Will there be resignations and bonus clawbacks at SMRT, asked Tan Jee Say in a recent blog post, citing the US$38M which the JP Morgan ex-Chief Investment Officer had to pay back for her bad trades.
Similarly, Gintai commented on how the Japanese take responsibility for their corporate actions (some to the extent of committing ‘hara-kiri’ because of shame), unlike the parties in the recently-concluded COI, all of whom had hired high-powered lawyers to defend themselves.
Mr Tan is certainly no babe in the woods. He should know the answer to his question.
It’s very simple. Do you think anyone willingly pays back US$38M? Or is it because of a fear of greater consequences, such as the threat of shareholder lawsuits, that makes them do so?
So as far as Singapore is concerned, the answer should be quite obvious.
The more fundamental question is– why don’t we have a tradition of accountability?
Why don’t CFO’s and cEO’s pay back their bonuses when mistakes are made under their watch? Why doesn’t anyone force them to choose this as the best of an unappealing set of choices when they screw up?
The answer is simple: because shareholders aren’t tough enough on companies, because the laws of tort are not tough enough here, and there is no tradition of personal liability for corporate actions.
Politically, in any other country, if such massive breakdowns had occurred one after the other, the Minister for Transport would have offered his resignation to the PM immediately.
The same question: Why don’t ministers resign to take responsibility for their mistakes?
The same answer: Because the shareholders (electorate) aren’t tough enough on the politicians.
Many parties have called for accountability and transparency. They even want the electorate to vote them into Parliament so they can ‘check’ the PAP and make the Govt accountable.
But they seemed to have missed that accountability doesn’t start in Parliament.
It starts at the ballot box.
You can be sure that when a Minister offers his resignation in other countries, it is not because it is the honourable thing to do.
It is because it is the ONLY sensible thing to do, short of hara-kiri.
It is because he knows that, if he doesn’t offer his resignation, the PM will sack him anyway.
And the reason the PM will sack him is because he knows that if the said Minister is not sacked, his party will be punished at the next polls.
Are Singaporean voters willing to do this?
Are they willing to kick the PAP out when they don’t perform?
Time and again voters have given the PAP chance after chance. They screwed up on housing– no problem, Mah Bow Tan is still re-elected. Mas Selamat escaped– no problem, we can still let the one who can’t sing sing. They screwed up on transport– no problem, Raymond Lim can stay. They screwed up on immigration– no problem, ….
The only person voters chose to kick out was George Yeo, who did not obviously screw up foreign policy.
Of course, our PM knew the ground sentiment, and he wisely reshuffled his Cabinet, convened a committee to ‘review’ Minister salaries, appointed a new Housing Minister, etc.
So we come back to the starting question: will there be more resignations in SMRT, LTA and Ministry of Communication? Will there be bonus clawbacks?
My answer: do you see any shareholder lawsuits in the offing? Do you see the people visibly upset and demanding for heads to roll at LTA or Mincom?
If not, then the answer is obvious.
Accountability is not an innate trait of politicians. It has to be enforced. And the only ones who can enforce it are voters.
Are Singaporeans ready to enforce accountability?