Bruce: Tell me, who call the shots in SGM, is it SGI in Japan, or the top leaders in SGM? There seems to be a lot of reference made to SGI Japan, saying that this or that decision is being made by SGI.
Tony: In faith matters, I believe we are all under the large umbrella of SGI. Like the focus of our propagation activities, setting the direction for the short term, etc. When it comes to administration matters, like financing, accounts, large purchases, construction of new centres etc., it is SGM here. Nothing to do with Japan.
Bruce: You mean Japan has no say whatsoever?
Tony: They have none. This is Malaysia, we follow the laws here. SGM falls under ROS (Registry of Society) and must abide by the ROS regulations. ROS only recognises the highest body in each society, that is the General Council, comprising around twenty individuals for SGM. They have the power to determine the direction and make all the most crucial decision in SGM.
Bruce: Even take the entire organisation out of SGI if they decide to?
Tony: Yup. There is nothing SGI Japan can do. Anyway, this is also what SGI wanted. Their role is strictly advisory. You see, the Daishonin’s Buddhism is not proprietary, like the Cha-Time franchise, where head office can withdraw if the local franchisee disobey their agreed terms. This is the Daishonin Buddhism, a supreme universal life philosophy. No one, not even SGI, can claim ownership and cut off people from it. Also, it is the policy of SGI to give the maximum autonomy to each country’s local organisation in how to go about their propagation.
Bruce: So, we can’t really blame SGI for all the things that are happening in SGM today?
Tony: I think not. Not fair to them. SGI had already pointed out that SGM need to improve on its accounting practices and introduce more check and balance, especially in financial matters. But, did the top execs listen? No, they didn’t.
Bruce: They did. GD issued a memo on April 1, 2016, outlining the plan to introduce good governance in SGM with great fanfare. Four main pillars of transparency, accountability, responsibility and fairness. Since then, SGM has also appointed an external audit, Horwath Crowe, and formed a task force to implement. The President of the General Council, Mr Michael Kok, toured Malaysia with the advisors, and presented in meetings attended by leaders of chapter level and above. This is the egg shell, I remembered he said, referring to the importance of governance. We need a strong egg shell to protect the fragile and pure egg yolk, that is the faith organisation. Without a strict and tight system to prevent abuse of power and corruption, we cannot ensure the stability of SGM and protect it from being hijacked by people with evil intentions. So, why did you say they didn’t listen?
Tony: That was more than a year ago. Besides these, what else have they done?
Bruce: I also heard they engaged an external firm for internal audit. Isn’t it good enough, with both internal and external audit in place?
Tony: The devil, Bruce, is always in the detail. Did they specify the scope of the two audit firms? Do you know how much the internal audit firm charge SGM? I heard we got them for less than ten thousand ringgit to audit the entire SGM accounts.
Bruce: For a billion ringgit organisation, I say we get a good bargain.
Tony: That’s the problem. It’s way too cheap. If SGM top leaders have integrity and kept their promise on being transparent, they should have let us know what were the scope of the audit. What are this internal audit expected to work on? For that amount of fees, can we get quality work? The firm will probably send one or two staff over to SGM BK in Cheras for an hour or two, and glance through a few records, and go back to write a report of ‘everything ok’. Then, will SGM use this to fool our members again, beating their chest while claiming that we have open our accounts to be audited by external firm and passed with flying colours?
Bruce: That sounds dangerous.
Tony: And the task force.
Bruce: What about the task force?
Tony: Like all the committees that our government formed when a crisis happen. It gibe the appearance [managing perception] that many things are being look into. But after awhile, when the interest die off, the task force is conveniently forgotten. When the Johor issue was really hot and emotions were high, the task force were formed. But now, with things slowly getting back to normal, people are forgetting all about the task force and now being placed at the back burner. There is no commitment. No sincerity from the beginning. Just putting up a facade, window dressing, if you like.
Bruce: Why would they do that?
Tony: To pacify the more vocal and critical members. To appease them for the time being. Also, by now they have either sacked these dissenters or frustrate them so much till they give up hope and leave SGM on their own accord. There is really no need to implement any more unnecessary governance measures at this point in time.
Bruce: But they will continue to carry out the governance project, right? After all, we simply cannot afford not to have good governance for such a wealthy organisation, no mmater how pure or great the teaching is.
Tony: Don’t bet on it. The top execs do not want this thing in the first place. Their objective is to return everything back to pre-Johor SGM. And we do not have the most crucial element to make this work.
Bruce: What is that?
Tony: Pressure from the members and leadership at large. There is silence now. Few people really understand what it is, and even fewer wanted to take the time and effort to learn about it. They prefer to listen and believe authority, like GD and Dr Ouchi, and their talks of devils entering one’s souls, five cardinal sins and fear mongering. And that governance and transparency are merely fancy terms used by ‘intellectuals’ out to destroy unity. So long as our members buy this, we will not see any significant changes.
Bruce: But we do have people who are CEOs or General Manager in SGM. Surely they would know and voice up, wouldn’t they?
Tony: I am not so sure about that. Of the few I knew, I was rather disappointed with their responses. One said that ‘these things’ happen all the time in corporate and eventually, it will sort itself out. But he didn’t give any details? Does he mean SGM will return back to its pre-Johor days? Or will there be sweeping changes in governance with strict compliance to transparency, fairness, accountability and responsibility? If it is the latter, I am really not so sure.
Bruce: There are also many leaders who hold management positions in large corporations too I am sure. They would understand.
Tony: Some of them simply accept that corruption happens everywhere and all the time. SGM is no exception. They can accept the fact that SGM top leaders cannot give good and solid answers to the allegations of corruption and refuse to carry out forensic audit. And still go about their grass root activities peacefully and when governance topic came up, they just smile. Too afraid, perhaps, that this may neutralise all their good fortune. Sigh… very depressing.
Bruce: So, we have no hope?
Tony: Do you believe in Cause and Effect?
Bruce: What? You mean all the corrupted jokers in SGM will suffer terribly in the last few years of their lives and that we just need to wait and watch?
Tony: Now, that’s a really wrong thinking. We don’t call others jokers or clowns. No names calling, all right? Now, who taught you Buddhism?
Tony: You certainly didn’t get that from me. Now, listen to me carefully. When a reporter asked Mr Ikeda whether he believe that world peace is possible, you know what was his answer?
Bruce: Yes. He said yes, right?
Tony: Wrong. He said, ‘I believe in young people. If they put their hearts and minds into something, there is nothing they cannot achieved.’ Coming back to my argument of Cause and Effect, if we continue to plant seeds today, in the future, we will reap the great harvest of a strong and clean SGM. But the sowing must be done right now and continue for many years to come.
Bruce: You mean you are going to write and write and write for decades.
Tony: Writing is a way of reaching out and creating more awareness. We need more understanding. Some leaders today feel that the NBAs were a group of scheming and conniving individuals out to destroy SGM and betrayed Sensei. They also have a lot of anger towards those who resigned and/or ask questions about termination and governance. We have a lot of work to do. But our most effective weapon is still dialogue. One by one. We need to engage more people, and share with them our collective responsibility to be informed on matters of governance and to engage in making this a reality. Our greatest enemy is not the arrogant or conceited leaders at the top, but ignorance and apathy.
Bruce: This will be a long battle, Tony. Much greater Stark Enterprise, Iron Man.
Tony: But we have the conviction that the seeds we sow today, the causes we make today, will definitely bear fruits tomorrow. Meanwhile, you got to be Batman, Bruce. Many who don’t understand will hate you.
Bruce: That’s all right, I guess. To be praise by fools, that is the greatest shame is my motto now. Also, a strong and clean organisation is never something that will be handed to us on a silver platter. Good things never comes easy. We need to fight each and every inch. This is our struggle of human revolution and dialogue.