Key leaders of Hindu temple suspended following probe

Operations and daily services at the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple - one of Singapore's oldest Hindu shrines - continue as usual.
Operations and daily services at the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple - one of Singapore's oldest Hindu shrines - continue as usual.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Charities watchdog finds funds 'severely mismanaged', CAD conducting checks

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 yesterday, the 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. His past criminal convictions involving dishonesty disqualified him from holding office under the Charities Act, the statement said.

The commissioner had strong words for the temple's management, noting an inquiry found a "severe lack of care and prudence" by key board members as guardians of the temple's charitable assets between January 2011 and July 2014. Internal controls were nearly "non-existent". Such behaviour had put the temple's funds and assets at risk.

  • Some of the inquiry's findings

  • Duplicated payments

    The temple's chairman Sivakadacham, secretary Ratha Krishnan Selvakumar and former chairman R. Selvaraju wrongly paid some vendors twice. Loans not accounted for Mr Selvakumar obtained $350,000 in loans for the temple without the management committee's approval and without written agreements with the lenders.

    According to the charity, the money was borrowed to give tokens of appreciation to about 250 people who helped out at the temple's consecration ceremony in June 2014. But there was limited evidence that the money was given to all of the intended recipients.

    Mr Selvakumar was asked to repay the loans, but they were repaid using the temple's funds and the payments were approved by the key office bearers.

    Conflict of interest

    The temple entered into substantial transactions worth over $750,000 with two firms owned by Mr Selvakumar's relative. There was a lack of quotes from other firms for the deals. From the records, it appears he did not declare any potential conflict of interest or abstain from approving the deals.

    In view of the lapses, the Charities Commissioner is giving the public notice it intends to remove Mr Sivakadachamas temple chairman. This would also mean he will not be able to take on a trustee or key management role in any charity.

    • The commissioner is inviting the public to make any representations on Mr Sivakadacham's removal by May 31 at mccy_charities@mccy.gov.sg

For example, key office bearers had "prevalently" issued uncrossed cheques and allowed them to be exchanged for cash at the temple. Between January 2011 and July 2014, the temple issued at least 823 uncrossed cheques amounting to 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 Mr Selvakumar had obtained loans of $350,000 on behalf of the temple 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 consecration ceremony.

The commissioner said: "There was limited supporting evidence to substantiate that cash from these loans were disbursed to all of the intended recipients. The loans and disbursement of proceeds from the loans were also not properly accounted for in the charity's accounting records."

When contacted, Mr Selvakumar declined to comment.

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 also noted the temple's former chairman, Mr R. Selvaraju, is no longer part of the temple's management, but added 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 Ernst & Young partner Shekaran K. Krishnan, Rainbow Across Borders executive director Raman Rajakanth and financial controller Baskaran Ambikapathy.

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 will assist the temple to put in place proper governance and internal controls. Its 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 at the findings.

Mr Siva Prabhu, 67, said: "If anyone in the temple is corrupt, the authorities should definitely take action. People will lose faith in God if there is corruption in the temple."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2018, with the headline 'Key leaders of Hindu temple suspended following probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe