Eight years after the T.T. Durai scandal, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) says it is ready to step out of the shadow and get back to fund-raising in a big way, including a possible return to its televised donation drives.
Heading the latest chapter of one of Singapore's biggest charities will be 55-year-old Edmund Kwok. On Nov 1, the chief operating officer will take over the chief executive position from Mrs Eunice Tay, who led the organisation from 2006.
In a press conference announcing the leadership change yesterday, Mr Kwok declared that the NKF will ramp up efforts to serve the rising number of kidney patients. Noting that four new patients are diagnosed with the disease each day, up from three in 2006, he said: "This is an alarming statistic."
The organisation will build four more dialysis centres, serving the north, west and central areas of Singapore, in the next two to three years, he revealed. It is also pushing for a national kidney centre to coordinate efforts in kidney education, training and research. "We have national centres for the heart, cancer and eye but not for kidney," said chairman Koh Poh Tiong.
Another key challenge is to get more people to donate kidneys. There were 179 kidney transplants between 2010 and last year, down from 225 between 2007 and 2009. Only about 12 per cent of the 457 people on the waiting list last year managed to get a kidney. Mr Koh, who became chairman last year, said changing these numbers is crucial.
Critically, the NKF needs to put its controversial past behind it. "It is time for us to come out of our tortoise shell and we will work together to be more open," said Mr Koh. The 2005 scandal was sparked when then-CEO Durai launched a defamation suit against Singapore Press Holdings. The suit, which he later dropped, exposed his lavish lifestyle.
When Mrs Tay, a well-known medical administrator, took over, staff morale was low. She tightened the NKF's governance, cut operating costs and improved transparency. Still, the number of NKF's donors shrank from 280,000 in its heyday, when it used to raise an average of $64 million a year, to 157,000 now.
The NKF halted its public fund-raising events, including its glitzy TV shows which raised more than $10 million each time, after the scandal. Relying on its $259.7 million reserve, it resumed raising funds only in 2011, but on a small scale. It has collected around $20 million annually, but recorded a $5.1 million deficit in its last financial year in 2012.
And that is why Mr Kwok said the NKF has not ruled out TV fund-raisers, although it may take a different tack, such as weaving in stories of its kidney patients in drama serials.
Mr Kwok, formerly vice-president of Oncology at Parkway Healthcare, hopes that becoming chief executive will enable him to do even more for needy patients. He said: "NKF's clientele are people who really need help and I hope to spend the last leg of my work life doing something for them."