The issue of “conflict of interest” is something that has to be finely balanced in Singapore. This is particularly the case where we have a dominant People’s Action Party (PAP) linked to virtually all aspects of public life. A recent example of this is when it was announced by Grab Singapore that Ms Tin Pei Ling, Member of Parliament (MP) for MacPherson Single Member Constituency, had been appointed as its Director of Public Affairs and Policy.
While Ms Tin may possess the skills to perform this role, the issue is whether there is a conflict of interest. As an MP, Ms Tin could potentially influence the shape of policy, which could benefit Grab Singapore in a way that a non-MP would not be able to. This would mean that Grab Singapore could reap benefits it would not otherwise have had if it did not have Ms Tin as a director. While there is no evidence that this was the intention of either Grab Singapore or Ms Tin, matters such as these should be handled in a way that is totally above board. After all, justice must not only be done, but it must also be seen to be done.
This appointment has raised the ire of some netizens who complained about seeming double standards. One said: “NSF slaves earning $600 a month get sent to detention barracks if they moonlight. But MPs earning $16,000 a month are so free that they can work a second job.”
An added question that arises is whether MPs should be allowed to have another job. After all, being an MP and serving constituents should be one’s full-time job, should it not? They are well remunerated at $16k per month, a full-time salary. Given that, is it fair for them to have another job? Can they truly serve their constituents properly if they have another job?
Ms Tin’s appointment, potentially being one where a conflict of interest arises, is not an isolated one. When the Covid-19 pandemic was raging, another PAP heavyweight, Mrs Josephine Teo, also faced public backlash when there was speculation that Mrs Teo was involved in the Government’s decision to commission Surbana Jurong Pte Ltd to develop COVID care facilities as her husband, Teo Eng Cheong, was the CEO (International) of the firm at that time.
While those rumours were quashed with both Surbana Jurong and Mrs Teo issuing strong statements denying the rumours, those rumours gained ground because there could have been an influence from the relations between the parties involved even if there weren’t. This is why all dealings need to be at an arm’s length perspective so there is transparency and accountability.
In the wake of the debacle, Mr Teo resigned from his post at Surbana Jurong while activist Jolovan Wham was asked to donate $1,000 to migrant worker charities.
While there is no evidence of any overt wrongdoing on the parts of either Ms Tin or Mrs Teo, the fact remains that those in power need to be seen to be above board in their activities. Any hint of any potential conflict of interest should perhaps be managed better.
But perhaps, Ms Tin and Mrs Teo did not spot the potential conflict of interest concerns because this seems normalised within those in power? After all, the former CEO of Temasek, Madam Ho Ching is married to the Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong. As PM, Mr Lee would be privy to state policy while the Government is the sole equity shareholder of Temasek. Would any other developed democracy permit the PM’s wife to hold such an appointment? Added speculation abounded when Madam Ho’s remuneration was shrouded in secrecy.
Again, I reiterate that there is no evidence of wrongdoing. However, the issue of conflict of interest concerns does not require actual wrongdoing, it is a safeguard to prevent any hint of potential wrongdoing.
Has Singapore, as a modern, first-world country with all the trappings of a functioning democracy, handled this in a way that one should expect?
In other news, it would appear that there might be a mismatch between expectations of salary versus experience. In a video that would add to the perennial bugbear of “foreigners stealing our jobs”, young Singaporean graduates with no work experience were videoed citing their high salary expectations. While I have no wish to slate our young graduates (after all, their expectations came from somewhere), it is also a valid point that businesses would not be willing to pay such high salaries to someone without experience.
Is that why some businesses are hiring from overseas?
Also, we need to address why our graduates have such high salary expectations to bridge the divide between employers and employees. It serves no one to sit on opposite sides of the fence attacking each other. Perhaps employers need to engage better with the employee pool while the employees need to get some perspective on what peers are earning in the region to find a balance that suits all.
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