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.
- Ethics affects business performance.
- Business is a social activity and for it to do well, it has to be given a license by society.
- 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.