When former Transport Minister S. Iswaran was arrested last year by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), it sent shockwaves around Singapore. As Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawrence Wong reiterated today, there was no whistle-blower. CPIB uncovered the case itself and went ahead to probe on its own before sending the report up to the Prime Minister who gave the go-ahead to investigate further. PM Lee promptly announced the probe and then suspended the Minister.
In a country where corruption at the top of the Government has been practically unheard of since the unfortunate case of Teh Cheang Wan in 1986, Mr Iswaran has now been formally charged with multiple offences (27 in total including corruption and obstruction of justice).
In a letter to Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Iswaran resigned as a Minister, a Member of Parliament and from the Party. He has also returned his Ministerial salary and MP allowances received since his suspension last July. Credit to him for doing the honourable thing of returning his pay even though there was no legal requirement to do so now. He is, after all, innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law. In addition, Mr Iswaran has maintained his innocence and said he would fight in court to prove it.
For now, the first part of the saga comes to an end. Yet amidst this political turmoil, one thing has remained crystal clear – incorruptibility remains the guiding principle for the PAP Government.
“Since (the investigation), the government has been pursuing the matter decisively and proactively…The PAP stance on corruption is non-negotiable. This is part of our DNA. There can be no compromise, no relaxation, no fudging on this, no matter the political price,” said DPM Wong to the media.
Indeed, the PAP has not shied away from confronting the issue head-on since CPIB began active investigations into Mr Iswaran’s affairs. Our MPs have filed numerous questions in Parliament, with PM Lee upfront about the challenges ahead. Similarly, DPM Wong was unflinching in his promise that the PAP would be transparent with the matter.
“We will not sweep anything under the carpet, even if they are potentially embarrassing or damaging to the PAP. This is how the PAP government has worked and will continue to work,” said DPM Wong last July.
In the subsequent months, CPIB was given a full prerogative to pursue the case and bring it to its logical conclusion. Once again, the frequently mocked system of ‘ownself check ownself’ is tested at the highest level. Can the Government be trusted to implicate a cabinet minister with graft charges, thereby tarnishing an unblemished track record of a clean and incorrupt system?
Clearly, it can. Details have since emerged of private flights, West End musical tickets and VIP passes to the Formula One races worth S$384,000. It is an ostentatious amount of money for many of us. Politically, the optics are bad. There is also no doubt that the opposition will be milking this to death, casting aspersions on the PAP till the end of time.
And yet, the PAP is steadfast in its commitment to stay open and honest with the public. Why? Because deep down, it is about doing the right thing. And that means putting truth and justice above all else. To serve and act on behalf of Singaporeans, something that the Party was elected to do.
“Will this incident have an impact on the Party and Party morale? I have no doubt that it will, but we cannot allow this political hit to compromise our zero-tolerance stance against corruption,” reflected DPM Wong today.
Right now, Singaporeans are in search of answers. They want reassurance that incorruptibility remains embedded in the PAP philosophy, and 4G leaders will continue to do their best and renew trust and confidence. Never mind how some observers are saying such practices of receiving gifts would have been perfectly normal in other countries such as the USA, UK and others around the region. From the days of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, PAP has set its bar high when it comes to integrity, corruption and leaving nothing to chance.
“If you wear white, you must be white,” said PM Lee at the Party Awards and Convention last November. It is a memorable tagline. And also one that the PAP will take to heart in keeping an honest and clean government for the ages.