Wednesday, July 18, 2007

EDB never review UNSW's plans

The University of New South Wales saga is still onging in Singapore. The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) has finally reported how much Singapore lost in the venture. EDB had given S$15 million in loans and S$17.3 million in grants to the university. The S$15 million is back up by bank loans and can be retrieved, but as for the S$17.3 million, negotiations are underway with the university to come up with a feasible plan for repayment.

Good luck on that. Thing is...this isn't the exact cost spent by the Government on the UNSW Asia deal. There hasn't been any report on whether Singapore has any outstanding liabilities to third parties such as banks, construction companies etc. "Confidentiality obligations" I think the EDB are calling it. (The fact that UNSW has issued public statements on its liabilities and losses to the Australian Parliament is quite another matter to Singapore it seems.)

Now, the blame will be non-stop between the EDB and UNSW chief Fred Hilmer, but I still have some questions. Why does it takes a sitting of Parliament for the EDB to come clean (half-clean) on this? Nine MPs have tabled questions on the failed high-profile project, only then did the EDB showed us these figures. This is Singapore's public money isn't it? Why can't the EDB showed us these numbers from the get-go? Also reported was the fact that 18 private schools were shutted in the past 5 years in Singapore, but to our Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, Singapore is "on its way to becoming an education hub". Really?

To me, the UNSW saga is NOT a minor setback and the amounts loss is VERY important. I find it amazing that the EDB never reviewed the soundness of UNSW's business plans. Mr.Lim says that the Government does not evaluate business proposals. If that is the case, then someone at EDB needs to take responsibility for this and get his head chopped off. I can understand if this is a business plan that failed, it happens. But the EDB issued a cheque to UNSW without looking at their business plans? That is just plain wrong and someone at the EDB made a huge mistake here.

Singaporean businessmen has horror stories on the mountains of paperwork they need to fill out to get even the smallest grants from Singapore agencies, and EDB issued millions to UNSW but never review their plans? If what Mr.Lim says is true, then heads must roll at the EDB.

1 comment:

Hachiko Monogatari said...

I understand that the current Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr Lim Hng Kiang, was the Minister for Health during the SARS outbreak back in 2004, am I correct? He seemed to have handled that situation quite poorly too, judging from the newspapers' reporting.

In other countries, the head of a ministry will automatically shoulder the responsibility and resign, if the ministry is found to have failed the public's trust over critical issues. I wonder if Mr Lim has that kind of integrity and character?