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Singapore: Koh's crumbling edifice

Some unusual rumblings have been heard from Singapore recently. In July the resignation was announced of Koh Beng Seng, deputy managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and reckoned to be the country's hard man of financial regulation. Then the prime minister persuaded him to withdraw his resignation and asked him to join a committee on banking deregulation. Behind the scenes, a furious debate is raging about the kind of financial centre Singapore should be.

The 46-year-old boyish-looking and bespectacled Koh is reputed to be the country's most feared regulator. Bankers give him high marks for intelligence, integrity and dedication to his job but low marks for humility, social skills and flexibility. One banker sums up the views of many in the financial community when he says of Koh: "He's too unbending. His worst attitude is he thinks all of us are crooks; he looks down on us and he's very arrogant. He's like a central administrator who thinks he's 100% right and leaves no room for dissenting views."

Koh's boss, finance minister Richard Hu, defends him, pointing out that while his style may be unpleasant he has "built up a very strong edifice which has given Singapore a very powerful image as a safe haven".

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