Singapore

Ex-CEO returns as caretaker after NKF sacks its CEO

NKF CEO Edmund Kwok sacked for 'personal indiscretion', 
police report 
also made. But its board stresses that 'NKF is not about one man'

The phone call came out of the blue and caught her by surprise.

What surprised Mrs Eunice Tay even more was being told that the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) needed her back to helm the charity in the short term.

She is now living in Kuching in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak after retiring as NKF chief executive in 2013.

NKF announced yesterday that it had sacked her successor, Mr Edmund Kwok, for a "personal indiscretion".

Mrs Tay told The New Paper in a phone interview yesterday that she had agreed to take over as interim head until a new CEO is found.


NKF CEO Edmund Kwok. TNP PHOTO: BH FILE PHOTO

She said she received a call on Tuesday from NKF chairman Koh Poh Tiong, who told her that Mr Kwok was leaving NKF. He did not tell her the reason and she did not ask.

"He asked if I could come back for a while and take over as CEO until a new one is found. I told him 'Anything for NKF'," she said.

Mrs Tay said the earliest that she could start her duties at NKF as interim CEO was mid-December.

"I could not drop everything and come back immediately as I have a commitment to the Anglican Church in Kuching.There are alot of things to settle before I can come back," Mrs Tay said.

NKF issued a press statement yesterday morning that Mr Kwok had been sacked, which took effect on Monday, citing "personal indiscretion" as the reason.

Mr Koh later told a press conference that the "indiscretion" had involved a male employee who made a complaint to his immediate supervisor against Mr Kwok on Nov 7.

DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE

He said that given the "seriousness of the case", the NKF board decided to form an inquiry and disciplinary committee to look into it.

When Mr Kwok met the committee on Sunday to respond to the accusation, he admitted to it.

Based on advice by NKF's lawyers that such an "indiscretion" is a "reportable offence", Mr Koh said the board agreed that Mr Kwok's services should be terminated.

NKF BOARD MEMBERS: (From left) Dr William Wan, Associate Professor Abdul Razakjr Omar and Mr Koh Poh Tiong, who is NKF chairman. TNP PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

He was informed on Monday and a police report was made the next day.

Mr Koh said the male employee is still working at the charity.

A three-member executive committee comprising Mr Koh, and board members Bennett Neo and Johnny Heng, will take over Mr Kwok's duties and responsibilities until Mrs Tay becomes interim CEO.

Reporters could not get answers to questions on what Mr Kwok had done, and what had been reported to the police.

Instead, Mr Koh and board member William Wan took pains to stress that "one man's indiscretion must not affect the whole organisation".

"As a board, we acted in the best interest of the organisation. The organisation is not about one man. It's about 4,000 patients and many more... We did what was needed. We terminated his services," Mr Wan said.

This is the second major scandal the charity has faced in just over a decade.

In 2005, then CEO T.T. Durai was found to be living a lavish lifestyle using funds raised by the charity.

He was later convicted of corruption and sentenced to three months' jail.

IMPACT

Singapore Management University associate law professor Eugene Tan told TNP that Mr Kwok's sacking is unlikely to have the same impact as that of the 2005 incident.

"It's a blow but not fatal. This development does not point to systemic weaknesses but is confined to one person," he said.

"Yes, it's something that NKF can do without. It's a setback but they have built a reservoir of goodwill in the past decade."

On Mrs Tay's return as interim head, Prof Tan said it is a stopgap measure "given the unexpected development".

"With Mrs Tay back on board, it also assures stakeholders who know of her no-nonsense approach to corporate governance," he added.

On the appointment of a new CEO, Dr Victor Yeo, associate professor of business law at Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School, said: "The choice must be one that the board believes to be best for the organisation.

"What is key is how the transition is managed and whether the interim measures can minimise any potential negative impact on the organisation concerned.

"A well-thought-out plan, supported by a robust succession planning framework that should already be in place, will help very much in managing any potential fallout that may adversely affect the organisation and its ability to meet the expectations of all of its stakeholders," he said.

As CEO, he had mapped out long-term plan

Mr Edmund Kwok, 58, took over as chief executive of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) in November 2013.

He had served as the charity's chief operating officer for a year before succeeding Mrs Eunice Tay, who was retiring.

A month earlier, Mr Kwok said in an interview with The Straits Times that he was already ironing out a three-year and five-year blueprint for the charity.

He also said the NKF was ready to step up its fund-raising activities.

PREDECESSOR: Former chief executive of NKF Edmund Kwok and the CEO before him, Mrs Eunice Tay, who retired in November 2013. ST FILE PHOTO

"We need the money to help more kidney patients and open more dialysis centres, and our services are heavily subsidised as more than 90 per cent of our patients are needy," he said.

Under him, NKF also announced plans earlier this year to build its largest dialysis centre yet - a $12 million complex in Jurong with 24-hour dialysis. The facility, which is 10 times the size of regular centres, will be ready next year.

Mr Kwok, who is married with two grown-up children, was previously the vice-president of oncology at Parkway Healthcare and held positions at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the Institute of Mental Health, among others.

CANCER CENTRE

In 2006, he was part of the team that set up Parkway Cancer Centre - the largest cancer centre in the private sector - and its revenue doubled to $97 million in 2011 under his watch.

Some 30 years ago, Mr Kwok worked as a planner at transport operator SBS Transit after graduating with a diploma in management.

In 1990, he moved into the healthcare sector and later pursued a Master of Science in healthcare management at the University of Wales.

The first NKF scandal

CEO T.T. Durai

This is not the first time a National Kidney Foundation (NKF) chief executive has been involved in a scandal.

In 2005, then CEO T.T. Durai (pictured) was found to be living a lavish lifestyle using funds raised by the charity.

This emerged after he sued Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) for defamation over a Straits Times report that had questioned the NKF's transparency and accountability under his leadership.

After investigations by the Commercial Affairs Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, Mr Durai was charged and convicted of corruption.

He was sentenced to three months' jail and released on Aug 11, 2008.

The NKF later pulled the plug on large-scale public fund-raising events and has since restructured, with better corporate governance.

Timeline of events

Nov 7

National Kidney Foundation

A male employee makes a complaint to his immediate supervisor against CEO Edmund Kwok.

Nov 8

A higher-level supervisor and the human resources department are alerted.

Nov 9

NKF chairman Koh Poh Tiong is informed.

Nov 9-11

NKF's lawyers are consulted and provide legal advice.

Nov 11

An emergency board meeting is called and the board agrees that the offence is serious enough to warrant Mr Kwok's sacking.

When Mr Koh speaks to Mr Kwok that night, he admits to the accusation.

Nov 13

An inquiry and disciplinary committee, comprising board members Bennett Neo and Johnny Heng, and chaired by board member William Wan, is formed.

At a hearing, Mr Kwok admits to the indiscretion. The committee recommends that Mr Kwok's services be terminated and the board agrees.

Nov 14

Mr Kwok is told about his sacking.

Nov 15

A police report is made.

Kidney Failurepolicecharity