SINGAPORE - The Charities Commissioner is barring key board members of the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Serangoon Road from their posts, after an eight-month-long probe found “severe mismanagement” in how its money was managed.
The Commercial Affairs Department is also combing through the temple’s finances to see if any criminal offences were committed. Built in 1855, the temple is one of Singapore’s oldest Hindu shrines and a landmark in the Little India area.
In a statement issued on Monday (April 30), the Charities Commissioner said it has suspended the temple’s current chairman, Mr Sivakadacham, with immediate effect.
The charities watchdog added that the temple’s secretary, Mr Ratha Krishnan Selvakumar, was also being removed from his post at the temple. His past criminal convictions involving dishonesty disqualified him from holding office, the statement said. The Straits Times visited the home of Mr Selvakumar on Monday evening, but his family declined to comment. When contacted on the phone, he hung up.
The commissioner had strong words for the temple’s management, noting that an inquiry found a “severe lack of care and prudence” by key management committee members as guardians of the temple’s charitable assets during January 2011 and July 2014.
Internal controls were also nearly “non-existent”.
Such behaviour had put the temple’s funds and assets at risk, the inquiry found.
Some of the lapses found at the temple
1. Duplicated payments
The inquiry found that the three men, chairman Sivakadacham, secretary Ratha Krishnan Selvakumar and former chairman R. Selvaraju, erroneously signed multiple duplicated payment resulting in the temple over-paying its vendors.
2. Loans not accounted for
The secretary, Mr Selvakumar, obtained $350,000 in loans without the management committee’s approval and without written loan agreements with the lenders. According to the charity, the money was borrowed to give tokens of appreciation to some 250 people who had helped out at the temple’s consecration ceremony in June 2014. But there was limited supporting evidence that the borrowed money was given to all of the intended recipients.
While minutes of the meeting showed that Mr Selvakumar was asked to repay the loans, they were repaid using the temple’s funds and the payments were approved by the key office bearers.
3. Cash advances unaccounted for
The probe found instances where Mr Selvakumar received cash advances of $18,000 through uncrossed cheques issued by the temple. Yet, there were no supporting receipts that the money was legitimately used.
4. Conflict of interest
The temple entered into substantial transactions worth over $750,000 with two companies, which are owned by Mr Selvakumar’s relative. There was a lack of quotes from competitors for the deals, before they were given to his relative. From the records, it appears he also did not declare any potential conflict of interest or abstain from approving the deals. The charity also reimbursed Mr Selvakumar close to $3,000 for the purchase of SIM cards for his own business.
In view of the lapses uncovered, the commissioner is giving the public notice that it intends to remove Mr Sivakadacham from his role in the temple. This would also mean that he would not be able to take on a trustee or key management role in any charity in the future.
The commissioner is inviting the public to make any representations to him on Mr Sivakadacham’s removal by May 31 at email@example.com
For example, key office bearers had “prevalently” issued uncrossed cheques and allowed such cheques to be exchanged for cash at the temple.
Between January 2011 and July 2014, the temple issued at least 823 uncrossed cheques of over $1.5 million. Of these, 45 cheques worth over $227,000 were given to people who were not the intended recipients.
The probe also found that Mr Selvakumar, the temple’s secretary, had obtained loans of $350,000 without the management committee’s approval and without written loan agreements with the lenders.
The money was borrowed purportedly to give tokens of appreciation to those who helped at the temple’s consecretion ceremony.
The commissioner said: “There was limited supporting evidence to substantiate that cash proceeds from these loans were disbursed to all of the intended recipients. These cash loans and disbursement of proceeds from the loans were also not properly accounted for in the charity’s accounting records.”
The probe also found many instances where payments given by the temple were not adequately substantiated with sufficient supporting documents. These payments exceeded $500,000.
Besides the two men, the commissioner noted that the temple’s former chairman, Mr R. Selvaraju, is no longer part of the temple’s management, but it will not hesitate to take action against him if he resumes any office in the temple.
The commissioner has appointed three additional board members to the temple’s management, to put in place proper governance and internal controls in the temple. They are Mr Shekaran K Krishnan, a partner at Ernst & Young, Mr Raman Rajakanth, executive director of Rainbow Across Borders and Mr Baskaran Ambikapathy, a financial controller.
For its financial year that ended in June 2014, the temple had an income of about $1.6 million and spent $1.2 million. Its assets are estimated to be worth $5.8 million.
A spokesman for the Hindu Endowments Board said it assisted the temple’s newly appointed and remaining management committee members in every way possible to put in place proper governance and internal controls.
The board’s spokesman added: “We seek the community’s understanding, support and cooperation during this period of time.”
Operations and daily services at the temple continue as usual. Devotees interviewed at the temple expressed shock and disappointment by the probe’s findings.
Mr Siva Prabhu, 67, said: “If anyone in the temple is corrupted, the authorities should definitely take action. People will lose faith in God if there is corruption in the temple .”
Additional reporting by Jasia Shamdasani and Melody Zaccheus