Thursday, 8 June 2017

Singapore must stay corruption-free to succeed: PM Lee Hsien Loong at Official Opening of the Corruption Reporting & Heritage Centre

All Singaporeans play role in fight against corruption: PM
He urges everyone to do their best to protect legacy of clean system

By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 7 Jun 2017

Singaporeans play an important part in ensuring that corruption does not become a social norm, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

While the courts, the Government and public servants need to maintain the highest levels of professionalism and integrity, the people must also actively reject corruption to prevent the scourge from taking root here, he added.

"Our founding leaders left us a clean system, built up over more than half a century. It is a legacy that we can be proud of, and we should do our utmost to protect it," he said at the official opening of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau's (CPIB) Corruption Reporting and Heritage Centre in Whitley Road.

The centre, which has been running since Jan 9, is another location where people can complain in person about corruption. Previously, they had to do it at the CPIB headquarters in Lengkok Bahru.

Reiterating Singapore's zero-tolerance approach towards corruption, Mr Lee said a clean system, which is necessary for the country's success, is not a natural state of affairs.

"We have a system that works, and we must keep it that way," he added.

This is unlike many countries, where corruption is accepted as the "natural state of affairs" and is impossible to eradicate, he said.

Singaporeans demand and expect a clean system, and do not condone giving or accepting bribes, said Mr Lee, noting that they also trust that the law will be applied transparently and fairly to all.

"People believe that they can make it because they work hard, not because they have special connections or are paying extra 'fees', and that is the way things should be."

He said that Singapore also has a professional public service that is paid "fair and realistic wages" benchmarked against the private sector. This, he added, reduces the temptation to accept bribes.

Elections in Singapore also do not cost a lot of money, unlike in other countries, where clean candidates and political parties stand no chance of being elected if they do not have the resources, he said.

Turning to the new CPIB centre, Mr Lee said it shows that the Government treats complaints about corruption seriously.

He called on people who know or suspect corrupt behaviour to report it, pointing out that many successful investigations arise from such tip-offs.

"We will investigate any complaint on corruption thoroughly," he said.

The number of corruption cases fell 11 per cent last year from the year before, hitting a 32-year low - with the CPIB investigating 118 cases.

Singapore was ranked the seventh least corrupt country in the world last year by graft watchdog Transparency International.

After touring the centre, Mr Lee presented prizes to students who won a short-story writing competition organised by the CPIB.

Nanyang Polytechnic student Corwin Pek, 17, one of the award winners, said: "Not many Singaporeans know how the CPIB works, and this gallery will help people get a better understanding of it."

The centre also houses a heritage gallery, where visitors can view artefacts about old cases and learn of the CPIB's history through quizzes played on interactive screens.

CPIB director Wong Hong Kuan said it creates "an accessible space for the public to report and learn about corruption".

No bribes allowed, not even a $2 hongbao for postman
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 7 Jun 2017

It was a case of the $2 hongbao.

During the Chinese New Year festive period in the 1970s, postmen would collect red packets from shopkeepers. Those that gave would get their letters delivered intact and on time.

"Those that didn't would have their letters thrown away by the postmen,'' said Mr Raymond Ng, 74, who was then a young investigating officer with the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

It had earlier received complaints that postmen were getting red packets as bribes from shopkeepers.

Recounting the case of a postman he caught, Mr Ng said he had received a $2 hongbao from a shopkeeper in Joo Chiat Place.

When he was arrested, he pleaded for a second chance. "He went down on bended knees to ask me to let him go... but I couldn't. I had to take him in." The case left an indelible mark on Mr Ng as it underscored Singapore's no-nonsense stance towards corruption.

He was among several past and present CPIB officers who spoke to the media last week about their experiences in investigating graft cases, ahead of the official opening of the Corruption Reporting and Heritage Centre in Whitley Road.

Another memorable case in his 27 years at the bureau involved a senior public servant receiving bribes totalling about $13.85 million.

It was Singapore's biggest graft case, and Mr Ng was on the team that dug out the evidence that convicted Choy Hon Tim, then deputy chief executive of the Public Utilities Board. He was jailed for 14 years in November 1995.

In his early years with the CPIB, Mr Ng said, corruption was particularly widespread among junior civil servants and police officers.

"Although the bureau was set up and corruption was under control, there was a lot of petty corruption," he said.

Today, while corruption cases are at an all-time low, criminals are exploiting technology and the ease of travel to avoid getting detected, said CPIB's head of operations management Thomas Cheo, 45.

Unlike in the past, when bribes were paid locally, nowadays, they could be paid overseas, or with electronic currencies such as bitcoin.

Investigators often have to travel abroad to get evidence like foreign bank records, Mr Cheo said. To be good at their job, "investigators need an inquisitive mind, be good listeners and have an eye for detail".

$2 hongbao is a bribe? Really?

I was surprised by Mr Raymond Ng's recollection in which he said he acted against a postman for accepting a $2 hongbao (No bribes allowed, not even a $2 hongbao for postman; June 7).

Had Mr Ng ,who was a young investigating officer with the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, overreacted?

Going by Mr Ng's interpretation we should also not be giving hongbaos to children of government servants that we happen to meet while visiting friends and family during Chinese New Year.

Giving token hongbaos is the traditional way to send the receiver good wishes and luck and is not meant to be a bribe.

It would have been a completely different story if the hongbao contained a disproportionately large amount of money.

However, the amount in question was $2 - the minimum one could possibly give as it is customary not to give odd number amounts.

The rigid black and white interpretation of rules and laws is common in law-abiding Singapore. And it is not necessarily a good thing.

Happily, there are signs of this changing.

There was no mention of what happened to the postman. I really hope that justice was done and he was not punished for accepting good wishes and luck.

Keith Heah
ST Forum, 8 Jun 2017

Large or small, a bribe is still a bribe

We thank Mr Keith Heah for his letter ($2 hongbao is a bribe? Really?; Forum Online, June 8).

The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) appreciates all feedback and works with the public to safeguard Singapore's integrity.

Mr Heah is concerned if the authorities in the 1970s were overreacting in a case of a postman accepting a $2 hongbao.

In the anecdote that our retired CPIB officer, Mr Raymond Ng, recounted (No bribes allowed, not even a $2 hongbao for postman; June 7), the postman had corruptly received the $2 hongbao as a gratification for recipients receiving their letters intact and on time - a service he should be providing as part of his duty.

Unlike Mr Heah's understanding, the $2 hongbao was not intended nor received as a traditional greeting during Chinese New Year, but was corruptly obtained in return for favours.

A major factor that contributed towards Singapore's transformation into a clean country with low levels of corruption is our culture of zero tolerance towards corruption.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated in his speech during the opening of the Corruption Reporting & Heritage Centre, our founding leaders left us a clean system built up over more than half a century; we should be proud of this legacy and do our utmost to protect it.

We all have an important role to maintain our social norms to eschew corruption. The CPIB strongly encourages all members of the public to report any suspected instances of corruption.

The CPIB takes a serious view of any corrupt practices and will not hesitate to take action, regardless of the form of gratification or size of the bribe amount involved.

Clare Tan (Ms)
Senior Assistant Director (Corporate Relations)
Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau
ST Forum, 10 Jun 2017

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