Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Another BIG loss?

Ugh... GIC lost USD$675 million in poor investments on New York apartment complex. And it is not even just paper loss but write down. (read Reuters)

Look if you don't know what "write down" means, simply put - "it refers to (in accounting terms) the recognition of the reduced or zero value of an asset".

Big fat gee-ro (zero in English). Kosong. Lost. Hilang.

Again I have reiterated so many times. Paying top dollar to senior executives will NOT steer a company away from disasters or crisis (read here).

My top dollar question then is "How did it happen? Did we not have checks and balances in place?"

What checks and balances? As Singapore Finance Minster Tharman Shanmugaratnam (in)famous words were, "It is not the government's role to comment on or second-guess whether it was timely for the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and Temasek Holdings to make their recent investments. "

So why are you as Finance Minister sitting in the Investment Committee of GIC. Aren't your title in the GIC committee website stated as 'Minister for Finance'? How can you say it's NOT the government's role?

Pray tell me what is your capacity as an Investment Committee member there for? And I always wonder if there could be a conflict of interest.

When pressed again for answers a year later when both GIC and Temasek experienced substantial investment losses, Mr Tharman assured the Parliament House with "both Temasek and GIC monitor their investments very closely, but that they were ultimately long-term investors."

In that session MP Inderjit Singh did ask, "In July last year, Temasek invested a few billion dollars into Barclays Bank... From what I understand, these values have now gone down to half of the investment. Is the minister not worried that if GIC and Temasek continue with this kind of multi-billion (dollar) investments all in one sector - in the banks, this could quickly wipe out a significant portion of our reserves?"

To this the minister replied, "We have to leave it to them - timing, decision as to whether to invest, how to protect yourself in each investment, which GIC and Temasek have indeed done in each of these large deals... We do have an understanding with both GIC and Temasek as to the government's overall risk tolerance, so this is not a situation where we are completely hands-off."

First I am told it is not the government's role. Now I am told the government is NOT hands-off. Can someone make up his mind? And it also begs the question, "Are these long-term investments? Or did you mean long-term losses?" I can assure you that USD$675million write down is not just paper money.

The truth is the citizens are the real stakeholders of the monies. These people in GIC, Temasek, Investment Committee members, etc are just stewards. Yet time and again they seem to portray themselves as the owners of the monies, and the citizens are mere nuisances in asking too many questions.

Heads rolled when investments go awry in the corporate world. If Singaporean ministers keep emphasizing that top dollar had to be paid for 'A-team' quality; then likewise we must see heads must roll for such staggering losses.

PAP has always pride itself with integrity. Don't just talk. Have accountability.

Put your mouth where your money is.

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