The recent court case involving former Transport Minister S Iswaran has cast a spotlight on the People's Action Party's (PAP) approach to corruption. Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong addressed this issue, emphasizing the party's unwavering stance against corruption.
DPM Wong highlighted the PAP's clear-cut policy on corruption: "There can be no compromise, no relaxation, no fudging of this — no matter the political price."
The charges against Iswaran, which include accepting over S$160,000 and other valuable items from hotelier Ong Beng Seng, while not monumental in financial terms, are significant in the context of Singapore's political ethics. The PAP's decision to pursue this case vigorously regardless of the amount or the status of the involved party is not entirely unsurprising given the optics.
The last time the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) investigated a PAP member and minister for corruption was in 1986, involving then-Minister for National Development Teh Cheang Wan, who was alleged to have received bribes.
Academic: Reputation of PAP would take a hit
On Jan. 18, Eugene Tan, Associate Professor of Law at Singapore Management University, opined that the corruption charges against such an experienced PAP politician would surely affect the party's reputation.
He added that if the matter was improperly handled, it could impact the trust and confidence of voters in the lead-up to the next General Election (GE).
"I think it's a body blow, a severe dent to their reputation," Tan said about Iswaran's corruption charges. "Because this is a party that has prided itself on high standards of public life and incorruptibility, or in their own words, being whiter than white."
Tan asserted that the onus is on the PAP to demonstrate to the public that this is a one-off incident and that standards are still being upheld. He acknowledged that such incidents are rare.
He did acknowledge that such incidents are few and far between.
PM Lee: In corruption cases, go for the "Tigers" and the "Flies"
Iswaran's case was notably initiated by the CPIB without any external whistleblowers, showcasing the proactive measures in place to safeguard the integrity of Singapore's public service.
In a 2015 speech to the CPIB, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, "As the Chinese say, you must go after the ‘Tigers’ and also the ‘flies’. Never let corruption take hold here, because once it takes root, it will be very difficult to weed out. So when corruption cases do come up, don’t be demoralised. Punish the culprits, remedy the weaknesses, but work doubly hard to strengthen the trust that you have earned."
Is Iswaran the "tiger" or the "fly"?
Notwithstanding the belly, Iswaran's case has underscored the need for the PAP to always uphold our high standards, which requires unremitting effort. They must hold its members accountable, irrespective of the seniority of the officers involved and the scale of the corruption.
In retrospect, where tigers go, the flies follow.