Ex-offenders barred from employment, contractors barred for safety violations but companies convicted of corruption still allowed to bid on government contracts because corruption was with private sector?

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) has said that the reason why ST Marine is still allowed to procure government contracts even after seven of its senior executives were found guilty of corruption in one of the biggest graft scandals in Singapore is because the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) did not find any offences related to government contracts or agencies.

They claim that since ST Marine’s corrupt practices didn’t involve government contracts and didn’t cause harm or irreparable damage to government agencies, then they’re allowed to continue bidding on contracts put out by the government, they’re allowed to continue using the government’s procurement portal, GeBiz. This is according to the guidelines set out by the Standing Committee on Disbarment (SCOD).

However, if you look at the Defence Procurement guidelines on the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) website it states that any company found guilty of corruption will be barred from obtaining any new contracts or tenders from the government. The DSTA guidelines do not make a distinction between government and non-government contracts. And since GeBiz is also under the purview of DSTA, you would think that the DSTA guidelines would supersede the SCOD ones. Apparently not.

The contract that was awarded to ST Marine is valued at about S$316 million for the construction of 12 aluminium hulled patrol boats for the Police Coast Guard (PCG). The tender included the option to supply and the maintenance of these boats for a firm period of 15 years and the option to extend for another three years.

MHA awarding the S$316 million contract to ST Marine is also surprising because the corruption scandal was massive. Back in 2017, seven of the company’s former senior executives were convicted of corruption for covering up and accepting bribes up to at least $24.9 million between 2000 and 2011. It’s no small thing.

Back in 2018, a question was asked in Parliament about whether contractors with a record of safety lapses who have been blacklisted by the Ministry of Manpower for those lapses can be made ineligible to tender for public infrastructure projects for a longer period of time to ensure that all contractors take building quality and safety seriously.

The Minister for Transport, Khaw Boon Wan responded that the SCOD decides on all cases of debarment of contracts, adding that contractors may be debarred on safety grounds and that the period of debarment depends on the severity of each case. This, he said, is a debarment framework that all government agencies follow.

The Minister did not, however, distinguish between contractors with safety lapses on public or private project. It was clear that any contractor with safety lapses, whether on private or public projects, that have been blacklisted by MOM, is at risk of debarment. The framework applied to all.

Now let’s a look individuals ex-offenders. In 2018, a Potong Pasir resident’s application for a license to be a security officer was reject by the Singapore Police Force (SPF). In their rejection letter to the man who is an ex-convict, SPF stated that he was ‘not a fit person’ in lieu of his previous conviction.

Jose Raymond, at the time, asked ‘what happened to giving people second changes and opportunities to make amends and move on after making mistakes?’

In response to Mr Jose Raymond’s concern, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs said in 2018 that someone with a criminal record has to remain offence-free for a certain amount of time before they can take up certain jobs. This duration of the required offence-free period varies according to the severity and relevance of their conviction.

Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan at the time also said that most people would ‘err on the side of caution’ when they consider hiring an ex-convict.

So comparing these two case with ST Marine, there appears to be an inconsistency. When it comes to civilians found guilty of committing offences, they’re barred from being employed. And according to the Parliamentary reply from Minister Khaw, contractors are at risk of debarment regardless of whether their lapses involved public or private projects.

So why is there a different standard when it comes to ST Marine’s participation in the government’s procurement portal, GeBiz? Why is there a distinction made between corruption within the private and public sector?