PAP Govt adopts zero tolerance on corruption, adheres to rule of law: Indranee on Keppel case


This PAP Government’s stance on corruption remains unchanged — Singapore adopts a zero tolerance stance on corruption, which must comply with the rule of law. 

That was the gist of what Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah said in Parliament on Feb 6, 2023 with regard to the Keppel Offshore & Marine (KOM) corruption case.

A quick recap if you are unaware of the case: Six former senior management staff of Keppel Offshore & Marine were handed stern warnings instead of being prosecuted after they were implicated in a case of bribery involving Brazilian oil giant Petrobras.

The facts of the case

Why were they not prosecuted? 

“Simply put – there is a lack of sufficient evidence, either documentary, or through witnesses, which would establish any criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt against a specific individual,” said Minister Indranee. 

The difficulties are compounded because of the transboundary nature of the case. It involves multiple authorities and witnesses from several countries, outside of Singapore’s jurisdiction. 

The inability to establish a criminal charge is not due to a lack of trying on the part of the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

According to Minister Indranee, AGC made multiple requests for mutual legal assistance over the course of five years. However, the findings from these requests were insufficient for prosecution. 

“The contents and outcome of these mutual legal assistance (MLA) requests are confidential,” said Minister Indranee, “but I can inform the House that they have either not yielded evidence that could be used to secure a conviction before our Courts, or the responses have not been helpful in advancing the case.”

And while CPIB was able to identify several potential key witnesses outside of Singapore, the agency was unable to secure the witnesses’ cooperation or agreement to testify here. 

Minister Indranee emphasised:

“CPIB has conducted as thorough an investigation as it could with the information and powers that it possessed.  However, given the cross-border nature of this case and absence of key witnesses, CPIB’s investigations could not overcome the evidential difficulties for the purposes of prosecution in a Singapore court.”

However, the minister also added that while CPIB was unable to prosecute the six former employees of KOM, the agency was certain that they were not “completely off-the-hook”. 

As such, CPIB issued stern warnings to them. 

Stern warnings are not unusual; it is one of the tools in CPIB’s arsenal to target corruption. 

“From 2017 to 2021, CPIB has issued an average of 138 warnings annually and 139 individuals were prosecuted. Stern warnings are not unusual, being used in cases where there are evidential difficulties or little public interest to prosecute,” said Minister Indranee. 

Incorruptibility is part of the Singaporean psyche

At the heart of the matter, the public interest in this case lies in the concern about whether Singapore is becoming more lenient when it comes to corruption. Are we becoming soft on corruption? 

The answer is no. There is no change in Singapore’s zero tolerance policy in corruption.

“What can be inferred from this is that while Singapore has zero tolerance on corruption, it also strongly adheres to the rule of law,” explained Minister Indranee. 

In fact, it is a good thing that there is high public interest among Singaporeans in this case. 

In 2012, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that “incorruptibility has become ingrained into the Singaporean psyche and into our culture”.

“Singaporeans expect to see, and demand to be delivered, a clean system.”

And this strong sense of justice and incorruptibility has benefitted Singapore greatly, allowing us to cultivate a reputation for honesty, reliability, and trust-worthiness.

This is an ethos that permeates all parts of the PAP and the PAP Government, and it shows. 

Our political leadership is held to high standards that are beyond reproach, our anti-corruption laws are enforced across all in the private and public sector, and we pay our public officers a competitive salary so that we can avoid endemic corruption brought about by unrealistically low wages.

Yes, even if a minister is involved.

PM Lee said at CPIB’s 60th anniversary in 2012: “We have set high standards of integrity – not flinching wherever the investigations led, even if ministers are implicated, like Wee Toon Boon, Phey Yew Kok – not a minister but a high-profile case, and Teh Cheang Wan. It established proper systems to “guard the guards”, in other words, to put right any instances of wrongdoing in the enforcement agencies, whether it be in the Police Force, whether it be in the CPIB itself.

“If something is not proper, it will be found out and investigated and put right.”

This ethos and our high regard for the rule of law has helped us well over the years and they will continue to help us for many years to come.

Cover photo credit: Via, CPIB