Monday, July 25, 2005

My birthday wish for Singapore

During the recent NKF saga, the Health Minister asked the donors to vote with their donations. If donors don't like what the charity or the management of this charity are doing, give our money to another charity.

"Vote with your donations". Hmm . . ., this led me to ask myself aloud, "Can we do the same with our gahmen ?"

Can we stop paying our taxes if we don't like what the gahmen is doing ? Guess not. The only way is through the general elections. In theory, we can vote out this gahmen, but in reality, we can't because there isn't an alternative. We don't have an alternative (I don't like the term opposition because it sound too destructive) party who can take over. These parties either imploded through internal power struggles, or failed to capitalise on the opportunities when presented, or have been systematically decimated.

Fortunately, for 40 years, we have been lucky that the present gahmen has been relatively clean and competent and brought us to where are today. But what about the next 40 ? What will it be for our sons and daughters, and their sons and daughters ? Past successes do not guarantee future successes, remember the fine print.

One key point of contention has been the salaries (this really make $600K looks like peanut) of the political leaders. It has been the so-called strategy to attract top talents to join politics. Given the fact the rich is getting richer and the income gap between the rich and the poor is widening, in future, how much will it be enough to attract these top talents ? Will political office becomes so attractive money wise that people are doing it for the wrong reasons ?

What happened if despite the fact that they are paid top dollars, we have a bunch of corrupt and incompetent individuals managing the country ? When it happened, it will just sneak up on us quietly and it will be too late for the country to react. I don't think there is much we can do to change that, especially, if the gahmen continue to enjoy a two-third majority and the continued disarray in the alternatives.

If we look at some of the major democracies around the world, there tend to have two major parties with several minor parties. We have theDemocrats vs the Republicans in the US and the Labour Party vs the Conservatives in Great Britain. These major parties are forced to compete on ideas, programmes and policies, and has opportunities to form the next gahmen at every general elections. If voters like what they are doing, they get to continue. Otherwise, they are voted out and the other major party gets a shot. To win office, they have to focus on programmes and policies that bring about both long term and short term benefits to the people. And when there are 2 major parties, they automatically form the check and balances through rigourous debates, arguments and counter arguments. The governing party cannot "slam-dunk" unpopular policies down the people's throat. Because if they do, they will be voted out the next time round.

At one stage, there is talk that the present party in power should be split into 2 so as to introduce competition. This is not a bad idea. While at the beginning, the 2 split parties will be very similar. But over time, they will evolve in different ways. Hopefully, after 10, 20 or 30 years, they will become good alternatives. The fact that the ruling party was considering such a scenario demonstrated that a 2 party system has its merits. Unfortunately, it looks like this is unlikely to happen.

What's left is for the other parties to eventually evolve into a creditable alternatives. For the well being of our future generations, I hope it will happen. Not because the present party is not doing a good job, but I don't wish the future depends on just 1 party getting good people. I think a 2-party system is better and offers a true alternative for the voters. Just like the NKF saga, status quo will not do.

Finally, my wish for Singapore's 40th birthday is to have 2 strong political parties working for the good of Singaporeans.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

NKF - My 2cents

In this ongoing NKF saga, I would like to look at this from another angle. I would like to compare how is NKF utilising the donors' dollars vis-a-vis KDF. The figures used below are taken from their respective websites as follow :


The categories used to report the revenue and expenses are similar, except that there is the category "Dialysis Fee" shown in KDF's and not in NKF's. Doesn't NKF charge its beneficiaries some fees for the treatment? I would assume the dialysis fees collected is included in the category "Other Income" unless NKF are into other business which could generate $25.3 million is revenue in 2003. Why didn't NKF show the dialysis fees collected as a separate item ?

For the purpose of this analysis, I would assume the "Other Income" is the amount of dialysis fees collected. I will amend the figures below if NKF would release the actual dialysis fees collected on their website. Anyway, this figure will be sufficient to provide a good estimate.

The Actual Subsidy is computed by subtracting the Dialysis Fees paid by the beneficiaries from the Direct Charitable Expenses. I can draw the following conclusions :

On average, NKF patients received 32% subsidy while KDF patients received 63% subsidy on the cost of dialysis treatment.

On average, for every dollar of donation, NKF spends 18 cents to subsidise patients' treatment, 45 cents on other operating and marketing expenses, and put 36 cents in the bank or other investments.

On average, for every dollar of donation, KDF spends 62 cents to subsidise patients' treatment, 23 cents on other operating and marketing expenses, and put 14 cents in the bank or other investments.

Isn't it quite obvious who does a better job in utilising the donors' money for the benefit of the intended recepients, ie. the beneficiaries ? By the way, $600K pays for the entire 20 full-time staffs' salary of KDF for 2003.

This may be a very simplistic analysis of their operating efficiency given that the scale of their operation are quite different. But it gives a quick assessment in the absence of more substantial information and model.

The success of any charity is not measured just by the amount of money it can raise, albeit it is one of the critical success factors, but also by how many people benefitted from it and how much of the donations are disbursed to these beneficiaries efficiently and effectively. NKF has demonstrated it is a huge marketing machine judging by the amount of money it is able to raise. I think it is time for them to get back to focusing on what is their mission in the first place.

On a personal note, I will not be making any contributions to NKF until they are more transparent and channel more of the donations toward the intended beneficiaries. While I empathise the plight of kidney patients and would like to help them through donations, I am hesistant to contribute to KDF at the moment. This is because

1. There might be an influx of donations to KDF as a result of this saga.

2. There is already a spike in their donations last year, probably as a result of the publicity of NKF's reserve. KDF's subsidies to patients have dropped to 49 cents and excess fund has increased to 30 cents per donor's dollar. With the expected influx of additional donations, a bigger percentage of the money will go into their reserve unless KDF has bigger plans.

3. I respect KDF's fund raising principle as stated in their website, "Funds are raised based on a pre-determined annual target. This is to ensure that other worthy charities will not be deprived of public funds."

I take heart that in their effort to raise more funds, KDF has not forgotten that they are other worthy charities which are also after the donors dollar.

Until someone can come up with a model to assess these charities, I will use the above simplistic model to determine which other charities are deserving of my donations. While the amount I can afford to donate is small, at least I am assured that the money is going to the people who really need it.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Road courtesy . . . lack of

Sometimes I wonder why Singaporeans lack basic courtesy on the roads. When someone gives way to you, the least you can do is to acknowledge it by a wave of the hand. Just like one would to say Thank You when one receive a favour. Somehow, this seems to be lacking.

I was trying to get out of the car park at Great World City this evening at about 9.45pm. As this is the peak period, there is a long queue of vehicles waiting on the main route out, inching their way forward. There are several perpendicular rows in this car park which joins to the main exit route and of course cars on these rows depended on vehicles in the main exit route to give way to them.

I was on one of these rows and a kind driver in a white Nissan gave way to me. I acknowledged him by a wave of hand and he acknowledged it by a similar wave of his hand.

As I inched my way forward, there is a yellow Honda Jazz (SFH85XX) waiting in the next row trying to get out. So I opened up a gap for him. Guess what, he just cut in and proceeded on as if he has the right of way. No acknowledgement and no eye contact. Well, I thought its probably just one of those.

I'm wrong. At the next row, I allowed a silver E200 (SDQ66XX) to get out and the same thing happened.

Things like these make me wonder if Singaporeans are becoming so self-centred and deemed that when others gave way to them, it is their divine right. If this so, then I think our society has failed miserably despite all the accolades of having the best airport and seaport in the world.

It is not just those big donations to charity or the constant pursuit to be the best in the world that defines the progress of our society, it is also the way our people interact with one another and the little gestures that will made us better human beings, and Singapore a better to live in.

For the 2 drivers, if you happened to chance upon this blog, I sincerely hope you would take a little time to reflect. The next time someone give way to you, just a simple nod or a wave to say Thank You. Then, there might just be hope for our society.