Courtesty of AsiaOne
NKF saga: Calls for full transparency
By Salma Khalik
July 14, 2005
The Straits Times
THE National Kidney Foundation began its day yesterday with graffiti splashed on its walls - and by 5.30pm, more than 3,800 of its regular donors had stopped their contributions.
Calls for NKF chief T. T. Durai's resignation took concrete form in an online petition started by full-time national serviceman Lawrence Tan, garnering over 18,000 signatures as at midnight.
Public outrage reached an unprecedented scale, with The Straits Times newsroom inundated with hundreds of e-mail messages and dozens of calls to its hotline.
Readers were angry at the size of chief executive officer Durai's salary and his perks, as well as how the NKF had misled the public on the number of years its reserves will last and the number of patients it treats.
But even as vitriol was poured on Singapore's biggest charity, calmer voices pointed out that there were kidney patients in need of donations - and that the episode should not diminish contributions to charity.
Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan told The Straits Times yesterday the NKF must provide more information and explain its actions to regain the public's confidence. 'The key to gaining confidence is full transparency.' But he made it clear he will continue donating to charity, whether it is to the NKF, ComChest or others 'because there are people out there who can benefit from it'.
In court this week, the NKF admitted to having $260 million in reserves, enough to subsidise dialysis treatment for 30 years at the current subsidy rates - not the three years it has consistently maintained.
Mr Khaw, who had spoken in support of the NKF when it maintained that three years was how long its reserves would last, had this advice for the NKF yesterday: 'If there was bad judgment, then acknowledge it and move on.'
Politicians like MP Chong Weng Chiew echoed Mr Khaw's call for greater transparency, in particular, its expenditure 'on publicity, manpower, administration and patients'. He also wants to know how the NKF assesses patients for subsidies, as he had been approached many times by kidney-failure patients who had been rejected by the NKF.
The issue of transparency was a key plank in The Straits Times' defence against the defamation suit brought on by NKF and Mr Durai.
Among other things, SPH's lawyer, Mr Davinder Singh, spoke of the difficulty of getting the NKF to disclose that Mr Durai earned more than half a million dollars a year and how, contrary to its oft-stated position, he had travelled first class.
The NKF withdrew its suit against Singapore Press Holdings and journalist Susan Long on Tuesday.
Lawyers for the two parties met again at a hearing in Justice Tan Lee Meng's chambers to address the issue of costs yesterday. The matter has been adjourned to Monday.
It was Ms Long's article published on April 19 last year that was the subject of contention, particularly its opening paragraphs which reported lavish toilet fittings in the bathroom of the CEO's private office.
Before withdrawing the suit on Tuesday, Mr Durai admitted in court that the article was fair and accurate and told reporters after the hearing that he would not resign 'unless the people want him to'.
Non-constituency MP Steve Chia said yesterday Mr Durai should resign as 'he has lost his moral authority to ask for money'.
NKF staff, however, are standing by their chief. Ms Michelle Ang, NKF's deputy director of corporate communications, said: 'They are still solidly behind him and know the high degree of his commitment to NKF.'