Ex-CNB, SCDF chiefs' cases addressed in Parliament

Ex-CNB, SCDF chiefs' cases addressed in Parliament

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has stressed that any wrongdoing by public service officers will be dealt with, even if it "causes embarrassment to the government".

SINGAPORE: Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has stressed that any wrongdoing by public service officers will be dealt with, even if it "causes embarrassment to the government".

DPM Teo was responding to questions on Tuesday in Parliament over the recent spate of investigations involving several civil servants.

Mr Teo also said the Home Team has a reporting framework in place, which provides a confidential channel to report any wrongful behaviour of officers.

The public service has been in the spotlight recently over some high-profile cases.

Former chiefs of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Peter Lim and Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) Ng Boon Gay are helping with investigations over allegations of "serious personal misconduct".

More recently, it is believed several public servants, including a former principal, are being probed for involvement in an online prostitution ring.

Mr Teo said what the cases demonstrate is there are strict rules that maintain the integrity of the public service and proper conduct of public officers.

He said: "The assessment of an individual is a very difficult thing and a person whom you may know for three years, 10 years, may have some weaknesses which are only uncovered later and which may develop later.

"The important thing in such cases is to be clear, accountable and transparent and how an organisation responds to such things defines the organisation.

"And this government has always been clear and unequivocal in dealing with such issues of integrity, honesty or wrongdoing; we come out with it in the open, we deal with it by the law, by disciplinary proceeding and we are not shy of doing so even if it causes embarrassment to the government."

Asked if the recent investigations signal a lowering of ethical standards among civil servants, Mr Teo said the government is committed to upholding high moral standards for the public service.

He said a vast majority of civil servants do live up to these standards.

On the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau's (CPIB) probe into the former SCDF and CNB chiefs, Mr Teo stressed there was no way the two high ranking civil servants would have influenced investigations.

That was because both men were immediately placed on leave the day CPIB arrested them.

He explained that even though at that point, they had not be interdicted or removed from their roles, the fact that they were on leave meant they were not able to continue with their duties and could not come back into the office.

Reiterating the timeline that led to the arrest and subsequent removal of the two men from their posts, Mr Teo again stressed there was no delay in the release of information.

He said a public announcement at the time the men were arrested would have compromised investigations.

Mr Teo said: "At that point in time, it was premature to make any announcement as CPIB was in the midst of (its) investigations and the outcome was not known.

"It was necessary to give CPIB time to gather evidence, seize documents, conduct interviews with various persons who were connected to the case and establish whether further action was warranted.

"A public announcement at that point in time would have compromised the investigations. On the day that CPIB interviewed the two officers and decided to place them under arrest, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) placed the two officers on leave on the respective dates. They were told not to return to their offices, nor to carry out any official duties.

"Their deputies acted during their period of absence on leave. As investigations were still under way, it was also premature and not fair to remove the officers from their office or to interdict them from their duties then, until the situation became clearer.

"An arrest by CPIB does not necessarily mean that the person would be prosecuted in court or referred for some disciplinary action, for example, civil service disciplinary action.

"And it is possible that after referral to the Attorney-General's Chambers, that no further action is taken. So an arrest, therefore, has no bearing on the guilt or innocence of a person."

MHA had made public the investigations after news broke in a Chinese language evening daily.

Asked if the ministry will investigate any leaks to the media, Mr Teo said that is being looked into.

Mr Teo revealed that in the past five years, there were 59 cases of improper conduct reported for uniformed officers.

Wrongful practices reported included failure to comply with procedures, improper conduct or unethical behaviour.

Of the cases reported, 44 were reported anonymously. Of the 15 which were not anonymous, eight were against a superior officer.

Mr Teo said there are multiple channels for civil servants to raise irregularities in the public service.

"Apart from making such reports internally within their own departments or agencies, officers can escalate cases of misconduct to their Permanent Secretary or the Head of Civil Service," he said.

"In addition, they can also report wrongdoing to the Public Service Commission, which is an independent body set up under the Singapore Constitution, vested with the authority to exercise disciplinary control over civil servants.

"Corruption cases may be raised with CPIB. Where there is sufficient basis and information provided, the complaints will be looked into.

"I should add that we should encourage responsible reporting and discourage malicious or frivolous allegations.

"Those who make reports are expected to identify themselves. If a report is made in bad faith or for personal gain, disciplinary action may be taken against the officer making the false report.

Source: CNA/wk