by Nicholas Yong and Safhras Khan
The Commercial Affairs Department’s (CAD) probe into a $500,000 donation by businessman Bill Ng that was handled by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) had clouded the real issues in the election campaign and was a distraction for Team Game Changers, which Ng led.
Speaking to the media shortly after Team Lim Kia Tong (LKT) won the first-ever FAS leadership elections on Saturday (29 April), Game Changers members Lau Kok Keng and Annabel Pennefather acknowledged that the ongoing probe was far from ideal for their campaign.
Pointing out that it was Ng who had first raised the issue, Pennefather noted, “Because we always felt that things should be open and addressed, so of course there (were) things which did distract a bit from the whole process. But I think we were all firm and committed to what we wanted to do from the start, which was to help football and bring about change.”
Lau added, “I don’t think Bill would have liked to have this cloud the real issues during the elections. You know, as in all other competitive elections, the other party would obviously want to exploit something like that. But I suppose the messaging that was created and sent had the effect of making this into the sort of fiasco that (the media) labelled it.”
He stressed that it was “premature” to judge Ng.
Pennefather said, “I think in some way it would have had an impact on voters’ choices and that could explain things. But whatever it is, it was a vote and it’s the voters who choose who they want to serve them.”
At a press conference earlier this month, Ng revealed that he was approached by FAS general secretary Winston Lee to support the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Football Management System.
The chairman of Tiong Bahru Football Club (TBFC) and Hougang United Football Club (HUFC) added that he had donated about $500,000 to AFF through FAS and claimed the FAS council did not know about the donations. He also said he did not know what happened to the money.
Police raids were subsequently carried out at the offices of the FAS, TBFC, HUFC and Woodlands Wellington Football Club. Lee, Ng, Ng’s wife Bonnie Wong and former FAS president Zainudin Nordin were also arrested and later released on police bail.
Aftermath of the FAS elections
In a media statement following the election, Ng offered his “sincerest congratulations” to Team LKT, and said that his team had raised “many pertinent and pressing issues” about the development of football in Singapore.
“We will continue to be the 12th man and bench strength for Singapore football and will continue to play a supporting role for the betterment of the game. We look forward to working very closely with Team LKT and all stakeholders.”
At a press conference held by Team LKT on Saturday afternoon, new FAS president Lim was asked how the investigations into Ng’s donation had played a role in the elections.
Lim declined to answer, calling it a “sensitive question”. But his teammate Edwin Tong, who will serve as one of four vice-presidents, said that the 44 FAS affiliates had focused on each team’s “positive agenda” and their respective manifestos, and that Lim had come across as “sincere”.
When asked if he hoped to work with the new leadership team at FAS, Lau seemed to issue a challenge to Team LTK.
“I think the test of inclusiveness as promised by Mr Lim would be borne up over the next six months. Let’s see how they go about effecting (the) changes that they promised. Like he said, history will be the witness,” said Lau. “Let’s see what happens. Affiliates will have to hold them to their promises made during their campaign.”