What Would You Say If A World-Class University Puts Up Fake Information On Its Website About A Non-Existent Achievement???

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Dear friends,

A number of people have asked me about Dr Wong’s project that was based on my MA Thesis – What happened to the project? – Was the project published? – Where is the project “now?”

Dr Wong’s misuse of my MA Thesis idea and content by attempting to pass off the fruits of my MA thesis project as his original research proposal, was after all, what triggered my whistleblowing on Dr Wong, and which led to my expulsion from The National University of Singapore (“NUS”) 18 months later in September 2006. I have been fighting for transparency and accountability from NUS ever since.

In summary, according to NUS in 2015, Dr Wong had actually “aborted” the project, although NUS was unable to provide documentation of the official termination of the project. There were so many twists and turns before this belated admission. By the time NUS made this admission in 2015, NUS had put up the information that Dr Wong’s project was “completed” for about four years on NUS’ official website.

This belated admission, and the circumstances surrounding the fake online information on the NUS website, thus leaves more questions to be answered about institutional accountability, fake research and the misuse of public funds.

It has taken me a while to write this blog because I had been too distracted by many pressing legal and health issues. For one, I had been unwell. I was on hospital leave since last December until 15 Feb 2021 and I suffered a complex meniscus tear on my left knee in mid-January 2021. I am presently waiting to get a second opinion regarding a surgical process for the knee injury.  

Fake Information Was On The NUS Website From 2011 To 2015

Sometime in or around 2011, I came across the information on NUS’ official website that Dr Wong’s project (that was based on my MA Thesis) had been completed and advertised under “Research Projects – Completed” on the Department of Architecture webpage. I called up the Department of Architecture Information Resource Centre to ask to read the project. However, the officer who answered my phone call told me that the project was not available for view.

I had tested the waters by asking permission to read several other projects along with Dr Wong’s project that were on the list of Completed Research Projects on the NUS website. Some projects were available for view and others were not. Dr Wong’s project was not accessible.

The listing remained on NUS’ official website from 2011 to 2015.

It was only in 2015 that NUS admitted that the piece of information about Dr Wong’s Completed Research Project on its website was false because Dr Wong had “aborted” (this is the term NUS used) his project. NUS also claimed that it was unaware of this fake information on its website all the this while – until I pointed it out to NUS.

Isn’t this absurd?

NUS Insisted that Dr Wong’s Project Was Not Relevant To My Lawsuit During The Time The Fake Information Was Up On The NUS Website

I initiated the lawsuit against NUS in 2012. I began to ask NUS for the disclosure of Dr Wong’s project from 2013 onwards. NUS repeatedly stated that the project was irrelevant to my lawsuit. The fact that the project continued to be listed as “Completed” on the NUS website at the same time that NUS was resisting disclosure naturally gave the impression that NUS refused to disclose the “Completed” project report or manuscript.

Then in early 2015, NUS suddenly amended the court proceedings to state that the project was “aborted” and no public funds were spent on the project. In the second half of 2015, NUS changed its position regarding this project yet again – Dr Wong had spent $19,030.51 out of the $80,820.00 awarded to his project. The unused portion of the $80,820.00 was returned to Ministry of Education (“MOE”).

In other words, Dr Wong spent $19,030.51 of taxpayers’ dollars, but the taxpayers received no benefit for this money. And, from 2011 to 2015, NUS had continued to tell the world on its website that Dr Wong had “completed” the project when, in fact, Dr Wong had abandoned the project.  

The Belated Confessions in 2015 Open Up More Questions

Once NUS decided to change its position and confess to the “abortion”, and then subsequently confessed that research funds had actually been spent, NUS disclosed the internal NUS documents surrounding the project including the expenditure records, but NUS refused to disclose the research documents on the actual work done on the project itself, despite the fact that Dr Wong had spent most of the $19,030.51 on hiring researchers.

(As a rough estimate, the sum of $19,030.51 is sufficient to hire a researcher with a Master’s degree on a full-time basis for six to seven months, and six months is sufficient time to search and compile enough material to write a book-length manuscript.)

The internal documents disclosed by NUS surrounding the project do not show that the project was “aborted.” There was no application by Dr Wong to MOE to properly terminate the project, even though the template form for “Termination/Lapse of Project” was disclosed in the stack of MOE forms that Dr Wong had to periodically submit to MOE to update his project progress.

NUS has affirmed by affidavit that Dr Wong did not submit the “Termination/Lapse of Project” form required to terminate the project.  Here below is the form that Dr Wong was supposed to have submitted to MOE, but which he failed to submit.

The disclosed internal documents also give the impression that Dr Wong was still working on the project until 2011. Dr Wong reported to the Vice-Dean for Research that he was still working on the project in the chronology of events related to Dr Wong’s project. No more internal documents were disclosed by NUS after that report to the Vice-Dean for Research.

So, in summary, as far as the NUS internal documents show, Dr Wong received the MOE grant in 2005, returned the unused portion of the funds to MOE in 2010, and was still working on the project in 2011.

Dr Wong’s failure to terminate the project properly and officially, NUS’ disclosure of an email in which Dr Wong claimed that he was still working on the project in 2011 as the  last piece of evidence in the chronology of the project, the listing of the project as “Completed” on NUS’ official website for four years beginning in or around 2011, and then the belated admission that the project was not completed in 2015, and a later and further admission that no proper termination of project papers were submitted to NUS or MOE, raise serious issues of multiple lapses in the administration of projects supported by public funds.

During the time when Dr Wong’s project was falsely listed as “Completed” on the NUS Architecture Department’s webpage (from 2011 to 2015), that webpage was apparently under Dr Wong’s control, because Dr Wong was the Head of the Department of Architecture from 2007 to January 2017. But Dr Wong does not seem to have been held accountable for the multiple lapses.

In other internal documents disclosed by NUS, Dr Wong invariably blamed me in the progress reports when he could not meet the expected progress deadlines. He admitted in at least one of the reports to NUS/MOE that he had me in mind to work as his primary research assistant on the project and he had problems finding suitable researchers for the project, despite having hired a good number of researchers and spending almost $20,000 to pay them.

This leads to the question of why Dr Wong regarded me as so instrumental in the research project. It has always been my position that Dr Wong had relied on my MA thesis to generate his project but which he declared to be his “original” research content, when he applied to MOE for research grants. My position is backed up by Dr Wong’s Grant Application Form to MOE that NUS was forced to disclose to me due to the lawsuit. This will be the subject of another blog.

How Did The Fake Information Get Onto The NUS Website?

At trial in 2017, Dr Wong claimed that “assistant officers in the department” had put up Dr Wong’s project under the list of “Completed Research Projects” on the NUS Department of Architecture webpage by mistake. Dr Wong was unable to give more details about this mistake and insisted that he was not aware of this error, and did not know that the fake information had appeared online all the while from around 2011 to 2015.

It is extremely difficult to believe that Dr Wong was totally unaware, from 2011 to 2015, that his own Department’s official webpage falsely listed his project as “Completed,” especially since this listing was very prominent, at the very top of the webpage all the while. The webmaster had made sure that Dr Wong’s project continued to be listed first, prominently, on the top of the list of completed projects. It was not “pushed down” the list as newly completed projects were added to the list. Here below is a snapshot of the NUS webpage on 16 April 2015 showing the false information that Dr Wong’s research had been completed. By 29 April 2015, NUS had discreetly removed the false information. 

NUS said it only learned about the fake information on its website in April 2015, after I questioned NUS about Dr Wong’s “Completed” project on the NUS official website. This is one of the many lame excuses NUS officers have given to Court – in fact, I had been asking NUS to disclose Dr Wong’s project report as early as 2013 and NUS took the position that the project report was not relevant to my legal case. Surely the lawyers for NUS would have asked NUS about the project in 2013 and NUS must have done its own due diligence about the actual status of Dr Wong’s project in 2013.

Were NUS’ lawyers sleeping on their job since all questions to NUS and all replies from NUS were through NUS’ lawyers? Or, was NUS trying extremely hard to cover up for Dr Wong? Or, was every single officer in NUS involved in this debacle simply so oblivious of all actual events happening around him/her at work and hence made “honest mistakes,” one officer after another, so much so that it became a collective “Honest Mistake” resulting in such an obvious piece of fake information on the NUS website?

Accountability and Transparency

As if using public funds recklessly with no accountability is not egregious enough, NUS’ “negligence” in letting fake information appear under dubious circumstances on the NUS website is exceedingly reprehensible.

I use the word “negligence” and not another stronger label, because it is NUS’ and Dr Wong’s legal position that it was “an honest mistake.” However, the series of events related to Dr Wong’s project, when considered together, gives the impression that the online fake information is not an “honest mistake” as NUS and Dr Wong have claimed. The series of events undermines NUS’ credibility.

There would also be a “lack of accountability” if a professor is able to spend a lot of public money on a project, but then abandon it, and thus waste the money, apparently without any consequences to himself.

Am I the only person who has enquired about Dr Wong’s project in those 4 years when I contacted the Information Resource Centre?

For all its prominence sitting on top of the list of completed projects on the Department of Architecture webpage all four years – I find it very disconcerting and odd, that no one, not even a fellow faculty member, has bothered to approach Dr Wong, the “Principal Investigator” who was also the Head of Department of Architecture, or Dr Heng Chye Kiang, the “Collaborator” in the project and also the Dean of the School of Design and Environment, to make polite conversations or enquiries about their project. Otherwise, Dr Wong or Dr Heng would have been alerted to the fake online information and ordered the information to be taken down.

Assuming that the fake online information was an undiscovered “honest mistake” – why is MOE throwing away public funds for research work that not even fellow faculty members in the Department bothered to discuss with Dr Wong in the spirt of collegiality?

Dr Wong, who was Head of Department of Architecture from 2007 to 2017 and therefore responsible for the Department of Architecture webpage, while claiming that it was “an honest mistake,” was unable to offer any evidence of how the mistake came about. In short, the fake information just appeared one day in the NUS website and he was unable to offer any evidence of how the error was made.

It is disturbing and appalling that there is no process to monitor the completion of a project that utilises public funds, no verification on the handover of a concluded project and official validation to close a completed project.

Even if we were to rely on Dr Wong’s words that the project was “aborted,” Dr Wong did not terminate the project officially.

To my knowledge neither NUS nor MOE has pursued the matter of the unaccountable “aborted” project and they have never investigated the lapses that allowed fake information to go up onto the NUS website. The issue of this one fake “Completed” research shows that there may potentially be other fake achievements put up on the NUS website, just as there have been professors with fake degrees and fake resumes working in NUS.

The circumstances surrounding the fake online information on the NUS website raises serious questions about public institutional processes and accountability.

Until the next post… thank you friends.

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1 Comments

  1. Bernard tan on July 14, 2023 at 9:41 am

    I am a non practicing lawyer. Willing to discuss your case for free.

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