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  • Writer's pictureJulie O'Connor

The Taylor Swift Saga is Merely a Side Dish to Singapore's Pot of Savoury Scandals

Updated: Mar 8

The recent buzz surrounding the Singapore government's backing of Taylor Swift's exclusive engagement has once again ignited discussions and raised questions about transparency and ethical decision-making. Second Minister of Law Edwin Tong's clarification on subsidies has only partially quelled initial rumors, leaving lingering uncertainties about the true extent of the financial commitment and background to the deal. This controversy is reminiscent of the secrecy surrounding the remuneration of the Prime Minister's wife. How do you know what you don't know?

Some critics argue that even if the payment was a paltry sum of US$2 million to US$3 million to secure exclusivity for all six of Swift's shows, it still reflects an elitist and unethical approach, excluding less affluent fans from neighboring countries. Minister Tong's role in facilitating the deal has prompted calls for an audit, which I suspect is reflecting broader concerns about financial inducements, the lack of government transparency, and the ownself check ownself mindset within the ruling party.

But this latest controversy is just a side dish compared to earlier allegations, including but not limited to accusations of power abuse, claims of corruption at the highest echelons, questions over a pliant judiciary, actual or perceived conflicts, the Keppel bribery scandal, the Parti Liyani scandal, questions whether opponents of the ruling party are being persecuted, fraud in SPH's circulation figures, and Minister Iswaran's purported involvement in a corruption scandal. Added to which, the Ridout scandal involving senior Ministers and their ongoing defamation legal action, only serve to intensify the credibility crisis confronting Singapore's ruling party.

However, allegations of financial maneuvers, misconduct, and the understanding that those with wealth or connections can influence outcomes don't surprise me. I've witnessed the workings of the 'system.'

My personal encounter involved a conspiracy to defraud orchestrated by a well-connected and affluent Singaporean elite, along with his associates. This elite, believed to be former client of Minister Edwin Tong, employed a financial inducement of A$3.5 million to suppress fraud allegations that directly implicated him, and which would mislead investors. Yet, the hush money alone wouldn't suffice. He also required other parties in Singapore to turn a blind eye to all the allegations made against him, ranging from a conspiracy to defraud to accusations of forgery, non-disclosures, misleading disclosures, planned share price manipulation, insider trading, and the backstory of the A$3.5 million offer. When those in positions of power remain indifferent to calls for integrity and choose to ignore such matters, it fosters an alarming environment where transparency and accountability are compromised.

This lack of awareness or willingness to address issues permits systemic problems to persist unchecked, akin to the tale of the Emperor parading naked while no one dares acknowledge the truth. With conflicts abound, I am not the only one questioning whether institutional cover-ups are taking place, involving banks, auditors, regulators, board members, and others in the process.

Whilst financial inducements might be legally acceptable, where does one draw the line between the kosher like those made to Taylor Swift to gain a competitive edge over rivals, and those underhand payments made by Government Linked firms like Keppel which were also used to gain a competitive edge over their rivals? Should it be par for the course that the wealthy and well-connected be permitted to use financial inducements to cover up allegations of fraud, corruption etc, when those financially less fortunate have to take their chances and run the gauntlet through the legal system. Is that equitable justice?

The line sitting between legal financial inducements and fraud is a very thin and blurred one, and one of them carries hefty consequences for victims. Yes, Singapore's Prime Minister sings the tune "If you do something improper, sooner or later, it will come to light. And when it does, you will be investigated. And if it is proved that you did something wrong, you are out and consequences will follow.”

But the 'get out' clauses for his promise are all too easy. The wrongdoing has to come to light, and who/what is there to stop the wealthy or well-connected offering financial inducements or exerting pressure to keep dirt hidden? And even then, who/what is there to prevent abuse of the system if authorities can chose to refuse to investigate those who are wealthy and/or connected to the power structure, even if they are believed to have broken the law?

Despite the assurances from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about the non-negotiable commitment to honesty and integrity, given the inaction of the establishment, skepticism remains about the effectiveness of self-regulation and the willingness of authorities to investigate alleged misconduct. The use of financial inducements and the possibility of institutional cover-ups raise fundamental questions about accountability and the rule of law in Singapore. How easy is it for opponents of the ruling party to be persecuted by the very system that is meant to protect citizens?

Highlighting quotes from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, my 'Ballad of Empty Promises' encapsulates his rhetoric of incorruptibility but contrast this with the reality of governance failures which have led to the current public disillusionment.

"The ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) commitment to honesty and incorruptibility is “absolutely non-negotiable”

“We will never let this system go corrupt" lah, lah, lah

“If you do something improper, sooner or later, it will come to light. And when it does, you will be investigated. And if it is proved that you did something wrong, you are out and consequences will follow.”

“We will never let this system go corrupt" lah, lah, lah

“Our integrity and honesty must never be compromised, and only in that way can we do justice and uphold the trust that Singaporeans have given us."

“We will never let this system go corrupt" lah, lah, lah

“It is particularly when we are tested that we must prove our mettle, put our principles into action, regardless of the embarrassment or political cost.”

“We will never let this system go corrupt." lah, lah, lah

The Taylor Swift debacle is but a side dish that has served to bring the broader governance issues, lack of transparency, accountability, and independent oversight to the forefront once again. The question is whether Lee Hsien Loong or PM in waiting Lawrence Wong have either the appetite or mettle to begin tackling the scandals which continue to take place under their watch, with tangible action rather than mere words repeated over and over and sung like a chorus after each exposure of wrongdoing?

Like a long running-series I have personally been waiting for an ending to my story since I first reached out to authorities in 2015, but I now know that I'm not the only one!

"If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way."

~Emile Zola


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