The tragic death of a Malaysian cleaner two years ago set off an outpouring of public sympathy in the form of cash donations for his widow and children.
But that sympathy turned to anger two days ago, after The Sunday Times reported how Madam Pusparani Mohan, 34, had run through close to $1 million received in donations and insurance payouts in a year.
The story reached about 1.1 million readers on social media, and was shared, liked or commented on 139,000 times, a record for a story in this newspaper.
Many readers were shocked and angry at how quickly the $1 million had been squandered, and demanded to know details of Madam Pusparani's spending.
Some accused her of being irresponsible for cashing in her children's insurance policies, while others felt she was trying to gain sympathy and more money by telling a sob story.
On March 17, 2012, Madam Pusparani's husband Chandra Mogan Panjanathan, 34, was killed after he was hit by a taxi while operating a cleaning machine outside Changi Airport's Budget Terminal. The Chinese national who hijacked the taxi is in jail.
His death left Madam Pusparani, a cleaning supervisor, with four young children to raise, one of whom was two months old.
A donor told The Straits Times he had given money as he felt sorry for the children. "I am very angry she did not do what was right in the interest of the children... A decent terraced (house) in Johor can cost less than RM500,000 (S$195,000). She should have bought it. That should have been the first priority."
Mr Vignesh K. R., 40, who contacted the paper to offer advice to Madam Pusparani, said he had met many people who were overwhelmed when they were suddenly given a huge sum of money.
"They would try to figure out how to use it, like go for a holiday or invest in a business. But very often, they don't keep track of how much money they still have in the bank, and before they realise it, they are left with their last dollar," said the treasurer with the Microfinance Society (Singapore).
Madam Pusparani said Changi Airport Group had engaged a financial adviser to help her manage the donations. She invested about $800,000 in insurance policies for her four children - then aged two months, five, eight and nine. But a reliable source confirmed she later cancelled those policies and withdrew the money.
About $500,000 went into a failed transport business started by her brother, while the remaining half had been used up by May last year.
Though The Straits Times probed her repeatedly up until yesterday, on how she could have spent $400,000 in five months, she said in a phone interview from Malaysia: "I really don't know how I used up the money. I am sorry it's all gone. I am not asking for more money. I just want to be honest about it. What I need now is a job in Singapore.
"I read the story and comments online. I feel very sad. It is true I don't know how to manage the money. I am ashamed. It's a lesson learnt and I want to start afresh. I hope people don't judge me too quickly."
When contacted, Madam Pusparani's former employer Campaign Complete Solutions said the company would consider hiring her should there be a job opening.
"She was with the company for barely three months when her husband was killed. At that time, she was working as a cleaning supervisor. We will consider hiring her since she has experience in this job," said human resource manager Elsie Teo.
This article was first published on June 10, 2014.
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