Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Wall Street Journal: Temasek Give Singaporeans Back their Money?

Are ordinary Singaporeans missing something in the ongoing 'dialogue' between the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and the government about Temasek? The international paper seems to carry an unsigned (and provocative?) opinion about Temasek every other day.
Is there a crisis of confidence among Singaporeans about the fate of their investments? Yes. More than other investors whose investment managers have been caught flat footed by the global economic crisis –probably not?
The crisis has hit all asset classes and no investor has been left unscathed. Neither has any Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) been spared a negative impact.
The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), Temasek's counterpart in the oil rich emirate of Abu Dhabi, is just as shy about stepping out from the shadows.
For the sceptics, it might be worth comparing the information publicly available on the ADIA website with disclosures made by Temasek on its site.
Of course, Singapore is not Abu Dhabi, and neither is the social contract in the two countries the same. Nonetheless, ADIA and Temasek serve a similar purpose for both cities - to manage the wealth of their citizens.

The jousting between the Wall Street Journal and the Singapore government over Temasek's role continues
In its most recent editorial, the WSJ suggests that "Temasek might gain more public acceptance as a "commercially driven investment company" if it separated itself fully from government and gave Singaporeans the option to keep their money with the fund or take it elsewhere (Wall Street Journal, Editorial, August 31, 2009)."
In the past, the Singapore government has claimed that the WSJ has waged a two decade campaign against Singapore's judiciary. Has the struggle now moved into the economic sphere?
There is a place for Temasek in managing Singapore's wealth.
The functions of a specialized investment institution cannot be abruptly handed over to the general public. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Nevertheless, the desire to obtain greater clarity of purpose and, consequently, transparency is a legitimate inspiration. Temasek needs to define and declare its investment objectives (a benchmark), a theme about which I have written in greater detail at the Temasek Review.
The question is about oversight and transparency.
The answer lies in an empowered and independent Board of Directors. It is the Board's responsibility (to all Singaporeans) that Temasek's management be held accountable for its decisions and processes.
Perhaps there is another (former President) Ong Teng Cheong available to become Chairperson of the Temasek Board?

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