Corruption in Singapore is a rarity, particularly among government Ministers. It serves as a direct impediment to national progress, and as such, the nation deals with it in an uncompromising and highly visible manner.
Under the stringent provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, those found guilty of corruption face severe consequences. They may be subjected to fines of up to $100,000, imprisonment for a maximum of 5 years, or both. In cases where a Member of Parliament is involved, the punishment may escalate to a fine of up to $100,000, imprisonment for up to 7 years, or both.
Now, imagine the startling revelation of a corrupt government Minister. The following two case studies serve as powerful reminders of the fear and dread such news can evoke.
: In 1987, the nation was gripped by the investigation of Teh Cheang Wan, then Minister for National Development, on charges of corruption. Teh was accused of accepting a staggering S$1 million, of which he retained S$800,000 for himself and handed over S$200,000 to an intermediary. Additional allegations stated that he received S$500,000 in relation to a land acquisition appeal and another S$500,000 connected to the sale of government land to hotel owners. Teh vehemently denied these charges.
Unconfirmed accounts suggest that then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew personally visited Teh to express his profound disappointment. While the veracity of this story remains uncertain, it unequivocally reflects Mr. Lee’s unwavering stance against corruption. Tragically, the day after the alleged visit, Teh took his own life. In his suicide note, he expressed deep sadness over the unfolding events and deemed it honorable to “pay the highest penalty” for his mistakes.
: During the 1970s, Phey Yew Kok held prominent positions as a unionist in Singapore. He served as the president of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), a former Member of Parliament for Boon Teck constituency, and held key positions in the Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation (SILO) and the Pioneer Industries Employees’ Union (PIEU).
On 10 December 1979, Phey faced formal charges of four counts of Criminal Breach of Trust, involving a staggering total of S$82,520. Escaping the clutches of justice, Phey fled Singapore on 31 December 1979, disappearing without a trace.
Following the passing of Lee Kuan Yew on 23 March 2015, Phey Yew Kok, after 35 years on the run, surrendered himself to the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok on 22 June 2015. Accompanied by CPIB officers, he was returned to Singapore the following day. The audacity of his return, seemingly driven by shame in facing Mr. Lee, becomes all the more apparent.
Despite his advanced age of 81, almost complete loss of sight and hearing, Phey was sentenced to 60 months of imprisonment.
(Former NTUC chairman Phey Yew Kok’s 60-month sentence ended Oct 23, 2018. Photo from The Straits Times)
The commitment of Singapore to combat corruption at every level remains unwavering. Corruption stands as a fundamental barrier to national advancement, inflicting undue hardships on citizens.
The reason that this country has the confidence to move millions, even billions of dollars around and put it to productive and effective use, is owed to its ability to combat corruption through its anti-graft agents. It is in the pursuit of justice and progress for all that the nation upholds this rigorous standard, as recent events have once again underscored.