Friday, July 26, 2013

Corruption, Embezzlement and Cleaning Up the Civil Service

Yet another case of wrongdoing for personal gain in the civil service. CPIB chief Eric Tan did the right thing by humbly apologising for the actions of his officer but that is not enough for a public tired of cases of fallen civil servants abusing their authority.

CPIB has been busy. Ng Boon Gay was acquited although his name was dragged in the mud before cleared of co being corruption. Former SCDF chief Peter Lim was sentenced to 6 month jail for his sex for contracts scandal. NUS lecturer Tey Tsun Hang went to prison for 5 months for his sex for grades scandal. Earlier this year, an assistant director in MDA was cooperating with CPIB as he was accused of asking for bribes from those who applied for grants from MDA.

Now, an assistant director in the CPIB is charged with criminal breach of trust as he pocketed $1.7 million, with about $240,000 of it gambled away at MBS. The amount is huge by most standards, albeit the highest amount of money embezzled by tainted civil servants was $12 million by 2 SLA staff who were sentenced in 2010 to 22 and 15 years.

Whistle-Blowing and the Press

The fallen were all exposed because of whistle-blowers within their own circles as nobody watches the watchers, and the watchers have to watch each other. In the absence of another institution to watch over them, they naturally had to resort to whistle-blowing. At least some in the public service can be depended on their moral courage to name fellow colleagues who stole from taxpayers for their own selfish ends. Although cynically, their colleagues did not expose those charged with corruption or fraud entirely because for the good of the public, but perhaps for personal ambition or grievances.

The media did not cover it up, although it could have because of its comfortable relationship with the government. That is a positive sign. The public have to know that civil servants are not above the law, especially those who chase after people who dabbled in corrupt actions, fraud and other financial wrongdoings. Edwin Yeo's case is handled by the CAD and there would be some in CAD who think this is karma as CPIB was the one that took down CAD head Glenn Knight for corruption in 1991.

High Pay to Prevent Corruption?

The rationale for paying competitive or high salaries to politicians and others in the public sector to minimise corruption, arose after cases like former minister Teh Cheang Wan who was investigated in 1986 for taking bribes of $800,000 from property developers and former minister of state Wee Toon Boon's downfall in 1975 for taking bribes also of about $800,000.  However this rationale has to be reviewed. It sounds right but yet these cases showed that those in public service can still be swayed from the path of integrity and honesty, high pay or not.

The public service's reputation is at the crossroads, and our faith in politicians and civil servants is wavering. If by 2016 there are insufficient measures to reassure us that the present government is doing something about the integrity of the public sector, notwithstanding that the loss of trust in those in power are the result of the actions of a few black sheep, people would vote accordingly to show their confidence, or lack  of.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Balakrishnan and Pritam: High Noon Showdown Anticlimax

As it turned out, it was not the expected high stakes gun battle and WP chief Low Thia Khiang dismissed it all as a misunderstanding. Whatever it was, there is still no smoke without fire and the hawkers were upset, this time not with the PAP but with WP.

The PAP saw their chance over WP's callous handling of the hawkers and seized it to corner WP. Sylvia Lim or Low Thia Khiang who have distinguished themselves as honourable and worthy opposition since GE 2006 were not WP's weak link, but the other WP member involved in the AHPETC saga - Pritam Singh, Vice Chair of AHPETC.

Shutting Up Rather than Speaking Up

Minister Balakrishnan had thrown the gauntlet on the floor last month that the new WP MP, Pritam Singh, lied that AHPETC did not ask the hawkers to pay more for the scaffolding during a cleaning of hawker centres blocks 511 and 538. Pritam Singh denied the serious charge of dishonesty then, although he failed to rebut the minister in parliament during the latest seating. The question of being sued by the PAP was not a Damocles Sword over Pritam 's head as MPs could speak candidly and bluntly in parliament because of their parliamentary privilege and immunity.

Hence, MP Pritam had a chance for a robust populist debate with Minister Balakrishnan but he surprisingly chose not to do so. Since Pritam is an articulate speaker, his decision to remain silent shouted volumes. The political retreat meant that Pritam wanted to cut his losses, perhaps strongly advised by the shrewd experienced WP general Low Thia Khiang that it was better to shut up then speak up and confirm dishonesty.

Pritam Strike Two

This is not the first time that Pritam showed signs of being less than honest. Previously, he plagiarised his 2012 parliamentary speech on ombudsman almost lock, stock and barrel from a blogger. The former ISEAS researcher and King's College MA graduate who should have known better made neither attribution nor reference that he used somebody's ideas and words until he was confronted by DPM Teo Chee Hean in parliament. MP Pritam tried to recover by then but it was too little too late and any decent university graduate would have been drilled that plagiarism was theft, a theft of ideas and intellect.

If a PAP MP had stolen ideas for his or her parliamentary speech, or had fudged about asking hawkers to pay up for cleaning the hawker centres, the public would be have chastised his or her dishonesty. The public should also exact similar standards of honesty on all MPs, PAP or WP. There is still some time till GE 2016 and all eyes are on Pritam if he would disappoint WP supporters the third time.