Singapore’s financial management board of Hindu temples to tighten measures to keep track of gold inventory

The Hindu Endowments Board will also carry out more audits each year, including unannounced ones, Culture Minister Edwin Tong said

March 01, 2021 12:55 pm | Updated 01:01 pm IST - Singapore

A view of Sri Mariamman temple in Chinatown in Singapore. File

A view of Sri Mariamman temple in Chinatown in Singapore. File

Singapore’s Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) is taking steps to improve the tracking of all movements of gold items within the four Hindu temples that it manages, the Culture Minister said on March 1, weeks after a former Indian temple chief priest was charged with misappropriating and pawning gold jewellery. Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, told Parliament on March 1 that the temples’ management committees would tighten oversight of the gold inventories in their temples, Today newspaper reported.

The HEB will also carry out more audits each year, including unannounced ones, Mr. Tong said.

Mr. Tong was replying to a question asked by parliamentarian Murali Pillai if the HEB had done a review of the case at Sri Mariamman Temple and if steps were being taken to prevent a repeat.

Kandasamy Senapathi, the former chief priest of the 149-year-old Sri Mariamman Temple, was charged on February 16 with allegedly misappropriating 172 pieces of jewellery from the temple over four years from 2016-2020. He later pawned them for over SGD 2 million ($1.5 million), wiring SGD 140,000 ($105,247) overseas during the period.

Mr. Senapathi, 37, is facing five charges of criminal breach of trust as an employee and five counts under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.

Mr. Tong said that the HEB conducts routine audits at all four temples, including Sri Mariamman Temple on South Bridge Road in Chinatown within the central business district, to ensure that all ceremonial jewellery is properly accounted for.

The other three temples overseen by the board are Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon within the Little India shopping precinct, Sri Sivan Temple in suburb housing estate of Geylang and Sri Vairavimada Kaliamman Temple in Toa Payoh housing estate.

After the incident at Sri Mariamman Temple, the HEB commissioned a special audit of gold inventory at all its temples to ensure that all ceremonial jewellery were accounted for. No other irregularities were found.

The board has since also worked with the Commissioner of Charities to review and strengthen its governance and internal controls, to ensure proper safekeeping and management of gold items, according to the Singapore tabloid.

It will continue working with each of its temple management committees to prevent abuse and flouting of governance controls.

“HEB, in collaboration with the Commissioner of Charities, will also be sharing the lessons from this episode and best practices with other Hindu temple charities, so that all temples can do their part to continue to improve the management of the temples,” Mr. Tong said.

Mr. Senapathi’s case has been adjourned till March 15.

For each count of criminal breach of trust, an offender can be jailed for up to 15 years and fined and for each count of dealing with the benefits of criminal conduct, an offender can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined up to SGD 500,000 ($375,887).

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