April 25, 2017

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by Daniel Yap

THE former Football Association of Singapore (FAS) council is rather powerless, to hear it told.

Former council members on team Lim Kia Tong (LKT) have come forward yesterday (Apr 24) to say that they had been kept in the dark about the $500,000 donation from Mr Bill Ng’s Tiong Bahru Football Club (FC) to the regional Asean Football Federation (AFF), which had sparked an outcry in the football fraternity. It even led to a raid on three football clubs and the FAS offices (read more here). Mr Lim and Mr Ng are currently in the contest for the FAS presidency. Elections are on April 29.

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Mr Lim Kia Tong, former FAS vice president, said the council did not have access to the financial books of FAS, “Myself and the other council members did not know about how and who triggered this idea of sponsorship to AFF. This is a fact. There was no discussion. It was never raised at council meeting or at exco meeting.”

Mr Lim was also the provisional council president of the FAS from Nov 16 last year to Mar 31 this year. The donation was made in a few tranches between Dec 2014 and Sep 2015 when Mr Zainudin was the president.

No power over finances?

Former FAS vice president Bernard Tan said that the role and powers of the council, apart from the president, were limited. “The council is an advisory body. The President is conferred significant powers; he has sizeable authority.”

Mr S. Thavaneson, also a former council member and Chairman of Balestier Khalsa Football Club, said that independent auditors who had looked through the FAS books for that financial year did not flag anything suspicious about the transactions.

“Donations as such are extremely rare,” said Mr Tan. “FAS was a middleman in this transaction, also rare. But should it have been flagged to the council? Yes, on hindsight. Who knew? At least three individuals: Mr Ng, Zai, Winston.” Mr Tan was referring to Mr Bill Ng, former FAS President Zainudin Nordin and FAS general secretary Winston Lee. Mr Tan said that there is no policy at FAS for handling donations.

“But financial procedures were followed,” he said, adding that there was a clear need for a donation policy at FAS with better due diligence.

The FAS Constitution, however, seems to say that the council should have been consulted. The council has final authority over the finances of the FAS, and among other things, is empowered “to incur and authorise the expenditure of the funds of FAS for approved purposes and to designate signatories for the operation of the FAS’ banking accounts”.

And as for the rare occurrence of a large donation, and in the absence of a donation policy, the constitution says that the council has the authority “to decide upon any matter which has not been provided for in the Constitution”. Thus, wouldn’t it be even more important to inform the council of a rare and large donation that was part of a rare and possibly controversial arrangement to send money to the AFF?

So far from being merely advisory, the council should have had power and should have been told of such a rare and significant donation or arrangement. Were they stripped of their ability to exercise their constitutional power because pertinent information was deliberately withheld? Was it so easy to emasculate the council?

“Given the circumstances, said Mr Tan, “it’s hard for us to take responsibility for something we didn’t know about.” He said that the council “was very surprised” to find out about the transaction and had been “totally unaware” of it.

No power over jackpot operations

Mr Tan also said that the FAS only has oversight of the clubs in relation to their participation in football. S. league clubs receive annual funding from FAS and need to submit monthly accounts. Tiong Bahru FC, however, is not a S. League club.

Tiong Bahru FC is registered with the Registry of Societies, and their jackpot room operations are issued and governed by the Police Licensing Unit, which the FAS has no say in. Any society that is not a charity can apply to have a jackpot room if it meets certain criteria, including having at least 500 voting members and operate at least two other recreational facilities at the clubhouse.

At these “members only” clubs, membership is curiously easy to obtain. Several clubs offer free memberships or levy token membership fees. Applications for memberships are approved quickly, even on the spot.

The FAS does not even have the power to get non-playing football clubs that have fallen into debt to cease jackpot operations – all it can do is ask them to rejoin the league once they have cleared their debt. But if elected, Team LKT said that it wants to make sure that money generated from gambling “should 100 per cent” be ploughed back into local football.

But with no authority over how such money is spent, the most the FAS can do is boot out clubs that it considers to be flouting this principle, which does not stop the clubs from continuing their jackpot operations. A case in point is Sinchi FC, which left the S. League after the 2005 season, ceased to be an FAS affiliate, but continues to run jackpot operations to this day.

It is all FAS can do to keep its own house untarnished by claims of misspent gambling gains.

“Clean up the image of soccer”

Mr Bernard Tan said that what is important now, if they win the election, is to work to heal football, even with those who vote against them. He said, “The image of the game has been tarnished. Substantial damage has been done. Whoever is elected has to clean up the image of soccer.”

He said that a good council trades on integrity, and that they formed their slate to make sure that status, privileges, or deriving a livelihood from the FAS was not the reason for serving. Mr Thavaneson said that he was willing to open Balestier Khalsa’s books for public scrutiny.

When asked about how he felt about his team’s chances of getting elected, Mr Tan said, “No matter what we feel, you always want to behave like you got to fight for it. We want to feel like the underdog.”

 

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by Suhaile Md 

SO WHAT if she was axed from the national team training programme six months back? Feng Tianwei’s still got it. Singapore’s top table tennis star won the 2017 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) title on Sunday (Apr 23).

It’s her first major title since she was booted out of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) last October. Apparently, the 30-year-old didn’t fit into its rejuvenation plans, so STTA would not support her training. It would however support her participation in the ITTF world circuit. Though it’s not clear what exactly this support entails. As for major meets like the Olympics and the Asian Games, she will face the same qualifying criteria as any other STTA athlete. The three-time Olympic medallist had failed to make it past the Olympic quarter-finals in Rio 2016.

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There was much drama surrounding Feng’s ouster (links below). But she was quick to pick herself up and form a team to support her training. She has been busy competing since.

Barely over a month after the split, Feng faced world No. 1 and reigning Olympic champion, Ding Ning in a China Table Tennis Super League match on Dec 6. The bout was a nail-biter, but Feng prevailed, beating the world champion by just one set. The score: 3:2.

While the win gave her a much needed confidence boost, constant travel across China for league matches took a toll. A few days later at the ITTF Doha Open, Feng lost 3:4 to Miu Hirano of Japan in the round of 16. That’s one step short of the quarter finals. It was the last event of the year.

The loss of STTA’s resources clearly had an impact. “This is the first competition I’m going to where I’m handling every aspect of competing by myself,” said Feng after her loss to Japan, reported The Straits Times (Dec 10).

Lucky for her, she still qualified for the Sports Excellence Scholarship which provides her with a monthly stipend of up to $8,000 amongst other benefits like medical support. The scholarship is awarded by the High Performance Sports (HPS) Steering Committee, not STTA. HPS is chaired by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu. Feng successfully renewed the scholarship in March this year.

Feng’s 2017 season started on a sour note. She was absent from the STTA awards ceremony in mid-February although she was the top table tennis performer in Singapore last year. She had come in third for both the World Cup and Asian Cup in 2016. The best player award was not given out that night.

According to ST, when asked about Feng’s absence, STTA president Ellen Lee said: “She is no longer at the STTA… all this while, we have been recognising Feng Tianwei for what she has done and we are grateful… I think it’s about time that we also let the recognition be given and spread on to other players as well.”

February was a dismal month for her. For the ITTF Qatar Open, she was defeated by German Solja Petrissa, who ranked 13th in the world, by two sets. Feng was ranked sixth at that time.

There was one bright spot. On Feb 23, Feng met the qualifying criteria for the Asian Table Tennis Championship in April, so STTA took her in as part of its Singapore contingent. It was the first time she played with the STTA since their October split. On April 14 though, she lost to China’s Chen Meng at the quarter-final stage in three straight sets.

Despite the loss, Feng was ranked third in the world by ITTF in March and April, up from sixth when she parted ways with STTA. The next best Singaporean, ranked 25th in the world, is Zeng Jian. Since Feng is no longer in the STTA, this makes 20-year-old Zeng STTA’s best player.

Feng solidified her hold on the global rankings with her ITTF Korea Open win on Sunday (Apr 23). After her win, she said: “At the moment I don’t practise with the national team in Singapore although I live there. I am practising in different clubs and with different private sparring partners. Sometimes I even go to China for training.”

The three highest ITTF ranked players will represent Singapore in the SEA games team events this August, said STTA technical director Loy Soo Han in response to queries from The New Paper in January.

So it really doesn’t matter whether Feng is part of STTA or not as far as the glory of Singapore is concerned. Feng could still play for the national team if she maintains her ranking. If she wins medals, Singapore’s best paddler would have done so with little to no resources spent on her by STTA. Very much like Joseph Schooling.
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Read more on last October’s controversy here:

  1. Feng breaks silence on STTA controversy. Here’s her letter – in English

  2. What STTA’s Deputy President said about Feng Tianwei’s sacking

  3. Feng was a “bad egg”, a “disgrace to nation”, says STTA Deputy President

  4. Feng Tianwei’s shock exit and the economy

 

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By Bertha Henson

WHY are people getting so upset with the news of school mergers, especially at the junior college (JC) level? It’s a no-brainer right? If junior colleges are emptying out, then might as well close them now or merge. It’s such a rational, efficient thing to do. Reading the reactions, the unhappiness boils down to these nine questions.

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1. How is it that our so-efficient G can misjudge birth rates?

Well, the G keeps saying that it is based on information available at that time – and probably thought that its pro-baby policies will work. The last two JCs built were Innova which was founded in 2005 and Eunoia which opened its doors this year. So maybe if you look at the birth rate of the cohort that would enter Innova in its first year, it still looks like it can be filled. Except that later on, Singapore couples didn’t cooperate. Tsk. Tsk.

2. But that doesn’t explain Eunoia, does it?

Ah. But that’s a special JC that caters to the cohort studying in Catholic High School, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, and CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School. They will move to the JC as part of the Integrated Programme (IP).

Okay, Eunoia could have waited until next year and moved into one of the JCs’ vacated premises. Could have saved money. But it could be location as well. Eunoia is in Mount Sinai, and will move to its Bishan premises in 2019. Oh wait. Maybe it could still move into an empty campus before money is spent on yet another set of buildings…

3. So, the JCs that will be merged all don’t have IP feeder schools? What does this mean? I have to make sure my kid gets into a secondary school with IP so that they can progress right through to JC and university?

Oooh. Looks like that’s the best bet. Because JC is usually seen as the next step into university, unless your kid is a very bright polytechnic student. Through-train you know… even if this means less choice…

4. How did MOE pick the eight JCs anyway? Just because no IP?

Hmm. It says “geographical’’ distribution. So it’s about spreading them out equally. Like Meridian JC, which is in Pasir Ris, and Tampines JC. So they’re getting stuck together at the newer Meridian campus. Don’t forget that Temasek and Victoria JC are also in the east.

Then there’s Innova JC and Yishun JC merging to be on Yishun grounds. MOE said Yishun was picked because it’s more “accessible’’ than Innova, although Innova is newer. Maybe it also has to do with cut-off points. Innova is at the bottom of all 19 JCs, as reported by The Straits Times. MOE isn’t saying anything about it.

5. Wait a minute, why should cut-off points have anything to do with whether a JC disappears?

Hmmm. Guess MOE thinks there’s no point in having such poor performing JCs. Seven of the eight JCs that are merging are actually clustered at the bottom of the ladder, which means that their students aren’t, ah, as good as the rest. Elitist, but perfectly rational. Okay, there’s something to be said about preserving the school’s heritage and making alumni happy but you know what is said about “scarce’’ resources and so forth.

6. But if it is a matter of geography, Hwa Chong Institution and National JC are right across the road…

They’re IP and good performers and probably with strong alumnus that will kpkb . Just disregard what MOE said about geography, it doesn’t know how to spin doctor.

7. Why so sudden anyway? Some of the kids are already looking forward to entering JCs of their choice, especially those near their homes. Quite demoralising isn’t it?

The G will probably say that there’s never a good time to make such an announcement. If the mergers are delayed, then what are the chances that parents will allow their kids to apply for a JC that’s going to be closed? Rather than sound the death knell, just kill it off quickly.

8. That’s heartless when you think about the people who have been to the schools and have fond memories.

True. But hard truths.. hard truths.

9. Has it got to do with the G changing its mind about having more people going into university?

Well, it said it’s aiming for 40 per cent of the cohort by 2020, but it’s a declining cohort so the absolute numbers will probably remain about the same as now. Although it’s likely that when it came up with that figure, it didn’t think about the birth rate then. Or maybe it figured that the polytechnic route would also yield more university graduates. Then again, polytechnics are facing declining enrollments too. Are you thinking that this will have a knock-on effect on the capacity of our universities? That something will be done about polytechnics too?

 

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by Bertha Henson

IT WAS bound to happen. With news of the millions Tiong Bahru FC amassed from its fruit machines, there have been calls to keep these one-armed bandits confined to the two casinos.

Yet, there are more than 100 clubs – whether it is an NTUC Club or an exclusive country club – which has such misleadingly-named gambling contraptions. And you don’t have to pay a $100 entrance fee to get into the premises.

What you have to do, though, is be a member of said club or society. That’s because the machines are supposed to be “private’’, under the Private Lotteries Act. Located in the basement of People’s Park Centre, with 29 machines, Tiong Bahru FC has more than 18,000 members, according to its latest annual returns filed with the Registry of Societies, as reported by The Straits Times (April 23).

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Given that Tiong Bahru FC reported S$36.8 million in total revenue in the last financial year, that works out to roughly S$1.27 million for each machine, or just over S$100,000 per machine each month. That’s plenty of arm muscle or finger pressing every day in the club.

A check through newspaper reports showed that clubs view them as a big attraction. There’s the National University of Singapore Society Clubhouses, Singapore Cricket Club, Changi Swimming Club, Changi Airport Recreation Club and Keppel Club. NTUC Club has several jackpot rooms all over Singapore, in places such as Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Tanjong Pagar and Pasir Ris.

Of course, the G exacts its pound of flesh by imposing 9.5 per cent of annual gross turnover. This was put in place in 2011 because, gulp!, clubs said that an earlier proposed 12 per cent duty was too high now that casinos have surfaced in Singapore.

Casinos don’t seem to have affected the clubs’ takings equally. In fact, according to Business Times, the Automobile Association of Singapore had S$4.27 million in 2015, up from S$3.39 million the previous year. It has about the same number of machines as Tiong Bahru FC. So while revenue is growing, its takings are small beer compared to what the football club is raking in.

And this brings us to the question of just what those jackpot machines do for Singapore football – besides minting money. Tiong Bahru FC’s Bill Ng of the $500,000 donation fame, has always made no bones about his financial model for football.

He did the same to Hougang United FC and both clubs can afford to thumb their noses at any subsidy the Football Association of Singapore can funnel. Most S. League clubs operate on an annual budget of between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, and cannot do without the $800,000 annual subsidy.

“The public has to understand that we do not have any other source of revenue at this juncture. Hence the success of jackpot operations is critical,” he told TNP in October last year.

“This is the only artificial revenue that we can rely on at the moment. Any club with an eye towards financial self-sustainability must be prepared to look for alternative revenue streams as we may have to phase it out in the next five years.”

What the jackpot earnings have been spent on now appears to be the subject of police questioning. Besides monthly accounts and yearly audits, it isn’t clear what stipulations were put forth when the clubs obtained their licence to install fruit machines. At the very least, the club should be expected to use the revenue for its own purposes and in its own interest.

If so, it gives rise to the question of whether it is alright for $500,000 to be drawn from the Tiong Bahru FC account for the Asean Football Federation to build a Football Management System.

Mr Ng’s “jackpot” modus operandi is not without detractors who object to using gambling as a way to finance football. That was what Tampines Rovers chairman Krishna Ramachandra said last year about depending on an activity that has been known to wipe out the life savings of retirees.

There is, therefore, a moral issue here, and given the amounts amassed by Tiong Bahru FC, it would be safe to say that the punters aren’t there because they like football. In fact, its 18,000 members is significantly more than the 600 members of Geylang International FC, an S. League club. Another S. League club Balestier Khalsa’s 1,000-plus members also pales in comparison to that of Tiong Bahru FC.

But high-minded words aside, Mr Ramachandra is in a bit of a pickle now because he is on Mr Ng’s Game Changers slate as vice-president. In a TNP report today (Apr 24), he focused on the use of gaming revenue rather than the act of gaming. “I think the authorities have always had very clear and extensive rules and regulations on the jackpot operations.”

“I do not see that as an issue. Ultimately, the clubs need to ensure that they utilise the profits in a responsible manner and one that furthers the mandate of that club, be it a social or recreational or sports club.”

And no, he doesn’t want any rules on fruit machines tightened.

The FAS saga has opened a whole can of worms – both legal and moral.

 

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by Suhaile Md

CALL it a foot in the door of her career. Ms Allina Loke is chalking up work experience and building industry relationships while pursuing her education. While in the past it was taxing, and sometimes impossible to juggle a full-time job and study, balancing the demands of the workplace and the pursuit of formal qualifications has become a lot easier after SkillsFuture Singapore introduced the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme (ELP).

So it’s a good thing that SkillsFuture expanded its ELP offerings from 40 to 60 last month (Mar 29). It’s a work-learn programme for Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates that leads to both full-time employment and higher qualifications. Participants draw a salary – not a stipend – and undergo a “structured training programme” between 12 and 18 months. Basically, you acquire experience while studying.

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The aim is to give fresh graduates more post-graduation opportunities as well as to “support their transition to the workforce”, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say soon after its launch in early 2015. Which is why the programmes are designed in consultation with industry and education partners like the local polytechnics.

The ELPs support the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in March last year. As the name suggests, the ITMs are all about making selected industries more competitive. The 23 industries chosen, make up 80 per cent of Singapore’s economy. Industries include precision engineering, retail, and hospitality, among many others.

In short, ELP participants will be getting a head start in industries earmarked for growth – better jobs and higher pay anyone?

But what is it like to earn and learn? “It’s intense,” said Ms Allina Loke.

She works four days a week at Grand Hyatt Singapore as a Management Trainee. Wednesdays are a fixed day-off for her to attend classes scheduled from 9am to 7pm at Republic Polytechnic. Fortunately for her, classes end at 5.30pm most of the time, and the remaining lessons are delivered through e-learning, which she completes in her own time.

“What we learn is exactly the same as the other poly students”, said the 20-year-old. What other students cover in a week’s worth of classes, she covers in a day. It “can be stressful” balancing work and study. So, interest is important. Otherwise, it’s hard to stay motivated. That was something a handful of her peers realised. They dropped out of the programme a few months in because it is “something they were not interested in”.

Ms Loke, though, is determined “to finish” the 18-month-long ELP in Hospitality Management because she recognises certain advantages. Her schoolmates, most of whom are not enrolled in ELP, will graduate with little to no work experience. “What they are only doing, is study.”

On the other hand, she is being groomed to be on “captain duty” in five months. This means she will be in-charge of smaller events at the hotel with staff to manage. She started in October last year. Basically, she’s picking up industry-relevant skills and work experience while studying – unlike her peers.

That said, at the end of 18 months, she will be awarded with modular certificates, not the full diploma. For that, she needs to study for another year, in her own time. In total, two and a half years. Which is shorter than the three year diploma, including a six month industrial attachment, her peers need to complete.

More importantly, she’s gaining valuable experience while her peers are not. For the hospitality industry, “a lot of it is hands-on experience and job skills,” said Ms Peh Ai Pheng, Learning Manager at Grand Hyatt Singapore.

Diploma graduates with no experience would make $1,500 a month. Someone with 18 months experience in the industry will command “competitive salaries” ranging from $1,800 to $2,500 depending on the role and depth of work experience.

When asked to choose between an ELP graduate from another hotel – but no diploma – and a fresh diploma graduate for the same entry level job, Ms Peh said she would go with the candidate who completed the ELP. That’s “assuming same attitude, same personality… ultimately, you need experience dealing with guests, and hotel systems”.

Which is why participants “go through a structured on-the-job-training programme” designed to develop “relevant work skills and provide an edge over those not on the ELP.”

This point was raised last year when the first batch of hospitality ELP participants signed up, reported ST. “They are very focused, enthusiastic and forthcoming in their suggestions and pick things up faster as they’ve done it before,” said Ms Isis Ong, director of learning at the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.

Financially, Ms Loke is better off too. Her course fees are covered, bond free, by the G and Grand Hyatt during the ELP. All participants also get a $5,000 sign-on bonus when they join the ELP.

Plus, she’s earning $1,800 a month now. This does not include overtime pay, incentives, and other staff perks like health and insurance benefits. “The company takes care of us,” she said. Both Human Resources and her manager also check up on her to ensure she’s learning and progressing well.

Grand Hyatt Singapore, said Ms Peh, decided to participate in ELP because it “helps in attracting Singaporeans to the industry”.  It’s also “to support the national movement in” developing and providing opportunities for Singaporeans.

Currently, the company has five ELP participants, with five more expected to join in May. All are management trainees.

Ms Loke was part of the first batch to join the ELP. She graduated with a Higher Nitec in events management last April. Her 3.0 grade point average (GPA) had easily surpassed the 2.0 GPA requirement to be part of the ELP.

Along with her, 47 other participants joined the hospitality ELP. Over 50 hotels participated last year, including Intercontinental Singapore, Marina Bay Sands and Shangri-La Hotel Singapore amongst others.

There are ELPs in other sectors too, like the infocomm technology and logistics industries. Last year, over 500 graduates joined the ELP, said Parliamentary Secretary for Education Faishal Ibrahim in Parliament earlier this year (Feb 28).

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

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By Bertha Henson

SO MANY accusations left hanging in the air. Allegations of financial impropriety and other shenanigans – all left unsaid. What are we to make of the statements of protagonists in the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) saga and the police action? Everybody’s been coy about joining the dots because they might not draw a pretty, and maybe even defamatory, picture. Here, however, are six points that seem the subject of contention:

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a. That $500,000 donation
It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Mr Bill Ng’s claim that this donation in 2014 intended for local football went instead to supporting the Asean Football Federation (AFF) led to an escalation of tensions between past and contending challengers for the council.

Did he know or not know? General secretary Winston Lee produced documentary evidence that he did but Mr Ng then said that Mr Lee coerced him into signing the letter and putting it on his club letterhead.

Was ex-FAS president Mr Zainudin Nordin involved in asking him for the donation? Mr Ng said it was Mr Lee but an acknowledgement letter was addressed to Mr Zainudin. Sport Singapore has asked for an audit of such large donations. Both Mr Zainudin and Mr Ng seem to be good friends. Mr Ng even asked the ex-MP to chair Tiong Bahru Football Club (FC) when he stepped down from the FAS earlier this year. He declined the offer as he was given a post of Deputy Principal (Development) at ITE College.

b. Whose money is it anyway?

It appeared to have come from Tiong Bahru FC which Mr Ng owns, going by the cheques signed. It went to the FAS which passed it to the AFF. Now why this sum had to go through the good offices of the FAS is another question. Why not a direct donation?

c. So what if FAS was the channel?

If so, how is it that other council members seem to have no knowledge of such a large donation, which amounts to half of what could be used to run a football club? Is this a sign that the old establishment, as so many in the fraternity had alleged, is elitist and secretive? Mr Zainudin, president since 2009, only held council meetings four times a year unlike his predecessor Associate Prof Ho Peng Kee, who did so once a month.

d. How did Tiong Bahru come to have so much money anyway?

The club has 29 jackpot machines on its premises which rake in about $37 million last year, more than the $35.8 million FAS budget. Those machines aren’t illegal and appeared to be Mr Ng’s chief method of turning around ailing clubs. The corporate had experience in gaming operations, having set up a casino in Cambodia. According to TODAY, the club paid its 15 employees S$2.073 million in salaries last year and put in an additional S$528,000 for staff training, uniforms and staff welfare. But spending on its football team was a more modest S$169,000.

His other two clubs, Hougang United and Woodlands Wellington, also have jackpot machines although not of the same number. In 2014, Hougang United made a $2million profit and Mr Ng made a point of returning the FAS its $800,000 subsidy.

e. So if it’s not illegal, then what’s the problem?

There are questions about an audit during the saga of Hougang United and Woodlands Wellington intending to merge in 2014 which was later ruled as unconstitutional. In March 2016, however, Sport Singapore ordered FAS to do an audit on the merger and clubs sitting out of the S. League. This is, apparently, still on-going. It also told Woodlands Wellington, which is sitting out of the S. League, to cease making money from the machines and move out of the premises.

f. Does the saga have anything to do with Mr Ng’s companies?

He founded private equity firm Financial Frontiers and is a director of six companies.

ST reported that in his company’s portfolio is an ESW Manage, which is a sponsor of Hougang United, and also had Mr Zainudin Nordin and Woodlands Wellington chairman Gary Tan as directors. It might not be a surprise that those in the football fraternity have commercial ties but there is the issue of whether proper disclosure of interests was made to relevant parties.

Mr Ng’s wife Bonnie Wong is the listed owner of Polygon Ventures, landlord of the Tiong Bahru club’s 2,583 square foot premises in the basement of People’s Park Centre. The club pays rent of about $80,000 a month or $31 per square feet. TODAY’s checks showed that other basement units in People’s Park Centre are charging between S$2.92 and S$11.23 per square foot in rent. The only unit charging S$31.50 per square foot in rent is located at street level, and measures only 200 square foot.

Nobody’s drawing any links in the above except to state the facts. Clearly, Mr Ng had been under some auditing pressure even before he threw his hat into the FAS electoral ring. So is he trying to obstruct the process as he has been alleged to?

Let’s wait for the next match.

 

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by Suhaile Md

Suhaile attended the last two More Than Just Series of Dinner conversations on race. One of the underlying questions participants grappled with was this: Is there always a clear line between what’s racist and what’s not? The discussions in the dinner itself did not cover race-based jokes. So here’s a short reflection on situations in which race-based jokes, in his opinion, are acceptable.

I ONCE had a stranger do the “indian head shake” barely five minutes into our conversation. He changed his accent too for added effect. A lame attempt at humour that hardened the ice rather than break it.

To be fair, I had cracked a few self-deprecating jokes on stage during a presentation earlier. But the jokes were not racial. Perhaps my self-deprecation led him to believe that I’m not “the sensitive sort”, as some like to say when their racial jokes fall flat.

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Truth to tell, my friends and I – of various races – frequently engage in race-based jokes that would well, embarrass others outside the group. But they are very close friends. I could never fathom why some people thought it ok to walk up to a stranger and make such “jokes”.

When I ask them, they usually reply, “but my Indian friend is ok with it leh, so not racist what, why you so sensitive?” Or they say: “But X can make such jokes why I cannot?”

Ah, well, context my friends. Context is everything.

Look at race-based jokes like you would butt-slaps. That’s right, the childish, nonsensical game some kids engage in: “HAHA I HIT YOUR BACKSIDE!”

With that analogy in mind, here’s a quick guide (and please don’t kill me if you disagree).
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a. Do it to a stranger and it’s criminal.

b. Not all friends are cool with it no matter how close you are. Respect that.

c. It’s never appropriate in formal settings, even if you’re the best of friends.

d. Never use it as a weapon no matter how justifiably upset and angry you are. It’s humiliating.

e. Also, please don’t try it out with people you’ve barely met.

f. Don’t dish it out if you’re not comfortable being at the receiving end.

g. Too much of it gets tiring very fast.

h. Not everyone understands this sort of… friendly banter. And not understanding it doesn’t mean they are “too sensitive”. So don’t be a jerk about it.

i. Being cool with it between friends does not make one a sadomasochist (or in the case of race, self-hating “insert race”)

j. You need to be really close friends to even consider it… and these friends are often the first to rush to your aid when sh*t hits the fan.

k. When in doubt, just don’t.

 

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ONE of the reasons why Singapore is perhaps the safest place to live in is due to the low frequency of natural disasters resulting from our geographical location. Fortunately, we are being geographically encased by Borneo on one side and Malaysia on the other. Thus, any typhoon or tsunami activity will go through those locations first. By the time they reach Singapore, it’s merely a tame tropical depression with great surf conditions.

Yet, our counterparts in the international community are not as lucky as us. Natural disasters often disrupt the life of the natives – damaging infrastructure, costing massive amounts of money to recover from the damage, causing a temporary halt to economic activities and worst of all, resulting in high death tolls and injuries. Here are some natural disasters around the world in the month of April:

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1. Lima, Peru – Flood and mudslides: Death toll continues to rise 

Floods and mudslides have been afflicting Peru since the start of the year. The death toll is currently at 113 as of 19 April. The heavy rains have been affecting the South American country all year round, causing rivers to reach high levels, forcing people to leave the place. An estimated million homes have been damaged and more than 2,500 kilometres of road have been destroyed.

In a latest update, the National Center for Emergency Operations said that the recent natural calamity is because of a climate phenomenon called “coastal El Nino”.

CNN reported on March 20 that half a million people in and around the country’s capital, Lima, have been affected by storms and flooding. President of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has said the country will need some US$9 billion (S$12.5 billion) to rebuild and modernise the affected areas. He said: “We know it is a difficult situation, but we are controlling it, and we are hopeful that it will soon pass”.
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2. Naypyidaw, Myanmar – Cyclone Maarutha 

Image of Cyclone Maarutha churning above the Bay of Bengal captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite.
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Cyclone Maarutha caused a storm to move over land on the Rakhine coast of Myanmar on the night of April 17. The landfall was first classified as a tropical depression on April 15 in the Bay of Bengal, according to Aljazeera.

Relief web reported: Three people were killed in Irrawaddy Division as Cyclone Maarutha made landfall on Arakan State’s coast and swept through southern coastal Burma on Sunday (Apr 16).

The town Thandwe was swept by the cyclone with winds at 60km/h and steady, heavy rain. The cyclone continued but weakened as it passed the rugged terrain of the region. This cyclone is the first tropical cyclone in the northern hemisphere. This cyclone season usually leads up to the southwest monsoon.
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3. Wellington, New Zealand – Double trouble Cyclone Debbie and Cyclone Cook

Image of Cyclone Cook sweeping through the South Pacific before approaching New Zealand taken by NASA.
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April isn’t a particularly good month for New Zealand as it was first hit by Cyclone Debbie and then Cyclone Cook.

In the first week of April, the tail-end of Cyclone Debbie devastated the Bay of Plenty town of Edgecumbe, forcing its 2,000 residents to flee with only a few minutes’ warning. Although flooding eventually became less severe than anticipated, hundreds of trees have fallen, and police said many roads had been closed in the North Island. State of emergency was activated in Bay of Plenty and Thames-Coromandel, with the defence force assisting in moving residents to higher ground and keeping people away from the coast. Fortunately, there are no reported deaths due to Cyclone Debbie.

About a week later, New Zealand was hit by Cyclone Cook on April 13. It struck New Zealand with power outages, fallen trees and landslides reported around much of the central and eastern North Island, which bore the brunt of the storm. Forecasters feared that Cyclone Cook could be the worst storm to strike New Zealand since 1968. There is also no known deaths due to Cyclone Cook.
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4. Manila, Philippines – Earthquake Swarm

Image of a Filipino villager walking past a tilted shanty at a coastal village in the earthquake-hit town of Taal, Batangas province, Philippines taken by Francis R. Malasig.
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The Philippines was hit by an earthquake swarm, which is when a local area experiences sequences of many earthquakes striking in a relatively short period of time, on April 8.

Three quakes ranging in magnitude from 5.0 to 5.9 struck Batangas province, about 90 km (55 miles) south of Manila, around 3 p.m. (0700 GMT) over a period of about 20 minutes, said the U.S. Geological Survey. Hundreds of residents of coastal areas in a province south of the Philippine capital fled to higher ground fearing a tsunami on after a series of earthquakes on the main island of Luzon. However, the earthquake swarm was not powerful enough to cause a tsunami according to Head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology Dr Renato Solidum.

While there were no reports of casualties, power was cut off in some in some areas and cracks were reported in homes and some commercial buildings. Landslides were also reported in some towns and a portion of a Catholic church tower that had collapsed.

The Philippines sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanoes are common. An earthquake of magnitude 7.7 killed nearly 2,000 people on the northern island of Luzon in 1990.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Ryan Ong

A LOT of Singaporeans think Financial Advisers (FA) only sell insurance, but that isn’t all they do in this day and age. While insurance is part of the financial planning they do, most FAs take a holistic long-term view. Many prefer to work at building lifelong relationships, helping their clients all the way to retirement; and that means they need to do more than sell policies. Here are some other things you can get them to do for you:
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What exactly is a Financial Adviser (FA)?

In Singapore, FAs are licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) under the Financial Advisers Act.  Depending on the qualifications they’ve received (FAs do plenty of tests and exams to qualify), different FAs are authorised to offer different types of financial products, and dispense different types of financial advice. Insurance policies are just one aspect of their work.

Most FAs can also do the following:


1. Compare insurance products to give you the best s
olution for your needs

It might surprise you to learn that some FAs don’t just sell products from one insurer. Because insurance is just one facet of what they do for you, some FAs are willing to compare different policies for you depending on your lifestyle needs and affordability to suit your needs and get a better deal.

Some Manulife FAs, for example, will compare different insurance policies to make sure you get the right products within your budget. They can end up recommending or selling policies from other insurers, if they feel it’s a better fit for your portfolio*.

This isn’t to say FAs who work with specific insurers are bad; they are just more focused on helping certain demographics. But if you’d feel better with an adviser who will compare across the industry for you, know that there are many who will.

(*That’s why a lot of new FAs, who often seek to help families and friends as their first clients, tend to end up with the Manulife Financial Advisers; it lets them pick from a wider range of options, to deal with the individual cases that they’re intimately familiar with).

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2. Help with your retirement planning

For most Singaporeans, retirement planning is quite straightforward (just decide who gets the house, the car, and nominate someone to get your remaining CPF monies).

However, FAs would be around to help if your legacy planning is more complicated. For example, if you pass away unexpectedly and your 15-year-old child is to inherit the house. Or if you own a business, which is to be inherited by two or more children; and you want to establish rules on whether and when that business can be broken up and sold.

Most FAs know the proper safeguards when handling retirement planning, and can at least refer you to the most appropriate and cost-effective experts to help.

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3. Check up on other investments you’re considering

Different FAs will, depending on their network and qualifications, offer different depths of service. However, all of them understand how to build your portfolio for retirement or other purposes. They will know the right level of risk, and whether a given asset fits your portfolio.

This makes FAs a useful source of advice, if you are considering different investment opportunities. For example, if you want to invest money to help your children open their own café, your FA can determine how this will impact your portfolio, and make changes accordingly (or frankly advise you against it, if that’s what must be done).

FAs can also research alternative investments you’re considering, such as gold exchange-traded funds or property investments, and determine if they are viable additions to your portfolio.

Due to their extensive involvement in the finance industry, FAs are also more aware of potential scams, or entities on the MAS watch list (these entities often rebrand themselves to confuse the public).

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4. Continuously rebalance your portfolio to fit life’s changing circumstances

Proper retirement planning is not done in a single session. You’ll need to rebalance your portfolio (the various assets that make up your wealth) on a regular basis.

One example of this is age: As you get older, your portfolio should shift from growing your wealth to protecting it. This means exchanging riskier, high return assets, such as equities, to safer assets like Singapore Savings Bonds, or even simple fixed deposits.

Also, your changing financial situation can require quick, drastic changes. If you’re suddenly retrenched, for example, you may need to change your insurance policy to something with lower premiums.

You can get your FA to do formulaic and calendar based rebalancing, to deal with these.

Formulaic rebalancing means your FA can recommend changes to the assets in your portfolio, when they no longer meet a planned asset allocation (this happens as a result of changing values among various assets, from stocks to cash).

Calendar based rebalancing is often done annually or semi-annually. Your FA will rebalance your portfolio, will deal with your changing age, along with new needs such as sending your children to university, or buying a new house.


5. O
ne-stop value-added information source

What are the implications to your housing loan when the American Federal Reserve imposes an interest rate hike? What does it mean for Singapore Savings Bonds when the Singapore Government Securities Yield falls?

If you don’t have the time to find out, your FA is a quick source. Besides being able to explain how current events are going to impact your portfolio (or your wallet), FAs are the most common intermediary between the finance industry and the lay person. They’re a good way to get smart about fluctuations in the market, and to better understand the financial world.

In personal finance, bad decisions often come from a lack of understanding; FAs explain situations, which reduces drastic mistakes like selling off your assets in a panic.

If something in the news alarms you, be sure to call them before you react.

 

This is an editorial series done in partnership with Manulife Financial Advisers.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Mr Bill Ng with recipients of the Hougang United club scholarship fund (image by Hougang United)

by Gary Koh 

THE raids on Mr Bill Ng Eng Tiong’s football clubs and his bid for control of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has thrown the spotlight on finances – those of the FAS as well as the clubs he controls. The merger and acquisitions specialist’s skill as a money-maker applies on and off the pitch, but what of how he spends it?

Mr Ng’s first foray into Singapore football came in 2004 when he was brought into semi-professional side Tiong Bahru FC for his expertise in turning around the fortunes of in-crisis companies in other industries.

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It was an all too familiar story in Singapore football – without a viable revenue stream to fund their football operations, Tiong Bahru FC was a club mired in debt and primed for shut down. Mr Ng turned to legalised gaming in the clubhouse as the best bet for clubs to be financially self sustaining.
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The Tiong Bahru FC clubhouse in People’s Park Complex.

“Self-sustaining”, though, is an understatement. Its takings for the last financial year came to $36.8 million, more than 20 times the income of a typical S-League club and even more than the FAS, which gives local S-league clubs an annual $800,000 handout. Many National Football League (NFL) clubs operate on less than $10,000 a year.

But spending has been a big question where Mr Ng is concerned, and could make or break his campaign. Sport Singapore made a police report about suspected misuse of funds after checks this week raised “serious questions about the use of club funds”. A police raid on Mr Ng’s clubs followed on Apr 20.
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Police cart away boxes of documents and computers from the Tiong Bahru FC clubhouse.

The Straits Times reported that the Tiong Bahru FC spent nearly as much as it made in most years, which is also surprising for a club of its stature. Mr Ng said that 80 to 85 per cent of the revenue is returned to the player or paid out as winnings. It was from Tiong Bahru’s FC funds that the controversial $500,000 donation for the Asean Football Federation’s football management system was made.

A report in Today revealed that Mr Ng’s Tiong Bahru FC paid close to a million dollars in rent for its People’s Park Complex clubhouse last year, which works out to $31 price per square foot for the 2,583-square-foot basement unit. It has 15 staff and paid out salaries of over $2 million, spent $528,000 on staff training and benefits but committed a comparatively paltry $168,000 for its football activities, although that number is many times higher than the budgets of other clubs of the same calibre.

Mr Ng’s business acumen would be put to a sterner test in 2009 when he was once again asked by FAS General Secretary Winston Lee to turn around a different crisis club, this one in the S-League. Then known as Sengkang Punggol, they were more than $1 million dollars in the red. Again, Mr Ng’s ‘jackpot solution’ helped the club, later rebranded Hougang United,  it generated a $2 million dollar surplus over the next five years. It is the only local club that eschews the $800,000 handout from the Tote Board.

The questions about spending are amplified by poor results on the pitch. Players of Tiong Bahru FC found themselves relegated to Division Three for a spell, but the strengthening of their financial base allowed for them to return to Division One in the next few seasons. The club has never topped the NFL despite its good financial fortunes. Hougang United FC is also seen as underperforming, given its financial position.
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Hougang United players decked out in suits before departing for an overseas game (Image by Hougang United FC).

Mr Ng’s methods were not without criticism, from murmurings on the regular turnover of coaches to accusations of seeking ‘profit-at-all-costs’. In order to win the vote, he has to convince his critics that he isn’t using football to chase finances, but that he is using finances to improve the football situation.

A lot of bad blood came in 2014 following his management team’s controversial takeover attempt of financially insolvent S-League side Woodlands Wellington, amid fears that he would damage the club’s footballing culture in favour of a cushy bottom line.

A group of Woodlands Wellington fans, led by former long-serving club official Vengadasalam Rengayyan, formed an activist group to take control of the club and block Mr Ng’s takeover. The merger was eventually ruled to be unconstitutional, and neither Mr Ng nor the activists took control of the club. New management was put in place, and these days Woodlands Wellington only play in the Women’s premier league. It still runs a clubhouse with jackpot operations.

Mr Ng has countered that he was merely doing the job entrusted to him by the FAS – to turn struggling clubs around financially. He has also taken great pains to stress that the profits from Hougang United FC’s gaming operations are ploughed back into football and the community.

His most famous donation right now is the $500,000 from Tiong Bahru FC which went by way of the FAS to the Asean Football Federation, which raised eyebrows for both its quantum as well as for, why a small club was paying for the infrastructure of a regional football body.

Outside of that, Mr Ng’s notable football give-backs include a million-dollar club scholarship fund which pays the school fees of promising young footballers, and the providence of a regular allowance, in addition to regular fund-raising dinners for the late disabled footballer S. Anthonysamy, from 2012 until his passing four years later.

The financial help provided to S. Anthonysamy and his family is significant because Woodlands Wellington had paid scant attention to their former employee after the on-field accident in August 1996 that left him paralysed from the neck down.
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The late former Hougang coach and Woodlands Wellington player Amin Nasir (Image by Hougang United FC).

When Amin Nasir, once a caretaker coach for Hougang United FC and player at Woodlands Wellington suffered a relapse of cancer in 2014, the former national defender’s medical bills were paid by Mr Ng in his personal capacity. A regular monthly allowance is also given to his family, which will continue until the end of the year even though he passed away in January 2017.

Hougang United FC’s confidence in running operations without subsidies has enabled it to invest in footballing infrastructure at Hougang Stadium.
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Hougang United FC’s refurbished dressing room (Image by Hougang United).

Apart from being the first club in Singapore to acquire the Globus EuroGoal ball shooting machine that aids its goalkeeper training sessions, it has also renovated its home dressing room with individual lockers and a recovery bath-tub, and installed leathered seats on both benches.

But all this does little to put off critics, for whom money is merely a resource to keep building football. The closest the club came to on-pitch success was a League Cup runners-up finish in 2011, while meagre bottom-half league finishes of seventh, 10th and sixth were the best it could achieve in the three most recent league campaigns.

The task at hand for Mr Ng, and his Game Changers, should he win a mandate on 29 April, is enormous. He has to rejuvenate not just a single club, but an entire football ecosystem. Beyond financial recovery, he will have to win hearts and minds, convince Singaporeans that Singapore football deserves their support and convince the youth that the pursuit of football excellence is still worthwhile. Most of all, he has to do the one thing he has failed to do at his clubs – raise the quality of Singapore football.

 

With more than a decade spent covering football, Gary Koh’s works have previously appeared in local and international print and online publications, among them notably with FourFourTwo and Asian Football Confederation.

 

Featured image courtesy of Hougang United Football Club.

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