5 Lessons from Singapore’s Most Prominent Corruption Cases

Published on June 9th, 2016 by in Blog

No country is immune to corruption, but on the scale of things, Singapore is in good shape. The country ranks as the fifth least corrupt nation. But Singaporeans now think corruption is becoming a growing problem. Statistics from 2010 and 2011 show that 38% of participants felt corruption was on the rise in Singapore.

Here are five lessons we could all learn from the five most prominent corruption cases in Singapore.

1.     Corruption Does Not Discriminate. It Can Infect Anyone In Any Position.

Edwin Yeo was head of the CPIB’s (Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau) Field Research and Technical Support until 2013. Yeo served the bureau for 15 years in a position that should be one of the most incorruptible in Singapore.

Ironically, the head of the CPIB went from supporting investigations to being the subject of one.

What did Yeo do? The bureau found that he managed to steal $1.76 million from a bureau bank account between 2008 and 2013.

What did Yeo do with the money? Buy new cars or homes? Take luxury vacations? No. Yeo gambled away the majority of the money at the Marina Bay Sands casino.

Yeo was convicted of 21 counts of financial impropriety. He’s serving a 10-year sentence in Changi Prison.

Moral of the story: Even what should be the most incorruptible of positions are not immune to corruption.

2.     Expense Audits Are Essential

Lim Cheng Hoe was the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s (MFA) Protocol Chief. Hoe was in charge of keeping an eye on the conduct of Singapore delegations who were overseas and the foreign delegations who were visiting Singapore.

As part of his job, Hoe purchased gifts for foreign delegations in Singapore. Bottles of wine and pineapple tarts were his go-to gifts. One day, Hoe decided to inflate the number of pineapple tarts and bottles of wine he ordered.

Although he only purchased 2,226 containers of pineapple tarts, Hoe said he purchased 10,075 containers. When it came to wine purchases, Hoe said he purchased 248 when he only purchased 89.

Hoe’s number inflations cost the government $89,000. He was charged with 10 counts of fraud, and sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Moral of the story: Proper expense audits should be performed by an independent party to identify fraud.

3.     Corruption Is Not Always Blatantly Obvious

Sometimes, corruption is not always easy to detect, and it may not come in a blatantly obvious form.

Take Bernard Lim Yong Soon, for example. Soon was the Assistant Director for National Parks Board (NParks).

Soon was in charge of purchasing new bikes for the NParks staff. His purchase of 26 bikes at a cost of $2,200 raised some eyebrows. Soon had purchased 26 Brompton bicycles, which are foldable and fetch a high price tag.

What’s the problem? Soon failed to disclose that the director of Brompton bicycles happened to be a very close friend.

The public soon found out about the bike purchases, and the CPIB launched an investigation. Soon not only lied about his relationship with Brompton’s director, but also asked his close friend to lie to investigators.

Moral of the story: Corruption isn’t always obvious. In the case of public offices, it’s important to thoroughly investigate employee relationships with companies involved in sales and purchases.

4.     Guidelines for Approving Tenders Should Be Clear and Enforced

Peter Lim was once the Singapore Civil Defense Force’s (CDF) Chief. Lim had many responsibilities as head of the force, and one such responsibility was approving CDF tenders.

The winners of government tenders are chosen based on price, experience and track record in most cases.

Lim had his own way of choosing winning tenders, and his methods are what landed him in hot water.

Rather than following guidelines, Lim often granted tenders to the companies of three female executives. In exchange, Lim would receive sexual favors. He not only favored certain companies, but received bribes in return for awarding said companies with the tenders.

Once his actions came to light, Lim was charged with 10 counts of corruption, but was only convicted on one count for his attainment of sexual favors with one female executive, Ms. Pang Chor Mui, the former General Manager of Nimrod Engineering.

Lim was sentenced to six months in prison.

Moral of the story: Guidelines for selecting winning tenders should be clear, and the decision should be overlooked by other members.

5.     Preventing Corruption is an Uphill Battle

Corruption is nearly impossible to prevent, and there is no guarantee that the measures you put in place will be effective.

Consider the case involving NUS’s (National University of Singapore) law professor Tey Tsun Hang.

Darinne Ko, former student of Tey Tsun Hang, urged the professor to give her favorable grades. Mr. Hang agreed reluctantly, but only after he received sexual favors, clothing, an iPod and other items in return.

Mr. Ko received favorable grades from Mr. Hang, and she went on to graduate from the university. The professor’s actions, however, came to light eventually.

Tey Tsun Hang was sentenced to five months in prison, but was later acquitted.

Moral of the story: Corruption is not easy to prevent – no matter how many prevention measures you have in place.

Corruption can affect people in all positions. Even those who we deem incorruptible with high morals can succumb to temptation and follow the wrong path. When it comes to the financial side of things, these actions typically come to light eventually after someone finds that something is amiss. But at this point, the damage is already done. For this reason, it is important to take steps to prevent corruption in every possible aspect.

The interesting thing about the cases discussed here is that they often involve high-ranking civil servants, which can be troubling. Those in higher positions hold more power and typically answer to fewer people, which allows them to engage in such behavior with little fear of getting caught.

One thing we can take away from these cases is that appropriate investigative practices and help from people who have the best interests of Singapore in mind can ensure that corruption is brought to light and properly addressed.

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