Temasek Troubles and Cross-Border Turmoil

Update:Temasek's "Google Gaffe" Moment (Revealing sensitive company info to the public)

Just a few more days before Thailand wraps up an unique confidence vote of its current Administration. Thaksin Shinawatra's sales of his family jewel Shin Corp to Temasek Holdings has created a massive backlash amongst the urban Thai population who have called for Thanksin's resignation. For the uninitiated, Shin Corp is one of Thailand's biggest telecom conglomerates with equity holdings in various businesses including mobile phone services, television broadcasting, satellite services, airline, and personal finance…

Intense social turmoil has been created in Bangkok, bombs going off, massive street rallies of hundreds of thousands(mainly peaceful), and effigies of Lee Hsien Loong, SIngapore PM, and Ho Ching (CEO of Temasek Holdings) being burnt on the streets. My question is: is Temasek at fault? For what it considers a purely commercial decision? Did both parties actually consider the social consequences of the sale of such a politically sensitive asset?

I don't profess to have an answer now, but let me share what I learnt from one of the usually mundane classes i attend in college. For once in school, i achieved a fleeting moment of Zen clarity.

  1. Ethics affects business performance.
  2. Business is a social activity and for it to do well, it has to be given a license by society.
  3. Otherwise, it creates social disturbance.

I was learning ethics, usually perceived as a highly fluffy, head-up-in-the-clouds topic and which recently has come to the fore of business studies in the wake of corporate governance scandals of Enron, MCI WorldCom and the online privacy concerns related to Google's massive archival of information related to Earthlings that ever lived on this planet and had accessed the Internet.

Did Temasek cross an ethical boundary? While chasing elusive economic goals that conflict with social well-being?
One thought that's forming in my mind is that Temasek Holdings' future success has to be correlated with the degree of independence of Temasek's executive and directorial bodies from the political elite of Singapore. A paternalistic political culture might work in Singapore, but the umbilical cords of business and politics cannot be sustained for Singapore to advance our economic interests in our own Southeast Asian region without causing social disruption of our near neighbors. No matter how transparent Temasek can be (in the form of an abundance of press statements that deny conflict of interest between politics and business) the public is not a fool. Governments and corporations have to understand the wisdom of the crowds and the sentient-ity of the Internet that has become a valuable equalizer of information access to all levels of society.

The Thaksin Turmoil might blow over, and it might not. But let this be a warning sign that over-cosy ties between politics and business do not work.

Bombing Disturbance in Thailand

Temasek completes Shin Corp Takeover

More from Justin Lee's Blog


6 thoughts on “Temasek Troubles and Cross-Border Turmoil

  1. i think the conflict between business and politics lies not only at the corporate level (that is what you meant if i’m not wrong), but also at the personal level. A good example would be the imprisonment of the oil tycoon in Russia…

  2. What Ethical Boundary are you referring to?
    I don’t see why investing in Shin Corp symbolizes our desire to control Thailand?

    Furthermore, I would like to highlight that Shin Corp is a public company, if you wish, you can also buy its shares. And if you do, can I say you have the desire to control Thailand.

    By investing in Shin Corp, we are showing faith in the Thailand’s economy, and committed to seeing it flourish. The Thais’ reaction to this incident and their insistence that 1 publicly listed company represents the whole country shows pretty much, their myopic view and naivety of the world.

    As aptly put across by a renowned lecturer from Thailand, all these incidents are truly placing Thailand under a very bad spotlight. If Thaksin really succumb under such conditions, I can guarantee you that it’s going to set Thailand back several years, since investors are going to re-evaluate their opportunities and plans to invest there.

    Of course, the people on the streets may not have thought of that, and oppositions are simply too preoccupied with obtaining power from Thaksin.

  3. i am really curious, which part of my post explicitly says, or even implies Temasek’s “desire to control thailand”? Note i am asking questions and not suggesting answers.
    My opinion is also on a totally differrent issue altogether, on the intimate mix of business and politics of both Shin Corp and Temasek’s mgmt structure and how this mix could present socio-economic dilemmas like thailand’s current predicament.

  4. Did I say you did?
    The only specific thing I imply about your post is
    "Ethical Boundaries"…..
    You can pretty much regard the rest of it as my personal comments about the sentiments associated in the news listed in your posting.

  5. haha, dayyymn man! ok lets go on a memory jog to set up a little bit of context!

    a. myopic bastards didn’t let CNOOC take over Chevron – 7 months ago
    b. whirpool takes over maytag… instead of ………. haier – notsolongago
    c. u.a.emirates, ports…. last week?
    d. US refuses to give up control of the ICANN database (

    aight, now lets see what Shin Corp owns:
    “Temasek now has a 96.12 per cent share in Shin Corp, Thailand’s biggest takeover. Shin Corp holds a 42-per-cent stake in the country’s sole satellite operator, controls a television channel and is the majority stockholder ini dominant mobile phone operator Advanced Info Service. ”
    – (Source:

    Temasek=Singapore government (as Bjorn said, people aren’t fools)

    that would be like Fox taking over Starhub or Infosys handling the backend processing for DSTA and MINDEF. whee!

  6. thats sociology! heh

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