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Education Minister Ong Ye Kung

Is knowingly accepting perks and privileges related to one’s position of power (even if legal) tantamount to an arguable case of state sanctioned corruption?

Is accepting perks and privileges which you know are related to your position of power (even if legal) be tantamount to an arguable case of state sanctioned corruption?

The Singapore government frequently waxes lyrical about its lack of corruption and its zero tolerance to any form of corruption. Unsurprisingly, Education Minister, Ong Ye Kung has repeated this line at an interview with Bloomberg when asked about succession plans in Singapore.

He said: "The expectations should not be different from previous leaders. First of all, integrity above all. We take pride in having a government that has zero tolerance toward corruption".  While Ong may be sincere in his convictions, we can't draw a firm conclusion with regards to the truth of the statement until we first define "corruption".

As the average man on the street would see it, corruption would usually involve some kind of illegal, fraudulent and dishonest conduct on the part of those in power. The taking of backhanded payments or illegal bribes would definitely not be common in Singapore. In that sense, there is a very low incidence of corruption. However, will accepting perks and privileges which you know are related to your position of power (even if legal) be tantamount to an arguable case of state sanctioned corruption?

Take for instance the high salaries of our ministers pegged to the top 1000 earners in the private sector as a bid to avoid corruption. People are constantly complaining about the high salaries but still they remain firmly in place. Are these justifications valid?

It seems illogical to me to pay people to avoid potential corruption because all you are doing is legalising the exchange of large sums of public money. The idea that all ministers would have commanded the salaries of the top 1 per cent in the private sector is also a huge assumption on the part of government in the first place. Many ministers are career civil servants parachuted into government. They were never in the public sector to begin with.

Even if this is not illegal, it can still be considered disingenuous. Is that the mark of "integrity"?

Then you have the other recent example of low parking fees for elected Members of Parliament (who are overwhelmingly from the ruling Peoples' Action Party (PAP)). This has never to my knowledge been adequately addressed by Parliament or any minister for that matter.

Is this not a perk that is unfair to the public? Members of the public also drive to work. What makes MPs so different from the public? Even if unwitting, this does not a system of integrity make.

Ong may sincerely believe in his convictions but until salaries are brought more in line with reality and perks such as cheap parking is dealt with, words are hollow.