Singapore’s leader has vowed to punish corrupt officials, no matter how senior, following several high-profile cases including three sex-for-favour scandals that have embarrassed a nation widely praised for its integrity.
“Anyone who breaks the rules will be caught and punished. No cover-up will be allowed, no matter how senior the officer or how embarrassing it may be,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech late on Tuesday.
Lee’s comments reflect a concern in the government that its reputation as one of the least corrupt nations in the world may be tarnished because of the alarming slew of cases this year. They include two senior bureaucrats who are accused of obtaining sex from women executives of companies that supplied computer technology services and goods to their organisations.
“It’s far better to suffer the embarrassment and keep the system clean for the long-term, than to pretend that nothing has gone wrong and to let the rot spread,” Lee said.
Although Singapore imposes tough penalties for corruption – five-year jail term and up to S$100,000 (US$80,000) fine – Lee said these alone were not enough to stop individuals from trying to profit from their position.
Instilling public officers and government officials with right values was as important because “no system can completely stop a determined cheat,” Lee said in the speech to mark the 60th anniversary of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.
In one case this year, the Central Narcotics Bureau chief was charged with having sex with a female computer technology executive in return for helping her obtain business deals with the bureau. Similarly, the head of the Singapore Civil Defence Force was charged in June with having sex with three women – two vendors and a potential vendor – on 10 occasions in exchange for favouring their companies’ tenders. Both have pleaded innocent and are awaiting trial.
Separately, a law professor at the prestigious National University of Singapore is accused of showing favours to a female student in return for sex. His trial is expected to start next month. A fourth case involves an official of the National Parks Board, who is accused of purchasing expensive bicycles for parks staff when far cheaper alternatives were available.
The cases have sparked a debate in Singapore on whether it’s losing its reputation for honesty in public and private sectors. Transparency International ranks Singapore as the fifth least corrupt country after New Zealand, Denmark, Finland and Sweden.
Singapore says its system stays honest because of the high salaries it pays its civil servants and ministers, which not only attracts the best minds but also removes the temptation for bribes. Singapore ministers are the highest paid politicians in the world. Lee’s annual salary is S$3.1 million (US$2.4 million), five times President Barack Obama’s pay check of US$400,000.