SINGAPORE: An inquiry by the Commissioner of Charities (COC) has found "severe mismanagement" at the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple at Serangoon Road, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) said in a statement on Monday (Apr 30).
Separately, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) has also notified COC of its investigation into the financial affairs of the temple "for suspected criminal offences".
The COC inquiry "revealed severe mismanagement in the administration of the Charity during the period Jan 1, 2011 to Jul 31, 2014", said the ministry, in particular by members of the management committee, who were the cheque signatories and approvers for payments.
The members involved were former management committee chairman R Selvaraju (Selvaraju), current committee chairman and charity trustee Sivakadacham (Siva), and Ratha Krishnan Selvakumar (Kumar), charity trustee and present secretary of the management committee.
The COC "noted severe lack of care and prudence" in the members' discharging of their duties, said the ministry, adding that the inquiry noted instances where the charity's funds and charitable assets were "placed at undue risks".
For instance, the key office bearers had "prevalently issued uncrossed cheques and allowed uncrossed cheques to be exchanged for cash in the Charity's premises". The temple issued uncrossed cheques totalling more than S$1.5 million between Jan 1, 2011 and Jul 31, 2014, 45 of which were cheques in excess of S$227,000 that were not issued to the names of the intended proceeds recipients.
According to the statement, Kumar had also obtained loans of S$350,000 without the management committee's approval and with no written loan agreements with the lenders. There was also "limited supporting evidence" of the cash from these loans being disbursed to intended recipients.
The inquiry also found "serious issues of conflict of interest". Kumar was one of the approvers for more than S$750,000 worth of temple transactions with two vendors owned by his relative. He had also been reimbursed for purchases related to his personal business.
CHAIRMAN SUSPENDED FROM OFFICE
"Given the gravity of the Inquiry findings, under the Act and with the consent of the Attorney-General, the COC has suspended Siva from the exercise of his office as governing board member and trustee of the Charity with immediate effect," said MCCY.
For as long as he is suspended, Siva is prohibited from taking part in managing the charity or attending any of its committee meetings, it said, adding that the COC also intends to remove Siva from his office as governing board member and charity trustee.
"With regard to Kumar, the COC is of the view that Kumar should also be barred from his office in the Charity in light of his involvement in the mismanagement in the administration of the Charity," said the ministry.
"It has come to the COC’s attention that Kumar has been previously convicted of criminal offences involving elements of dishonesty", rendering him disqualified from acting in the capacity of a governing board member or charity trustee, the ministry added.
The COC has also promised enforcement action against Selvaraju should he resume any office in the temple.
It has, with the consent of the Attorney-General and assistance from the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB), appointed three additional governing board members to "put in place proper board governance and internal controls" at the temple.
In a statement on Monday evening, HEB acknowledged that the COC had requested its assistance in "ensuring continuity of operations" and religious activities at the temple.
"HEB will assist the newly appointed and remaining management committee members in every way possible to put in place proper governance and internal controls in Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple," said the board.
Sri Veeramakaliamman is one of Singapore's oldest Hindu temples built in the mid 19th century as a tribute to the goddess Kali. In 2014, the temple completed major restoration works costing S$7 million, involving artists from India which saw new facilities such as a wedding hall and staff quarters added.