Friday 17 August 2012

Corruption cases down to seven-year low

Majority of last year's 138 cases originated from private sector
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 16 Aug 2012

DESPITE the recent graft cases involving public servants, the number of corruption cases investigated by the authorities last year was the lowest in seven years.

And of the 138 cases the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) looked into last year, the majority - 75 per cent - originated from the private sector.

Graft has been making the headlines in recent months, particularly cases involving public servants.

Among those currently under probe are the former chiefs of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF); a professor from the National University of Singapore; and a National Parks Board official who authorised a controversial bicycle purchase.

The number of files opened by the graft police has been falling since 2005, when it investigated 428 cases. In 2010, it probed 206 cases.

In its annual report released recently, the CPIB attributed the low number to fewer complaints over the last few years, some of which also lacked important information required to launch probes.

It received 757 complaints last year, the lowest in the last seven years.

Since 2008, sham marriages as well as scapegoat cases, where offenders pay others to take the rap for them, had also come under other enforcement agencies. They were traditionally handled by the CPIB.

The number of people taken to court for corruption has also fallen over the last three years.

Last year, 135 people were charged, including seafood supplier Tay Ee Tiong, who gave about $1 million of kickbacks to chefs; and former Singapore Table Tennis Association chief Choo Wee Khiang, who was accused of accepting bribes from coaches and a national player.

Of those charged, 10 were from government departments, statutory boards and government-linked companies.

But investigations into some of these were launched in earlier years. For instance, the former deputy director of projects and development at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Peh Chew Seng, was charged last year with asking for a bribe from a contractor in 2009.

Seven in the public sector were charged in 2010, and 22 the year before. A high percentage of all those charged were also found guilty. The conviction rate in corruption cases here has hovered at around 92 per cent to 96 per cent in the past seven years.

Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan said he had faith in Singapore's system to keep corruption in check. "The recent cases send a message that regardless of who you are, if you've done something wrong, you will be taken to task," he said yesterday.

Mr Lim previously questioned in Parliament why the arrests of Peter Lim Sin Pang and Ng Boon Gay, formerly from the SCDF and CNB respectively, were not disclosed earlier.

Associate Professor Ho Yew Kee from the National University of Singapore Business School said the decline in numbers "could suggest that organisations are getting better in their in-house spot checks, such that organisations deal with the cases judiciously without involving the CPIB".

Singapore has been consistently ranked as one of the world's least corrupt countries, coming in fifth out of 183 countries last year in corruption watchdog Transparency International's annual list.

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