Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Mr Chairman, a Straits Times article in December last year provided a snapshot into the state of corruption in Singapore today. One of the opening lines was, and I quote, “Many people are heedless of the corruption that exists in squeaky clean Singapore, but graft remains prevalent.”
Over the last three to four years, the number of high profile corruption revelations have come to light.
In 2018, two Chinese Nationals, both of whom were forklift drivers were charged for collecting multiple bribes of $1 in exchange for not delaying the loading and unloading of vehicles. Both drivers were fined and jailed between two to four months.
An equally significant case came to light this year when a brother and sister were handed jail terms close to the maximum five years for conspiring to secure tenders for two companies in China and receiving in excess of $2 million in bribes. The case was significant because a substantive part of the offence was committed outside Singapore. But because the Prevention of Corruption Act applies and has extraterritorial effect, the message was a clear one. Corruption committed by Singaporeans and Singapore corporate entities are not condoned anywhere in the world.
Yet, the remark of graft remaining prevalent in our paper of record, no less, is a matter of concern. While the Government is busy determining how best to reset the economy and put Singapore ahead of the pack when the post COVID-19 recovery begins, the core Singaporean value of a no-nonsense attitude towards corruption needs to be restated more forcefully. At stake is the reputation of the Singapore brand in a world where competition is stiffening and strong sustained growth harder to come by for a mature economy like ours. The goodwill and confidence generated for high quality investments by a strong emphasis against corruption through the Singapore brand cannot be understated.
CPIB be cannot afford for Singaporeans to be heedless of the corruption that exists in the country and double down on public education of its work. In the Minister for Law’s Parliamentary speech last November, the Minister spoke of the zeitgeist that is being felt worldwide with many societies grappling with debates about inequality and the sense that the elites are bending the rules and systems to their own advantage and that the structures are unfair.
Sir, to this end, it would be useful to recall some high profile cases that have been splashed across our newspapers in the years past involving people in high places.
The Keppel Offshore and Marine or KOM scandal come to mind as does the CAD raid of S-League clubs and the Football Association of Singapore, which saw the arrest of our former Member of Parliament allegedly involved in $0.5 million donation to the ASEAN Football Federation.
I understand that investigations can take some time to complete but in view of the profile of the latter two cases in particular which involve people have some status, there is a real public interest as to why these matters have not closed yet. In the public mind, the inordinate delay in investigations is commonly juxtaposed against the publication of names, images and details of individuals splashed prominently in our papers, involving relatively petty amounts that constitute corruption like the $1 bribe, and rightly so.
To address public talk of inequality and double standards or perceptions of the same, it would be important for the CPIB and investigatory authorities to consider interim updates in view of the length of time that has elapsed since the news of the investigations broke. In the Keppel case, many remain perplexed why the authorities are taking so long to complete investigations, especially in light of Keppel officials who have been anonymously fingered in publicly available US Department of Justice documents.
In November 2019, Keppel Offshore and Marine’s lawyer who admitted to drafting contracts to make bribe payments was sentenced to a year’s probation and fined $75,000 in the US. Although a US citizen, the district judge allowed the lawyer in question to serve his probation in Singapore where he resides with his wife. What is holding up the investigations into the Keppel matter? Because it does not seem fathomable that the company can admit to offences but at the same time, there is insufficient evidence to lay at the feet of senior Keppel officials thus far.
Separately, when can the public anticipate a closure to the FAS matter?
And finally, I call on the Government to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act to raise the penalties for corruption.
Prime Minister’s Office
26 February 2021