Response of the day: K Shanmugam rebuts WP MP’s suggestion for ombudsman

04/03/2022

In his reply to Workers’ Party’s Leon Perera’s call for an ombudsman on Mar 3, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said Singapore’s system already has processes to check on any wrongdoing, even by the Government, and urged Mr Perera to look at the ground situation before replicating more institutions outside. Here’s an excerpt of his reply.

“Third, let me ask – you set up an ombudsman with or without the full suite of resources, and without any oversight from Government. Who then deals with misconduct by the ombudsman or the officers within that office? Mr Perera said during the FICA debate ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes’ if I recall correctly. For some reason I think that phrase seems to have lost favour now.

Who guards the guards?

Take a hypothetical situation. Say you have an organisation where the top leaders engage in wrongdoing, or for example, say they set up a disciplinary committee to cover up what they did rather than actually investigate. I think you can ask ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ And Mr Perera, I suppose if he was part of any such organisation, would be the first one to make such a point.

But for the government, with the system in place, and the variety of people who can lodge complaints and investigate: Attorney General Office (AGO), Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), police. Civil servants are obliged, if they think the minister is doing wrong, to take it up to a higher authority. And if they believe that the higher authority is not acting properly, they can take it up all the way. These civil servants are protected through the structure of Public Service Commission, which in turn is protected through the fact that appointment cannot be interfered with willy-nilly by the Government. So, if you take the senior appointments, including the Chief of CPIB, Chief Justice, Attorney-General, all these, there are carefully constructed structures on these appointments. So, I would say, look at all that first, and look at the ground situation before we start talking about replicating more and more institutions outside.