I came across this article written by Tang Li today and thought it was too good not to share. Link to original post here.
" One of the things that we, as a nation, like to tell the world, is the fact that Singapore is very firm when it comes to the rule of law. It’s supposed to be the one thing that makes us stand out whenever we are compared with our rivals in the region. I remember, then Deputy Prime Minister, Teo Chee Hean, making that point in 2013 when he was asked about Singapore’s higher costs when compared to the rest of the region. He said, “There may be hidden costs in the region but Singapore, what you see is what you get.”
This has been, what you’d call our key strengths when it comes to selling ourselves in the world. When it comes to the world of foreign investment, you’ll find that whilst the multinationals want to be in the bigger markets, they make a point of ensuring that contracts get signed under Singapore Law, because, well our legal system is that well regarded.
However, within the first third of this year, there’s been plenty of reason for us to question if we’re really a place of “what you see if what you get.” First, there was the fact that six-senior executives at Keppel O&M were let off with a “stern warning” by our Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) for allegations of corruption in Brazil, despite the company’s US arm entering into a plea deal in the USA. There was a decision not to name the six and our second Minister of Finance, Ms. Indranee Rajah got up in parliament and defended the decision of the CPIB not to prosecute the six because of a “lack of evidence,” despite what the international media was reporting.
More recently, there was the case of Mr. Karl Liew, son of former Changi Airport Chairman, Mr. Liew Mun Leong, who was jailed for two weeks for lying first to the police and then under oath in court in an effort to frame the family maid for theft. What makes Mr. Liew’s case particularly interesting was the fact that he only got jail time because the judge would not accept the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) acting like it was Mr. Liew’s defense counsel.
A lot has been written about these two matters and not much more can be said, except that as far as the ordinary member of the public is concerned, the belief that the system protects its own is confirmed.
To an extent, most of us have always understood that there’s always been some form on back scratching in Singapore. When we talked of “non-corruption” we were right in the sense that people like immigration officers and traffic policemen would not take bribes. In Singapore, if you get a speeding ticket, you pay the speeding ticket and not the traffic cop who issued it. However, we accepted that there would always be certain people who get treated a little nicer because they happened to be born who they were. However, it was usually done within the boundaries of legality and even the most favoured of people knew that they had to be seen playing by the rules.
Our first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew made it very clear that the “whiff” of corruption, let alone the actual corruption would not be tolerated. Sure, he saw to it that “his people,” like his ministers were well paid but should there be a hint that they were not playing by the rules, he’d deal with them in the most severe manner. We’re talking about a man who gave a minister accused of corruption the choice of suicide or being ruined. The minister in question realized that suicide was the better option.
His successor, Mr. Goh Chok Tong, offered a “kinder, gentler” Singapore and made efforts to reduce some of the elder Mr. Lee’s more brutal methods when doing things. However, Mr. Goh realized that any hint of corruption or fraud was to be avoided like the plague.
Take what happened when Mr. TT Durai, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) was found to have been very generous with himself with the funds of the charity. Mr. Durai who had been CEO of the NKF since 1992 was something of a star who raised funds for the public and offered affordable dialysis treatments. The government seemed to like him for finding a way to keep a potential health problem off the government’s bill.
However, when word of Mr. Durai’s misdeeds came out, the government came out, the government worked to distance itself from him. Mr. Goh’s wife who had publicly defended Mr. Durai’s generous salary as “Peanuts” faced a public backlash and vanished from the spotlight. Mr. Goh, who had just handed over the premiership apologized for his wife.
As for Mr. Durai, he quickly and quietly surrendered and ended up facing three months in jail. He was also sued by the organization he had once led and after he was released, he disappeared from the public eye.
Sure, Mr. Durai’s three months in jail might seem light compared to the amount he took from the NKF’s coffers. However, with the exception of Mrs. Goh (who has never held public office), no prominent figures tried to defend him and whilst the justice system may not have dealt him a harsh blow, he was named and shamed.
Compare that with what happened with the six at Keppel O&M and Mr. Karl Liew. Not only was there a visible effort to “protect” the accused parties but there was also an effort to “explain” why the crime wasn’t actually a crime.
In the case of the Keppel Six, there was the ridiculous defense launched by the Artful Bootlicker, who calls himself the Critical Spectator. According to the Critical Spectator, the Six at Keppel should have been given an award for making Keppel and by extension the rest of us rich out of Brazil’s corruption.
Then there’s a case of Mr. Karl Liew, whom most normal people might suggest committed the text book definition of perjury. However, instead of charging him for perjury, he was charged with giving false evidence to a public official, which carries a significantly lesser sentence. Why would the AGC do this?
Well, a few days after Mr. Liew got sentenced, we had a nice article in the Today Newspaper from a former Deputy Public Prosecutor explaining to us that “wrong evidence was not necessarily false evidence.”
I can’t for the life of me remember anyone trying to explain in the public domain how Mr. Durai’s acts of fraud were not actually fraud the way there’s an offer to explain why Mr. Liew’s perjury is not actually perjury.
We always knew that certain people would be anointed. However, back then, it being anointed meant that you had to play within the rules. It would seem that in today’s world, anointment means that you play by separate rules. Surely this is not something you expect from a country that tells you that “what you see is what you get.”
~ Tang Li