Ng Teng Fong Hospital sends wrong message

From ‘Name change sends wrong message’, 2 April 2011, article by Salma Khalik, ST

Former Member of Parliament Tan Cheng Bock has stepped down from the board of the upcoming hospital in Jurong because he disagrees with its new name: Ng Teng Fong Hospital.

Dr Tan said that…this was a ‘moral issue’ as it looked as if a rich man could pay to have a public institution named after him. He feels that public institutions should be named after people who had been philanthropists all their lives or had contributed greatly to Singapore.

Also, while the $125 million donation is a large sum, it is small compared to the $1 billion the Government is spending on the 700-bed hospital…

…(Tan Cheng Bock): This is a donation…We must be careful. We’re sending the wrong message to our children and grandchildren. What do I tell them if they ask why a hospital is named after a certain man? That’s because he donated enough money, it’s okay? That means you put money at the top of your list….People like Lee Kong Chian and Tan Tock Seng – they did charity all their lives…they put their heart and soul in and deserve the name.

…He added that another danger of naming a lesser-known donor was if ‘he turns out later to be not such a great guy’.

As a billionaire tycoon, Ng Teng Fong probably screamed at a few subordinates or even fired a staff member or two as part of his job,  but if Dr Tan is the sort willing to dig up dirt to determine if a donor deserves to be called a philanthropist, then he should apply such standards across the board (see list of people named after buildings below, from same article, ST). Just because someone is a prominent politician and has earned a place in our history textbooks doesn’t mean he or she is of flawless character. Even ex presidents and founding fathers have an unsavoury  foible or two, and if there’s such a big fuss over how deserving such people are, one might as well rename all public hospitals after fictional patron saints or aristocratic rulers like the good old days of the British empire. Nobody is going to question if Tan Tock Seng ever lied to his parents or kicked a stray cat in his lifetime, and remember in those days we didn’t have internet trollers or Facebook, so unlike our deceased today, our forefathers had the luxury of bringing their private indiscretions to their graves without nosey ex politicians throwing a fit over their legacies and wondering if they’re ‘great guys’ or not, which by the way is a gender-biased assumption that philanthropy is a man’s thing (Doesn’t help that two women named after buildings are related to men named after buildings, see below).

As to how to answer our children or grandchildren, it’s easy to allow a huge sum of money to shroud our understanding of why such a donation was made in the first place. It’s unlikely that Ng Teng Fong demanded to be named after the hospital, since $125 million is supposedly pittance compared to what the Government chipped in and could be done without. You could say this man, though he wasn’t the perfect giver most of his life, was at least KIND enough to donate part of his fortune in his passing to building this hospital, and that someone, for better or worse, decided to name it after him to recognise his efforts, which is more than what you can say about the majority of top earners in Singapore (You know who you are). Furthermore he’s dead, so he’s no longer around to gloat about it to his tycoon friends. Naming the hospital after a rich man, even if his last good deed were the only one, isn’t sending ‘the wrong message’, it’s people forgetting that a donation is a sacrifice, and assuming that such acts are posthumous tickets to immortality ala King Tut’s tomb, that do. Seriously, if the hospital is up and running and doing what it’s supposed to do, what does the name matter, really? Is it even fair to pluck names out of history and allocate new buildings to them when they had nothing to do with these institutions whatsoever? If we had a philanthropist with as big a heart as Lee Kong Chian called Tan Ah Kow, would we still bequeath such a name to a building? The letter which sparked the whole debate off here.




6 Responses

  1. Don’t know y Dr Tan Cheng Bock wants to make an issue of it. To draw attention to himself becos he’s a has-been n largely forgotten backbencher?

    Surely he must spare a thought for Mr Ng’s children and grandchildren.

    While money shouldn’t buy u naming rights nor should donations be given strictly in return for tt, but let’s face it: better to accept a rich man’s donation and hundreds of the poor year-in-n-out pay less for their treatments or stand on one’s high horse and let hundreds of the same suffer for lack of the extra $ to get the full treatment.

    Oh sure, the donation probably isn’t used to defray costs per se, but where the govt needs to spend less in one segment, it will have more for subsidies in another.

    Dr Tan CB probably hasn’t heard of Deng Xiaopeng’s most famous saying abt cats n mice! 🙄

    • i think his point is … public institutions shdnt be name after those who can afford to “pay” to be in the limelight.

  2. I do not think that Singaporeans (or Dr Tan) should get hung-up over the re-naming of the hospital from JGH to its proposed new name. It is not unusual for governments or local councils to rename roads or airports after some illustrious citizens. Liverpool renamed its airport to John Lennon Airport, and so on.

    It is true that the donation from the family has clouded the issue somewhat, but let us be mature enough to step back and look at the proposal without being distracted by the money element. The question that should be asked is whether the person whose name the hospital will bear is worthy enough to be honoured in this way. There are few Singaporeans who will not be impressed by the achievements of the late Mr Ng, a billionaire who was born in Putian, China and made good in Singapore, his home. Nor is he only known in the city-state but overseas as well, flying the Singapore flag proudly abroad. A humble man despite his wealth, he lived a simple life-style, as many of his fellow Henghuas were (not so much the present generation) apt to do.

    Even without the donation (maybe it had been better had the donation issue not cropped up), it would have been fitting for some public building to be named after such an illustrious son of Singapore, a nation that thrives on meritocracy. Putting aside any suggestion of the “buying of honours” (as raised by some in this debate), is it wrong for his children to try and set up some memorial in their father’s name? Is not this act of filial piety not commendable or have we Chinese forgotten the concept? To accuse them of crass bribery is to drag this whole affair through the mud and reflects badly on the political debate in Singapore. Have Singaporeans never heard of people giving money to help build classrooms in schools so that they can be named after their loved ones? Or families giving money to help build whole wings of hospitals or orphanages so that they can bear the name of loved-ones? And if they walk around the city, they will see many buildings and places named after people like Fullerton, Clarke, Thompson, and so on.

    To be sure, the JGH is a high-profile building (but so are airports, art galleries and schools), and the government is still the major contributor to its costs. But, surely, whoever is footing the major part of its bills is not the issue. No one believes that the Kennedy or Lennon families are paying to run airports. There can be no doubt that the donation will help some needy patients, and it is a disservice to them to portray the generous gesture of the Ng family in any light other than it was intended. One hopes that all this ho-ha is not just “gesture politics”, and we can discuss the issue rationally. If the name of Mr Ng is a worthy one to hang over the door of the hospital, then so be it.

    • Wow, that comment alone is longer than the post, with better sentence construction and flawless punctuation too! Thanks for the sound arguments presented and hopefully we’ve seen the last of people complaining about Ng Teng Fong’s name being used. I even encountered a Facebook status update in which a doctor swore that he would move to another hospital if JGH continues to bear Ng Teng Fong’s name. What did this man ever do to force such a drastic response I wonder.

    • I will like to comment a few words.

      An important point to take note is the intended purpose. Well, we don’t know what is his intended purpose, whether is he going to buy a name or really wanting to contribute back to the society. One thing for sure he has contributed a large sum of money of personal level. More importantly is the impact onto the society.

      If his name is placed for the hospital, what can we remember him of which the society can follows? JFK have a sense of courage which encourage people to live a life of integrity for the better of tomorrow, Tan Tock Seng is remembered for his continuous support for the poor and setting up of hospital while the government at that time wasn’t much capable or maybe intended. So what can we remember Mr Ng from? People should donate their money to society (which is indirectly to the government) when they are dying and maybe something remarkable, living a frugal live not wasting resources? Maybe government just want to encourage other rich and powerful to donate their money?So in short term, more money is channeled into the society in this way, making Singapore a better place.

      But in the long run things can be different. Since this is a high profile hospital, so next time when the next generation were to ask why is the hospital named after him, we are going to tell them he have lots of money and then throw some of them into the community when he is kicking the bucket (the government have plan and enough resources). That will indirectly motivate them to get more money, instead of the fundamental idea of contributing to the building of community that will benefit everyone ultimately. When these children are more concern of money and less attentive to their parents, the parent age and got pushed around which in the end landing in the hospital or nursing home. Government will have to build more homes and hospital, hoping money will come from private enterprise, and the cycle carry on. Well, I did not say that this is bad, wrong or whatsoever. If you wanted the society function in this way, why not name the hospital after him?

      I don’t mean that just by changing the name will result in such serious consequences, but it is the little influence all around us that will affect the people and the society. Why not change the name to something more significant? Something that will teach the people to build a better community base on value, not on money.

      • Thanks for offering a counterpoint, though I don’t quite understand how having Ng Teng Fong’s name there will ‘indirectly motivate’ our next generation to get more money and forget about their parents. I get the part about how naming hospitals after rich men tends to give the impression that one can get anything done with money., but does that really hurt anyone? Definitely not the people who benefit from the presence of the new hospital. It’s a matter of principle, I suppose, but would having an inspiring story behind a building’s name really make any difference to attitudes towards giving? As they say, charity begins at home.

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