Friday, December 19, 2008

The future of regulatory oversight in Singapore - Keep your eyes on the ball, guys!!

In the increasingly fast and furious game of tennis, players are constantly reminded to keep their eyes on the ball. Sure, you can run fast and hit hard, but take your eye off the ball, and your shot goes wild.

So it should be for our regulatory authorities.

Once again these recent days, we are painfully reminded of regulatory lapses which have led to possibly the biggest financial fraud of all time. Bernie Maddoff stands accused of engineering the largest pyramid scam (Ponzi scheme???) of all time, cheating investors of US$50 billion.

While we may not have all that much sympathy for the greedy silly investors, it is increasingly coming to light that behind this debacle, was a regulatory system that took it's eye off the ball.

Financial regulators (as do all other regulatory systems) have a responsibility to the public to do their job. While they cannot ever be completely failure proof, they are obliged to be vigilant and to take action where there is evidence of wrong doing. Where there are cracks in the dam, some maintenance work needs to be done.

But here is the sad truth of how real life works. No regulator wants to be the one to rein in a business that is on a roll...and on a roll big time. For a big name like Bernie Maddoff, in whose now discredited schemes other big name investors trusted in, no regulator wants to go in and stall a winning game. Even when evidence emerges that things are seriously amiss.

At some point itme though, the shit does hit the fan. The tsunami comes to shore. Another black swan? Hardly. There were ample warning signs before the storm. They just took their eye off the ball.

Remember the NKF problem in Singapore? Someone took his eye off the ball. NKF(National Kidney Foundation) was doing great. Successful charitable organization. Screw the gold taps, they were doing well. .. and saving the Ministry of Health millions. Someone took his eye of the ball, and the regulators kept their hands in their pockets.

Here is where we have a problem in Singapore. We have as a society that has defined success as being denominated primarily by economic gain. Our regulatory agencies are almost invariably harnessed to promotional agendas. Regulate with a light touch, ... and don't you dare screw up our economic growth.

It's not for me to say whether this is right our wrong. This is merely a strategy that has been adopted. History will prove it's rightness....or wrongness.

But I seriously doubt we will produce tennis champions who instead of keeping their eye on the ball, keep watching the guy on the next court with the bulging biceps, or the cute blonde with a short skirt and pink panties.


auntielucia said...

NKF: not so much as slippage of regulatory oversight as a wrong principle guiding many charities. They want to build up reserves. Which is fine for one or two years but when it goes to abt 20 or more years worth of reserves or assumes an exponentially growing list of recipients, then that's when the bells should ring. Charities often project a rise in recipients without netting off those who either fall out of this world or haul themselves off the safety net, having entered better times. I'm chary of organised charities, preferring where possible to identify one or two needy cases to give direct and then to donate small sums to really small unpublicised charities like Breadline, Presbyterian Community Services, Lions' Befrienders Group etc..

gigamole said...

True only to a certain extent.

NKF's excesses were already well known to people working with NKF. People tell me that MoH already had wind of some of these problems. So this was I believe a situation like the Madoff problem, where red flags were ignored until it can no longer be ignored. Then the **** hit the fans.

Wrt your second point, I fully agree with you. I will email you separately a small very worthy cause for you to consider if you have some spare liquidity in this depressing economic climate.

Have a very good year.

kiwifruit said...

Seems to me it's a whole lot easier to look at the books and account for the appropriate movements of dollars and cents, than examining the appropiateness of transactions, or whether the best value has been obtained.

In heath care, there are added complexities because, regulation of health care provision has to take into consideration elements that are not financial in nature. I presume regulators such as the HSA will need to examine and oversee issues pertaining to safety of products that enter the market. I don't really know how they effectively do this if they are also supposed to promote the biomedical industry.

Anyone cares to enlighten?