Web report reveals detailed state-private business links

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 March, 2002, 12:00am

A document that claims to catalogue the extensive links between prominent Singaporeans and government-linked enterprises has been circulated to the foreign media as policymakers undertake a review of the state's future role in the economy.

The 23-page commentary sets out connections between ministers, members of Parliament, civil servants and military personnel with government-linked companies (GLCs). The connections include board positions and, for some, equity holdings.

The paper, which has been distributed online through Singapore-related Web site postings and emails, argues that these ties can make it more difficult for the Government to reduce its stakes in business, a stated aim of official policy in recent years.

It said: 'The Government's withdrawal from business could hurt the employment, income and ownership interests of people closely connected to it.'

The document does not, however, make any allegations of personal corruption.

Singapore is well-known for its tough and successful policies to combat graft at all levels.

The document is unusual both for its content and its carefully-worded style.

Although it carries an author's name - Tan Boon Seng - efforts to trace him and his backers have proved unsuccessful.

Officials at the ministries of Finance, and Trade and Industry who reviewed the document this week declined to comment on its contents or conclusions.

The ultimate fate of many GLCs now lies with the Economic Review Committee, an ad hoc body set up last year to draw up a fresh blueprint for Singapore's economy. It is chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lee Hsien Loong, tipped to succeed Goh Chok Tong as prime minister.

The document Why it might be difficult for the government to withdraw from business may be an attempt to influence the course of the debate over GLCs within the Government and the Economic Review Committee. Its content - especially the reams of personal data - is of a kind available to few individuals or groups.

Some facts that it lists are well known, such as GLC posts held by present or former cabinet members. Many others, including the commercial positions held by former military officers or ex-civil servants are more obscure.

The links between the Government and the business sector are broad but have been cut back in recent years with several high-profile privatisations. GLCs account for about 13 per cent of gross domestic product, according to an official study.

GLCs include DBS Group, Singapore's largest bank; Singapore Airlines, the national flag carrier; and Chartered Semiconductor, the chip-maker. Most of them were set up by the Government in the 1960s and 1970s.

In recent months, several ministers have argued that as the economy matures, the Government should continue to reduce these interests further, allowing the private sector to become more dominant.

'We have to create an environment in which individuals and firms take their own chances and succeed on the strength of their capabilities or efforts, rather than on government direction or subsidies,' Tharman Shanmugaratnam, senior minister of state at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, said earlier this year in a comment typical of many.

The discussion over the future of the GLCs has repercussions for a free-trade agreement with the United States, which has raised questions over the role played by GLCs.

If successful, it would be the first such deal between Washington and an Asian country.