(Updates with report about arrest in eighth paragraph.)
Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Singapore replaced its Civil Defence and Central Narcotics Bureau heads on allegations of “serious personal misconduct” in the city-state’s highest-level probe of public servants in almost two decades.
The commissioner of the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Peter Lim Sin Peng, has been dismissed along with the director of the Central Narcotics Bureau Ng Boon Gay, according to statements from the Home Affairs Ministry yesterday. The city’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau began investigations into the activities of the two as early as December, requiring them to go on leave from their duties, according to the announcement.
The probe adds to challenges faced by the Southeast Asian nation since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s People’s Action Party won elections in May by the smallest margin since independence. The city, which lost its top spot on Transparency International’s corruption index last year, is also grappling with public criticism following the worst disruptions to its subway services and flooding in the biggest shopping district.
“Major bribery scandals dent Singapore’s reputation for clean government,” said Richard Cassin, author of “Bribery Abroad: Lessons From the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” “The enormous corporate and personal wealth in Singapore is bound to create more temptation.”
Assistant Civil Defence commissioner Eric Yap Wee Teck, 43, and senior assistant commissioner of police Ng Ser Song, 49, will take over from Lim and Ng respectively starting on Feb. 1 to “ensure leadership continuity of both organizations,” according to the statement.
Firm, Decisive Action
The ministry said it’s unable to comment on the details of the case and that the investigations will shed light on the facts. The officers will be given a fair hearing in accordance with the civil service disciplinary process and the law, it said.
“All public officers, regardless of their position or seniority, are expected to uphold the highest standards of integrity and conduct,” said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in a statement. “If officers are found to have abused the trust placed in them, we will not hesitate to take firm and decisive action against them.”
Ng was arrested Dec. 19 and Lim was arrested Jan. 4, Channel News Asia reported on its website, citing a statement by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. The two men are out on bail, the report said.
Clare Tan of the corporate affairs department at the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau didn’t answer a phone call made to her office after work hours today. She didn’t immediately reply to an e-mail seeking confirmation of the arrests and telephone numbers of Ng and Lim.
Lawmakers in Singapore, ranked as the Asian city with the best quality of life by Mercer and the world’s easiest place to do business by the World Bank, have raised concerns about the efficiency of the country’s infrastructure system after train breakdowns and flash floods last month. The country also has the highest proportion of millionaires in the world.
Open and Transparent
“You can’t always stop bad things from happening,” said Hri Kumar, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Law and Home Affairs. “What defines a proper system is where errors and inappropriate conduct are identified and investigated thoroughly and dealt with in an open and transparent manner.”
SMRT Corp. Chief Executive Officer Saw Phaik Hwa stepped down on Jan. 6 as head of the city’s biggest train operator after glitches on Dec. 15 and 17 delayed more than 200,000 people, including shoppers in the Orchard Road retail district in the last weekend before the Christmas holiday.
Singapore’s parliament backed a motion last week to cut salaries for Lee and top office holders even after some members said the reductions may make it more difficult to attract talent in politics. A government-appointed committee set up by the prime minister recommended this month that his annual income fall 36 percent to S$2.2 million ($1.7 million) and those of new ministers decline to about S$1.1 million from S$1.58 million.
Tougher Penalty Regime
Singapore, where assets under management have risen fivefold since 2001, will consider a “tougher penalty regime” and boost enforcement against money laundering and terrorist financing, the central bank said in October. The city-state will also make laundering of proceeds from tax offenses a crime and tighten laws on tax evasion, it said.
Singapore was rated the fifth-least corrupt country in the world last year by Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-corruption organization.
The Asian city reviewed its public sector’s financial procedures after uncovering a S$12.5 million fraud in September 2010 by two former workers at its land authority. The two men, Koh Seah Wee and Lim Chai Meng, were jailed for 22 years and 15 years respectively for cheating government agencies in the biggest public fraud case since 1995. The incident severely shook public confidence in the internal controls at government agencies, prosecutors said then.
In December, a clerical officer from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees both the civil defense and narcotics bureau, was charged for offenses including forgery and cheating of S$617,087.
Reputation for Leniency
Yeo Seng Teck, who was chief executive officer of the Trade Development Board, was investigated in 1993 for cheating offences dating back to 1988 involving the purchase of S$2 million of Chinese antiques, according to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau’s website. He was sentenced to a four-year jail term, it said.
In 1995, Choy Hon Tim, a deputy chief executive at the Public Utilities Board, was jailed for 14 years for taking S$13.9 million in kickbacks in Singapore’s largest public sector graft case. Choy was released in 2005 for good behavior.
Glenn Knight, a former director of the Commercial Affairs Department was sentenced to a day’s jail in 1998 and suspended from legal practice on corruption charges in 1991. The Straits Times said the latest investigations rank among the highest- level probes of civil servants since Knight’s case.
“Singapore doesn’t have a reputation for leniency toward white-collar criminals,” Cassin said. “What it may need, however, is more oversight in some of the government agencies, more checks and balances and financial accountability. That might slow down the wheels of government a bit, but that’s the cost of better financial controls.”
--With assistance from Sanat Vallikappen in Singapore. Editors: Linus Chua, Tony Jordan.
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