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.

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