News analysis

It's time to provide answers, not draw a line under FAS donation saga

Teams contesting FAS election both have to address burning questions

After a week-long war of words with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), Hougang United chairman Bill Ng appeared to be in a conciliatory mood yesterday.

Ng, who is leading the Game Changers at the April 29 FAS election, issued a statement saying "we need to start afresh from here".

But it did not stop him from taking a swipe at the FAS, claiming that many have "suffered in silence" and calling the atmosphere under previous administrations "an unhealthy environment and needs to be cleared".

His 10-point statement made no mention of the ongoing donation saga and ended with an appeal to all 44 member affiliates to "vote for change".

His slate of nine candidates will be up against a team led by former FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong.

Bill Ng at the Game Changers' press conference last week. Ng is calling for a fresh start although talk continues to centre on a $500,000 donation he made to the FAS. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

This election represents a chance for change. But sweeping these questions under the rug means turning a blind eye to issues which have debilitated Singapore football. The animosity is palpable and one wonders if the election should even proceed in this climate.

The future of Singapore football is meant to be at the heart of the election, but the debate appears to have not moved beyond a $500,000 donation Ng made to the FAS as chairman of Tiong Bahru Football Club.

The money, twice the amount that the FAS spent on grassroots football in the last financial year, was  given to the Kuala Lumpur-based Asean Football Federation (AFF) to support its Football Management System.

Ng had, in various statements, insisted he did not know the money was intended for the AFF.

But when the FAS produced a letter and several cheques signed by Ng which showed he knowingly made the donation to the AFF, Ng changed tack.

He claimed it was FAS general secretary Winston Lee who had met him multiple times to seek donations for the AFF. He also claimed Lee had just about dictated the letter for him to sign.

Ng did not submit any documents to back his claims.

While Lee and Ng have both had their say in the saga, one man who could shed more light on the matter has so far kept mum.

Last week, the FAS said it was former FAS president Zainudin Nordin, not Lee, who had approached Ng for the AFF donation. Ng's signed letter offering the $500,000 was also addressed to Zainudin.

Yet the former Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP has so far declined to comment.

When The Straits Times (ST) went to his Alexandra home, he said he would not comment as he was not contesting the election.

But while he has remained silent in person, he has been less so on social media, posting somewhat cryptic messages on Twitter over the past few weeks - before the drama started.

On April 9, he tweeted "'Blaming others is excusing yourself.' - Robin Sharma #betrayal".

On April 3, he wrote: "'Revenge is a dish best served cold.' - proverb. #betrayal."

So, have the denials and deception, claims and counter claims, that have surfaced over the past week swayed the 44 voting affiliates?

Not really, it seems.

Some of the affiliates whom ST spoke to said they are choosing to focus on the plans that both teams have for Singapore football.

John Yap, chairman of Gombak United, said: "As far as we are concerned, both teams have very good and credible people. Their plans for local football is what I will really consider."

Lian Kim Fatt, honorary secretary of the Singapore Government Services Football League, said he is unlikely to change his vote and just wants a capable team to run the FAS.

But some affiliates agree that the debate over the donation does local football no favours.

That sentiment is reflected in the virtual world. Comments on ST's Facebook account bemoan the public slagging. One user, YangYan Zheng, asked how Singapore can aspire to reach the World Cup when the FAS is in disarray. Another, Timothy Lim, wrote scathingly: "It is far better to disband the organisation."

In his statement yesterday, Ng said the revelations mark "a restart that is belatedly needed" for Singapore football.

But is it really time to draw a line under the saga?

For one thing, many important questions remain unanswered.

Ng's later statements showed he was aware of the donation to the AFF. So why did he deny this at first? Also, why did he insist it was Lee, not Zainudin, who had asked for the donation, when he had signed off on a document showing otherwise?

Finally, if he really meant for his money to "benefit Singapore football, especially our local clubs", why did he sign off on a donation to a regional entity, without knowing when and how the AFF Football Management System will help local football?

How is it that Ng, who has built a reputation as a corporate rescue specialist, did not do his homework?

As for the opposing Team LKT, which contains former members of the FAS council, why have they kept silent and left it to Lee to lead the attack?

Are they concerned that the FAS is routing large donations to the AFF without even a mention at council meetings - even if council approval is not required, as may be the case here?

This election represents a chance for change. But sweeping these questions under the rug means turning a blind eye to issues which have debilitated Singapore football.

The animosity is palpable and one wonders if the election should even proceed in this climate.

Will local sport governing body Sport Singapore, who has already demanded a full explanation of the donation, step in? World football body Fifa might frown on government intervention but surely Fifa would place integrity and accountability above expediency.

After all, which ever team win this election will be heading the largest national sports association in Singapore.  They will be overseeing an organisation with a budget of over $30 million, over 70 full-time staff and more than 200 athletes who depend on the sport for a living.

They will be guardians of the most popular sport in the nation, the only one with the potential to fill the 55,000-capacity National Stadium with Singaporeans from all walks of life.

Only 44 will vote on April 29 but an explanation is owed - not only to them but also to the nation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'It's time to provide answers, not draw a line under donation saga'. Print Edition | Subscribe