Image from Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau

For something to be considered corrupt, it has to be illegal

Definition of Corruption by Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau

Corruption is receiving, asking for or giving any gratification to induce a person to do a favour with a corrupt intent.

There are many kinds of gratification, including money, sexual favours, properties, promises, services and etc.

Favours also come in different forms such as seeking confidential information, leniency, special privileges, contracts and etc.

Singapore has long since been touted as one of the most corruption-free countries in the world. From the judiciary to its public services, it retains a squeaky clean international reputation. For the most part, I would agree. Our top civil servants and politicians are by and large law abiding. But the question that needs to be asked is whether or not some of our laws would be considered corrupt in some other countries?

For instance, the overlap between the various state funded government resources being utilised by the majority political party in its personal capacity. I am not suggesting that this is deliberately done. However, years of absolute power have led the ruling Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) to blur the lines between state affairs and party matters.

Take for instance the parking saga which permitted elected members of parliament (MPs) (who are overwhelmingly made up of PAP members) to park virtually island wide any time for only $365 per annum. In land scarce Singapore, this is quite literally peanuts. The Housing Board car parks in which they are permitted to park in are funded by state resources. Would members of the public have been happy with this arrangement? However because virtually all MPs are from the PAP, no one has raised this issue as potentially unfair to everyone else. Arguably, is this not a case whereby PAP MPs feel entitled to this privilege because state and party lines are murky? Would this be considered as unfair privileges amounting to inequitable perks in other countries?

National surveys that are conducted by various ministries and agencies about the public sentiment using taxpayers money but we never know to whom are the results of the surveys given to and used for.

You also have the controversies that surround the Peoples’ Association (PA). The PA was set up to build strong community ties and to facilitate interaction between the people and government leaders. It is important to note that the government now is made up of a few non PAP MPs as well. However, the PA appears to align itself more with the PAP than the government and having its events catered for PAP MPs while at the same time, excluding the opposition MPs even when they are the elected MP of the constituent.

Then the recent case that highlights the privilege of active grassroots leaders to receive recommendation letters from grassroots organizations under PA for the children to enroll in primary schools of their choice.

In other countries, this would be construed as a misuse of government structures funded by the public purse. In Singapore however, the blurring of lines between state and party is such that this issue is not caught out. Even when financial lapses among PA were discovered in audits by the Attorney General Office, those cases are written off as administrative lapses despite the said-circumstances being questionable. This would not have been the same if it was opposition town councils being caught for the same lapses.

What about potential conflicts of interests in government, quasi government and government linked appointments? Take Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (LHL) and his wife, Ho Ching (HC) as an example. The former is the leader of our government and holds great political power while the other is head of Temasek Holdings (Temasek) which controls huge amounts of our national wealth. Appointment of former civil servants and military officers into Government Linked Companies and parachuting individuals who are former aides of PAP politicians into heads of statutory boards. In many first world countries this would be a huge no-no. In Singapore however, this is not considered illegal or reprehensible in the slightest.

What about the huge salaries paid to those in Cabinet? Would these sky-high salaries be considered being corrupted in other countries? And given the justification that if the politicians are not paid the salaries that they are given now, they will be corrupted, doesn’t that mean that they are essentially corrupted just that we are paying them enough not to be?

These are just a few examples of scenarios which would not be considered legal or acceptable in many countries. In Singapore however, due to our majority party rule, no one bats an eyelid.  I won’t go so far as to say that we are corrupt (I don’t know) but what I will say is this : For something to be corrupt it has to be considered illegal. In Singapore, these scenarios are not considered illegal and therefore do not amount to corruption.