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Jamus Lim: Expand CPIB reporting line to other branches of government, not just PM and President

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"... the bottom line is that there is one check, in case the PM goes rogue. The problem is, both the PM and President are part of the executive (so, the same sort of key entry method)," he wrote

SINGAPORE: Workers’ Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) used his home’s digital lock to illustrate the need for checks and balances in political institutions, specifically the reporting line of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

Over an Aug 4 social media post, Assoc Prof Lim wrote that there are at least three ways to open the newly-installed digital lock in his home—a thumbprint, a keypad and a keycard— which ensure that a person doesn’t get locked out of his home.

“It’s a good design for digital locks. This sort of balanced design is also good for many other areas of life, including political institutions. That’s why we have three branches of government—the executive (ministers and president), legislature (parliament), and judiciary (courts)—which can check and balance one another.”

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Assoc Prof Lim had asked in Parliament whether the Prime Minister’s Office considered extending the reporting line for the CPIB beyond the prime minister and the president, which could be done with the judiciary or via a select committee.

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said there are two “keys” for the CPIB reporting line “first to the PM, then to the President, should concurrence of the PM not be forthcoming.”

However, Assoc Prof Lim wrote, “the bottom line is that there is one check, in case the PM goes rogue,” but the problem is the President and the Prime Minister belong to the same executive branch.

“So, the same sort of key entry method. And since they’re just two people, there is a real risk that should this single channel fail—a PM is corrupt, and the President blur—then we’re (in PM Lee’s words) ‘sunk.’”

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The Sengkang MP then said that the reporting line could become more robust.

“Expand the reporting line to the other branches of government: the judiciary and the legislature. This is a more genuine, failsafe sort of check and balance. There is precedent in other countries for these alternatives.”

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He also mentioned the Brazilian Lava Jato (“Car Wash”) corruption probe, which PM Lee referenced in answering Assoc Prof Lim, saying that it “reported to a sequence of judges, and in Australia, the anticorruption commission is overseen by a joint committee in Parliament.”

Assoc Prof Lim also pointed out that PM Lee may have misunderstood him.

“When I posed this suggestion to PM, he said that he was happy that I agreed with the need for two keys. I do, but he seemed to misunderstand my point.”

The MP did not support that the elected president should be the second key, “Rather, I was making the argument that the keys shouldn’t be from the same keychain.”

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He also disagreed with the Prime Minister’s argument that the “solution is honest people with integrity, conviction and courage to make the system work.”

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Assoc Prof Lim explained, “I think events over the past month or so have revealed that even very good people can stumble. One could blame them, or one can look to redesigning the system so that it is less reliant on individuals. I’ll choose institutions every time. #makingyourvotecount


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