30th December 2020
LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT
It has been a very difficult year for us – not just because of COVID, but also because of the turmoil in July/ August caused by internal strife in the SAVH EXCO. Nevertheless, the year is ending well. The COVID vaccine has arrived in Singapore, and the situation in the EXCO has calmed down. I have several pleasant things to report in this letter to members. This letter will be a regular feature while I am President – and is part of my efforts to bring the decisions of EXCO promptly, directly and transparently to all members and donors.
1. We have created a Low Income Family Emergency (LIFE) Support Scheme to help VH members in dire need arising from COVID. If you have an emergency financial need and have no funds to meet it, please approach our Social Work Department or your social workers at SAVH. You will be asked to show us your need and your inability to fund it – and we will review your case and endeavour to extend you a grant to assist and work with you to meet that urgent need.
2. On 31st December 2020, two very long serving VH staff of the Association retires – Mr Ronald Tan* and Mr Leow Chee Tsai*. Mr Tan retires as a Braille Transcriber after 50 years of service. Mr Leow retires as Senior Manager and Fundraiser with 42 years of service. The Association awards them both Long Service Awards for their faithful service – with a plaque each and an ex gratia gift of $5,500 to Mr Tan and $15,000 to Mr Leow. We are grateful for their contributions to SAVH and wish both of them happy retirement. We hope they will come visit us often.
3. Our financials for the 8 months ended 30th November 2020 has resulted with a surplus, and the projection for the year ending 31st March 2021 will likely be a surplus of approximately $200,000, ceteris paribus. Due to the ravages of the pandemic, EXCO had prudently trimmed its budget at the beginning of the year. Furthermore, since we projected lower giving from the public as COVID has hit many incomes, a $700,000 deficit had been budgeted. Thanks to the hard work of staff and EXCO, however – the year ends on a bright note, financially.
4. EXCO co-opted a (sighted) corporate transformation expert onto the EXCO, Ms Doy Teo, to lead a reform of the Associations’ social enterprises and job creation efforts. Ms Teo was the Asia Pacific MD of a multinational corporation and has extensive expertise and business connections. We look forward to many job creation, job development and job training opportunities in the years to come for our visually handicapped members (including the senior ones).
5. EXCO co-opted three other people who are visually handicapped: Ms Cassandra Chiu*, Mr Albert Pang* and Ms Stephanie Ow*. They will help us to build leadership capacity in the SAVH and inspire many more capable people to serve in the Association. Ms Chiu has a Masters in Counselling and runs a counselling clinic in Tanglin. She is head of a newly-created charity to bring assistance and guide dogs to the visually handicapped and other people with disabilities (eg the deaf and autistic). Mr Pang is a trained accountant and business owner with his own business consultancy. He could also help more VH members to own businesses, having built up one single- handedly as a VH person. We are still looking to co-opt VH EXCO members. Let me know if you are interested. Nominate your friends to me if you think they are capable and will be able to contribute to SAVH.
6. Ms Stephanie Ow* is a young musician who has been a soloist on the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. She will help lead the growth of our music wing – to train more musicians in SAVH and to create more jobs in the arts and entertainment scene for our members and clients. She was a winner of the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards in 2019. Ms Ow will also be tasked with building up a youth wing of SAVH. If you are young and full of dreams – come join Stephanie and the EXCO as we build a future for SAVH with you – the future leaders and champions of the Association and of Singapore!
7. Our Constitution requires us to have a majority of VH members, since we are an association of the visually handicapped. In recent months, we have seen a surge of applications from sighted persons, such that the numbers of sighted members now are near the 49% mark. We value the support of our sighted members, supporters and donors. Nevertheless, we have to comply with the stipulations in the Constitution. We at EXCO have therefore decided to have a VH membership drive from January to March 2021 to increase our VH membership numbers. All VH members (and VH only) admitted during this period will receive $20 worth of vouchers for their $5 membership fee. The Association is also working on other privileges for members. Pass the good word round to all your VH friends to join our SAVH membership family.
8. Meanwhile, as COVID rages – our Annual General Meeting 2019/20 is on hold. We have nearly 400 members, but physical meetings are still open only to 250 people and less (in bubbles of 50). We don’t have the rooms and space to create even 2 bubbles in SAVH. Even if we could, these bubbles need to be linked up by Public Address, internet and computer systems. Our members are largely unfamiliar with virtual meeting technology and there is a dearth of VH-friendly meeting technology too. If we hold the meetings in commercial spaces like hotels, the need to do Orientation and Mobility training for our VH members in the new premises will be time, energy and manpower consuming. In addition, the cost will be prohibitive. Thus, the cost and logistics of organising an AGM at this time are unimaginable. The Government is currently considering our application to have a physical meeting and we are seeking their guidance on how we can do it safely without breaking the Government’s COVID rules. We will continue to keep you updated on this issue.
9. The following subcommittees, mandated by the Commissioner of Charities’ Code of Governance have been formed by EXCO:
a. Nomination Subcommittee: (Chair – Dr Goh Hock Huan*) This subcommittee will (amongst many things) draw up codes of governance for EXCO and subcomms, evaluate performance of members and examine candidates for EXCO and subcomms for their suitability and ability.
b. Finance Subcommittee: (Chair – Mr Ryan Siek) Deals with financial matters of SAVH.
c. Audit and Risk Subcommittee: (Chair: Mr Michael Tsia) Handles audit and risk issues of SAVH; investigates and hears whistleblowing, governance and other complaints against staff and EXCO.
d. Human Resources and Volunteer Management Subcommittee: (Chair – Mr Andrew Chew*) Formulates policies, strategies and principles for HR and staff issues and manages volunteer issues (such as recruitment, evaluation, deployment, training, benefits etc).
e. Programme and Services Subcommittee: (Chair – Ms Cassandra Chiu*) Deals with strategic and philosophical aspects of membership and client programmes, services and issues.
f. The whole EXCO will constitute the Investment Subcommittee (we do not envisage any investments currently); and Fundraising Subcommittee (to emphasize that this is a whole-of- EXCO/staff team effort and not the territorial sinecure of one or two EXCO members).
We are in need of volunteers (sighted and VH) for these subcommittees and if you have interest or the relevant expertise, please send me your names and CVs! We are also in need of at least two more VH EXCO members.
10. At the end of the 10th December 2020 EXCO meeting – three EXCO members had absented themselves for three consecutive EXCO meetings without obtaining prior leave of absence (29th October 2020, 26th November 2020 and 10th December 2020). They consistently took the position (in writing) that the EXCO meetings were unconstitutional. As such, they refused to attend EXCO meetings or acknowledge the legitimacy of the President. The three were: Mr John Ting (Vice President, VP, sighted); Mr Ng Guan Sing* (VP, VH); and Ms Chua Swee Keow (Hon Sec). By virtue of Article 6.13 (a) and (b) of the SAVH Constitution, they automatically vacated their membership of EXCO and their positions as office-bearers. In their place, at the EXCO meeting of 22nd December 2020, the EXCO appointed the following new office-bearers to take their vacated places: Dr Anna Tan (VP, sighted); Mr Andrew Chew* (VP, VH); Dr Goh Hock Huan* (Hon Sec). We regret that things have to come to this state – but sincerely wish that the worse is over for SAVH and we will sail on in calmer waters after this.
11. The EXCO has convened an independent panel, called a Committee of Inquiry (COI) under Article 6.13 of the SAVH Constitution – chaired by a senior lawyer, Mr Andrew Chua – to examine complaints laid against 5 EXCO members and a staff (for breach, among other things, of the Constitution, Personal Data Protection Act 2012 and for harassing staff and clients). Mr Chua is the Senior Partner of Andrew Chua & Co. The other members of the COI consist of Dr Robin Chia of Robin Chia PAC and one more member. The target is for them to produce a report to EXCO by end February 2021. The COI will be inviting the respondents, members and staff to hear them. Under our Constitution, the respondents are able to bring their own lawyers to the COI hearings. Please give them your fullest cooperation when called upon. Thank you!
With hindsight, 2020 was a year of grief, but 2021 begins with hope brewing. May it be a most fruitful and less painful year for you! Please feel free to send me your ideas and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love especially to hear back from those who want to become a part of the SAVH reforms, going forward.
Happy New Year!
With warm regards,
Dr Toh See Kiat