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NAC says it has no existing partnerships with BooksActually, amid allegations over bookstore’s co-founder Kenny Leck

SINGAPORE — The National Arts Council (NAC) has said that it does not have any existing partnerships with bookstore BooksActually, which has come under fire over the weekend due to claims of workplace indiscretions by its co-founder Kenny Leck.

BooksActually co-founder Kenny Leck (right) in a file photograph, alongside his now ex-wife Renee Ting.

BooksActually co-founder Kenny Leck (right) in a file photograph, alongside his now ex-wife Renee Ting.

BooksActually co-founder Kenny Leck was alleged to have not paid salaries and made inappropriate romantic advances to his younger female employees at the bookstore

  • He has apologised for causing “immense pain” to some former employees but denied the allegations in an article written about the matter
  • He will be transferring ownership of the bookstore and publishing firm Math Paper Press to a team of five employees
  • Several writers and artists have called off work with BooksActually until Mr Leck can address the allegations fully
  • The National Arts Council has said that it does not have any existing partnerships with bookstore 

 

SINGAPORE — The National Arts Council (NAC) has said that it does not have any existing partnerships with bookstore BooksActually, which has come under fire over the weekend due to claims of workplace indiscretions by its co-founder Kenny Leck.

In response to queries, Ms Aruna Johnson, director of sector development (literary arts) at NAC, said that the bookstore is also not involved in the 2021 edition of the Singapore Writers Festival, which is organised by not-for-profit organisation Arts House Limited.

Mr Leck, 43, who co-founded the independent bookstore in 2005, made headlines over the weekend and on Monday (Sept 27) following an article by writer and artist Charmaine Poh alleging misconduct towards his former female employees. Mr Leck denies the allegations.

Among other claims, the article by Rice Media, which was based on an interview with Mr Leck’s ex-wife Renee Ting, alleged that he paid salaries late and made inappropriate romantic advances to younger female staff members.

Since its publication, a former employee, Ms Cheryl Charli Tan, has come out in support of Ms Ting and stated that she had contributed to the Rice Media article anonymously. She also criticised those in the Singapore literary community who had been aware of Mr Leck’s behaviour, but had laughed it off and did not intervene.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Mr Leck apologised for his failings, which had caused “immense pain” to some ex-employees, though he did not elaborate on the failings. He also disputed allegations and inferences in the Rice Media article as “totally untrue”.

He said that since early last year he had been gradually ceding executive decision-making to those in the present team and that he will “cede full legal ownership and directorship” of BooksActually to the team, who will become its new owners.

“I will be removed from all decision-making processes with this change. Similarly, the team will be drafting and codifying our workplace standard operating procedures, which includes an anti-harassment policy for future hires.

“These safeguards will be regularly updated as the work environment changes during this pandemic, and beyond, which I hope we will all emerge safely from soon,” he wrote.

Last Thursday, Mr Leck had posted on his Facebook account that he would be "out of action for the week or so" as he deals with "an erratic blood pressure, fainting spells and belligerent headaches", adding that he was overworked and had a "poor exercise regime". 

On Sunday, the current team of five employees at BooksActually wrote on the shop's Instagram account confirming Mr Leck’s move to transfer ownership of BooksActually and publishing firm Math Paper Press to them. 

“BooksActually is an entity and ecosystem bigger than any individual,” they wrote, without identifying who they are.

The bookstore, which has been around for 16 years and was last located in Tiong Bahru, moved its business online late last year. 

Several writers and artists have stated that they will pull out of their partnerships and programmes with BooksActually.

Sing Lit Station, a registered charity, said that it would no longer work with BooksActually on the 2021 Jalan Besar Writing Residency and reassess future collaborations with the bookstore and Math Paper Press, which was founded by Mr Leck.

Writer Joshua Ip said that he has paused all future projects pending “conversations” with the literary community and the new team of the bookstore.

Mr Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, also a writer, said that he will not do any more work with BooksActually until Mr Leck has addressed the allegations properly.

“Some will argue that I've presumed guilt or taken the girls’ side without first hearing the whole story. But it’s important to have that presumption in place until women are comfortable enough to speak up,” Mr Vadaketh wrote.

Playwright Alfian Sa’at, however, urged others to consider the work of the current team in BooksActually before deciding to boycott it. “There are five people, who are not Kenny Leck, whose livelihoods depend on the bookstore staying afloat,” he said.

In response to a TODAY query, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) said it had not received any complaints against BooksActually, except for an anonymous feedback on Sept 26 that highlighted the recent online articles, with no further information provided.

Tafep added it is currently in touch with the new management team at BooksActually to guide them on workplace fairness policies and practices.

"Employers should keep their workplaces safe by preventing and managing workplace harassment, and may approach Tafep for resources and advice on how to do so," it said. 

"Similarly, employers also have a legal obligation to pay employees their salary on time. Individuals who encounter workplace harassment and have their salaries withheld should contact either Tafep or the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management early for assistance. Individuals with knowledge of any criminal conduct should report such incidents immediately to the police."

Related topics

BooksActually Kenny Leck National Arts Council bookstore employee salary workplace harassment

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