Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where is the money, TOC & TRE?

In the heat of the recent general election, alternative media platforms like The Online Citizen and Temasek Review Emeritus launched their respective fund-raising efforts.

Many Singaporeans dipped into their hard-earned salaries to support such work. Others contributed part of their Grow and Share package to these causes. In doing so, these individuals chose to forgo the 250% tax deduction one would enjoy by giving to government-approved charitable or civil society initiatives.

According to its website, as at mid-July, TRE has raised some US$31,000. On the other hand, less is known about how much exactly TOC has raised. Has TOC also raised a similar amount, if not more?

There are at least two questions such donors should also ask now. Where is all that money going to go? How has it been used so far?

It has been some months since the general election came and went.

Candidates who ran for political office have all filed detailed accounts about how they spent the money they raised. Yet, we have heard very little from such alternative media platforms about their fund-raising efforts and how they are using or intending to use the funds they have raised.

In contrast to TOC, TRE does give a regular update on its website how much it has received. In the past, TRE has also indicated where its funds are going to be utilised.

Apart from one statement touching on this issue more than a month ago and assuring greater transparency, TOC has not disclosed what it has done and what it intends to do with the funds it has raised. However, it is public knowledge that it has organised at least one dinner in honour of a prominent opposition politician following its fund-raising efforts.

Of course, one could argue that there is less to worry about TOC. Following its controversial gazetting as a political association under the Political Donations Act, its operators are registered and its sources of funds are monitored by the Singapore government.

Its representatives, which include outspoken financial practitioner Leong Sze Hian, are also visible. They attend mass events in Singapore and identify themselves as the public face of TOC. There is therefore perhaps less of a need for TOC to be accountable to its donors.

Conversely, almost nothing is known about the operators of the TRE. They carry out their work covertly. Their sources of funds are unregulated. Given how they go about their work, it is more important for them to be accountable to their donors and, to some extent, they have been.

Nevertheless, taking a step back, it is important to ask another question. Should regular donor accountability be something we insist on from such alternative media platforms?

Is it fair to require this from what is largely an initiative driven by volunteers who expose themselves to multiple risks without any expectation of monetary reward?

One could say too much focus on donor accountability could distract them from the work they are carrying out as alternative media.

The best way to judge them is not by their plans but by the work they are doing. After all, people donated to them on the basis of their track record. If they continue to do satisfactory work, they will continue to attract donors. If not, the tap will just stop gushing.

But then again, in the course of their work, TOC and TRE do a lot of finger-pointing, headline-grabbing and table-pounding.

In the course of espousing principles of fairness, transparency and accountability, they seek to assert their perceived authority on a range of issues, regardless of whether it involves a leader like the Prime Minister or a follower like the foreign worker making a living by pursuing the shunned dollar in Singapore.

Why should they therefore not be judged on these same principles of fairness, transparency and accountability?

In this context, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that both TOC and TRE owe a comprehensive explanation to their donors, which should be done regularly.

One can only hope that this will follow soon.

Dharmendra Yadav
*Disclosure: The writer is a donor of The Online Citizen.

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?
Feel free to react below or leave a comment.


Anonymous said...

I thought TR was a govt sponsored site?

Anonymous said...

Gamer, we were told the only why they exist is to give the govt credibility whenever they claim the Internet is populated by the lunatic fringe.

Thousands of gamers already know this. And it is broadcasted again and again and again. Some of us are even called to go there and post to give them the impression that they are really doing a great job.

Anonymous said...

Why is there a need to account to donors?

When you give $$ to a beggar, do you ask how he will use the $$?

Anonymous said...

TOC is more credible. It has several public faces to account for details should any one wish to pursue further.

As for TR, it's dubious to say the least. Announcing the receipts is hardly accounting for the use.

For example, if someone wish to verify that the server hardware and secure network services they used, who should he/she approach for details?

And really, for all those alleged premium hardware and services, by all accounts, they failed to maintain their servers up and running during the GE.

So much for the alleged "premium" they invested in.. Suspicious. But regrettably, unverifiable.

Anonymous said...

Yadav, you did donate to PAP. Did you ask PAP for a comprehensive explanation to your donations?
Be fair to your readers. Don't just pinpoint TRE and TOC.
You keep loosing your credibility on your one-sided blog.

Dharmendra Yadav said...

Just a correction, I have not donated to the PAP. But I do ask expect some accoutability from entities I donate to. If you would like a comprehensive listing, please e-mail me and I will be happy to meet you to share such information.

Naturally, my blog has to be one-sided. These are my views, and I make neither claims to be objective nor representative.

Anonymous said...

TR site is suddenly no longer TR site. It looks like the domain TR itself has been given up to somebody else.

Well well well, TR has indeed run away with the donation money.