Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at CPIB's 60th Anniversary Celebrations

18 September 2012

Mr Lee Kuan Yew

ESM Goh Chok Tong

Mr Eric Tan
Director of CPIB

Ladies and gentlemen


1. I am very happy to be here to celebrate CPIB’s 60th Anniversary.

2. Singapore is well recognised to be a clean and incorrupt system and country.  Our international rankings in this respect are high, whether it is with Transparency International, the Political & Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) or the World Bank.

3. But beyond the rankings, incorruptibility has become ingrained into the Singaporean psyche and into our culture.  Singaporeans expect to see, and demand to be delivered, a clean system.  Unlike in some other countries, they will not give or accept any “social lubricants” to get things done, not even small ones.  And they will sound the alarm once they sense that something is wrong – indeed, many of CPIB’s tip-offs come from members of the public, including whistleblowers.  And they expect to see all cases thoroughly investigated, and the culprits, if found guilty, strictly punished.
4. Singapore has greatly benefited from this.  Our people and our companies have a reputation for honesty, reliability and trust-worthiness.  Our overall system functions properly because policies are developed for the public good rather than private or vested interests.  And therefore in Singapore we can do things which others cannot do. For example, we can have entrepreneurs register businesses in 15 minutes online, without paying any “fees” and competing fairly and squarely for business. We can have public officers entrusted to manage multi-million dollar projects in the national interest and not for personal gain.  And Singaporeans know that they can make it if they work hard, whatever their family backgrounds and regardless of their personal connections.


5. The CPIB has played a major part in this success.  It has enforced our anti-corruption laws impartially and vigorously.  It has investigated cases thoroughly, and brought offenders to justice, big and small.  It has established a reputation as a formidable agency, thorough and fearless, able to detect any whiff of corruption and to bring the perpetrators to justice.  The credit should go to the past Directors of CPIB, including Mr Evan Yeo, Mr Chua Cher Yak and Mr Soh Kee Hean who are with us today; to the officers who have toiled silently behind the scenes, sometimes despite risks to themselves and their families.  The 60th Anniversary book captures many of these successes and milestones of the organisation.  I hope that it will also help the public to better appreciate CPIB’s importance and its many achievements.
6. CPIB has been able to do its work because it belongs to a larger political and government system which emphasises integrity and incorruptibility.

7. First, strong political leadership, beginning in 1959, when the newly-elected PAP government started to build a clean and incorrupt Singapore.  The PAP decided to fight to win the general election that year and to form the first government of self-governing Singapore, instead of just aiming to be a strong Opposition in the Legislative Assembly.  Not because conditions were propitious, but to ensure that corruption did not set in after British handed over and become a problem that would be impossible to eradicate afterwards.  The PAP government was determined to build an honest public service that would serve the people of Singapore, and not a public service that would take care of itself at the expense of public interest.  It believed in meritocracy, where people succeed through their own efforts and ability, not by wealth, status or ill-gotten gains.  Since then, successive Governments have backed the CPIB fully – with funding, with people, with the mandate to investigate where it needed to, with the legal powers to do its work.  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.  For this, we have to thank the former-Prime Ministers Mr Lee Kuan Yew and ESM Goh Chok Tong for their leadership and resolve which led a national effort which made it possible.
8. Beyond the political leadership, we also enacted tough laws and enforced them vigorously.  The Prevention of Corruption Act has a wide scope which covers both the public and private sectors, which applied to persons who give or receive bribes, and everybody in between, and which put the burden of proof on the accused to show how he legally acquired his wealth, so that if he has unexplained wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income, that is considered as corroboration of graft.  We have made the CPIB a strictly independent agency – the Director appointed by the President, acting in his discretion; and the Director CPIB reporting to the Prime Minister, but having a second path for approval: if the Prime Minister refuses permission for an investigation, then the Director CPIB can go to the President and obtain from the President the permission to proceed.

9. Thirdly, we have kept in Singapore, money out of politics.  In many countries, whether developing or developed, corruption and vote-buying pervades politics.  Candidates spend large sums on their campaigns, and rely heavily on donors for financing.  And very often, the donors finance both sides to buy insurance.  After the elections, the candidates as well as their donors expect to reap a return on their investment, on what they have spent to get elected.  Singapore, in contrast, has vigorously eschewed money politics.  We have capped election spending by candidates by law, so that elected leaders are not beholden to anyone and can do the right thing by voters.

10. Fourthly, we have paid public officers properly, commensurate with their job scope, in line with private sector earnings.  Therefore, we have been able to insist on high standards of integrity and performance and avoided the problems of other countries which pay officials unrealistically low wages, resulting in endemic corruption at all levels.


11. This is how we have kept the system clean, but a clean system is not a natural state of affairs.  Corruption ultimately comes from weaknesses of human nature – greed, temptation, the desire to enrich oneself or to obtain business through unfair means.  Even with harsh penalties and certain penalties, there will still be some who will try to break the rules, and will be caught and punished from time to time.  If the penalties are not rigorously enforced, or if such behaviour becomes socially acceptable, then we are headed down a slippery slope.  Because ultimately, the price of corruption is not just the dollar amount of the bribes, but the cost to society of the bad decisions and the malfunctioning systems which far exceeds the money which is exchanged.

12. Therefore we can never be complacent in the fight against corruption.

13. The figures show that corruption is well under control in Singapore, thanks in large part to the CPIB's relentless and unremitting efforts.  The number of complaints and cases registered has steadily decreased in recent years.  The number of cases taken to court has also fallen.  And the cases involving the government or involving public officers form only a small proportion of total cases, and these are not increasing either.

14. But unfortunately, in recent months, there have been a spate of cases involving public officers.  The cases are not related to one another.  Several involve senior officers.  Many of them are still being investigated or tried, so I cannot comment on them individually.  But I can say that it is bad that some officers have not lived up to the high standards which the civil service, and the people of Singapore, expect of public servants.

15. I am confident that these lapses are not typical of the public service.  The overwhelming majority of officers are upright and trustworthy, and the cases which have come up reflect our determination to clamp down on corruption and wrongdoing even when it is awkward or embarrassing for the Government.
16. Let me be quite clear:  We will never tolerate corruption.  We will not accept any slackening or lowering of standards.  Anyone who breaks the rules will be caught and punished.  No cover ups will be allowed, no matter how senior the officer or how embarrassing it may be.  It is far better to suffer the embarrassment and to keep the system clean for the long term, than to pretend that nothing has gone wrong and to let the rot spread.

17. We are reviewing and tightening the system, in light of these cases, to maintain our high standards of honesty, for example, with stricter procurement rules, and we are reviewing approving authorities and spending limits.  But we have to balance between instituting more safeguards and burdening the system with too many checks.  Because ultimately, no system can completely stop a determined cheat and part of the solution has to be that if you do it, we will catch you and punish you. 

18. But another very important part of the solution has to be that our officers are imbued with the right values, to understand the ethos of public service, to know that you occupy positions of public responsibility and trust and must serve with integrity and propriety.  Never let the public down.  The civil service will reward you for ability and performance, but also expect and demand of you good character and moral stewardship.  The Head of Civil Service and the Permanent Secretaries have all clearly reminded their officers in all the ministries and statutory boards of their duties and we expect no less from every single public officer.
19. But keeping Singapore clean goes beyond the civil service.  The political leaders have to continue to set high standards of honesty and integrity; the society must continue to reject corruption, not just because of the rules and penalties, but because this reflects the society we want to live in, and the values we uphold and hold ourselves to.  Then we can keep Singapore special and a home which we will continue to be proud of.


20. I congratulate the CPIB on its milestone, and I wish it every success for many years ahead.  Thank you very much.