sacred beliefs.


Da Vinci Coded at Tomorrow

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Bilahari Email

I think the exchange between Gayle Goh and MFA Perm Sec Bilahari Kausikan will mark an important juncture in how the government engages the public, and young Singaporeans in particular. More important than the issues raised (which -- at the risk oversimplification -- boils down to whether Singapore should take a nicer and less selfish approach in its foreign policy) is the fact that a senior government officer is willing and able to have a candid exchange with a JC student, and to have these views published for public scrutiny. The much-touted "e-government" should be about such exchanges ... and not just whether you can renew your road tax online.

In Bilahari's email to Gayle, he says that he prefers disagreement to indifference, and that "those who have advised you (Gayle) to 'be careful,' tone down your criticisms or lie low have given you bad advice and do yourself, the government and Singapore no favours."

Such words are comforting (esp for bloggers), but one must also realise that the people/context Gayle describes do exist in Singapore. I believe that Singaporeans don't want to write to the government only to receive a cookie cutter reply, or worse, mildly-disguised criticism (or even worse, a lawsuit). It's good to see a 17-year-old with the cojones (figuratively speaking), intellect and writing ability to engage a prominent government official. It is even better to see said government official reply in a forthcoming and sincere manner.

IMHO, Singapore could benefit from a few more Gayle Gohs, and more than a few more Bilahari Kausikans.