Money, money, money (and POFMA)
This week: Yeoh Lam Keong gets another POFMA order, and Temasek Holdings writes down its investment in failed cryptocurrency exchange FTX.
Greetings from Scotland! Within a day or two of arriving I bought an oversized fleecy hoodie — which Primark insists on calling a “snuddie” — and I have practically been living in it since. It's super cosy and I regret nothing.
POFMA, POFMA, POFMA
Here we go again: Yeoh Lam Keong, former chief economist at GIC, has been whacked with another POFMA order — just a little over a month since his last one — for his social media commentary on Singapore’s economic policy. (The Independent Singapore also received an order, because they reproduced Yeoh’s comments.) The last order that he received, the eye-rolling one about how HDB’s deficits are calculated, was issued by the Minister for National Development, Desmond Lee. This one was ordered by Minister for Finance, Lawrence Wong, so I think that’s one data point we can take note of when trying to answer the question, “Will the PAP be more open and tolerant of criticism and dissent under a Lawrence Wong premiership?”
In this POFMA order, the government is taking issue with Yeoh saying that Singapore has a $30 billion structural fiscal surplus. “This is untrue,” says the Ministry for Finance. According to them, there is, on average, a fiscal balance of $2.2 billion per annum. Once again, this comes down to a question of methodology — the answer can change based on how you compute the sum, based on what definitions and frameworks you use.
Perhaps this plays well to the gallery of hardcore PAP supporters, but I wonder how much is actually gained from issuing such POFMA orders. It just further demonstrates that, as activists, academics and NGOs had warned before its passage, POFMA can be easily abused for political purposes.
That’s a hell of a lot of money
I don’t usually cover finance, business, or investments in this newsletter because I assume that it’s already being covered elsewhere, and by correspondents with far more familiarity and expertise than me. But what’s happening with crypto firm FTX is damn jialat, and Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s state investment firm, has said that it will write down its entire US$275 million investment.
Temasek says their investment into FTX represents 0.09% of their net portfolio value of about $403 billion, but we’re still talking eye-watering sums of money here. It also raises questions: in their statement, Temasek said that they had “conducted an extensive due diligence process” into the company, including reviewing their audited financial statement. But what’s coming out now about FTX looks very bad: a US bankruptcy court was told that boss man Sam Bankman-Fried ran it like his “personal fiefdom”. He and his parents, plus senior FTX executives, were found to have spent hundreds of millions of US dollars buying properties in the Bahamas over the past two years. John Ray III, an experienced attorney and insolvency professional who is FTX’s current CEO, said in his filing for bankruptcy that “never in my career have I seen such a complete failure of corporate controls and such a complete absence of trustworthy financial information as occurred here.” He also expressed a lack of confidence in “the audited financial statements as a reliable indication of the financial circumstances” of FTX’s companies. Piangz. Were these the same financial statements that Temasek looked at?
Temasek’s investment in FTX is set to be discussed in Parliament on Monday (among other things, including the repeal of Section 377A). It’s not that easy to ask questions in Parliament about Temasek and GIC, since the government insists that they operate independently, but over 15 questions have been posed by MPs from the Workers’ Party and the People’s Action Party.
Got some more…
⚖️ Prema S Naraynasamy has plead guilty to 48 charges, mostly related to voluntarily causing hurt to Piang Ngaih Don, a 24-year-old Burmese domestic worker who died of her injuries from physical abuse. She is claiming trial to one charge. Prema’s daughter, Gaiyathiri Murugayan, was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment in 2021 for the abuse and murder of Piang Ngaih Don.
👮🏼 A former cop has been charged in court for allegedly obstruction of justice and corruption. He’s accused of receiving bribes, in the form of cash and loans, of up to $32,500. Apparently, he was taking money to help two guys who were in the middle of police investigations.
Do you know someone who is a Singapore politics or human rights nerd? Maybe they need a subscription to the newsletter as an (early) Christmas present. Again, Ghost doesn’t just let me generate a discount code, so you’ll have to click the link for the category that you want:
Checking in on the neighbours
🇲🇾 Anwar Ibrahim has been sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister, after days of speculation over who would form government. (Pakatan Harapan, the coalition that Anwar leads, had won the most seats, but didn’t have enough to get them over the line to form a majority government.) Anwar has promised an inclusive government that will “guarantee and safeguard the rights of all Malaysians, especially the marginalised and impoverished, regardless of race or religion”, so let’s all hope he delivers. Lee Hsien Loong has invited him to visit Singapore soon.
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