SINGAPORE: Singapore’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Lim Thuan Kuan, has rebutted a recent column published in The Economist that raised questions about the independence of Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).
In the column “A slew of scandals puts Singapore’s government on the back foot,” published on July 27, The Economist suggested that the CPIB might lack independence as it reports to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The article, which covered the probe into the Ridout road rentals, the ongoing corruption investigation involving Transport Minister S Iswaran and the resignation of Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, went on to indicate that CPIB’s investigations into various government officials raise concerns about its impartiality given its reporting structure.
Noting that the PM appoints the head of the CPIB, the Economist piece said that the anti-graft agency “cannot be fully independent”.
Condemning the suggestions in a letter addressed to The Economist’s editor, Mark Doyle, Mr Lim said that the publication makes a “serious charge” by insinuating that the CPIB’s independence is compromised.
Asserting that the column “misrepresents the process,” Mr Lim said: “CPIB does not require the Prime Minister’s permission for its investigations. It sought his concurrence before initiating a formal investigation of Minister for Transport S Iswaran because it involved a Cabinet Minister.”
He added, “No Prime Minister of Singapore has ever prevented the CPIB from investigating anyone. But even if the Prime Minister does not consent to CPIB investigations, under the Constitution, the director of the CPIB can still proceed with the investigations if he obtains the concurrence of the President (of Singapore).”
Countering the point that the Economist column made on how Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, who conducted a separate probe on the Ridout Road rentals, “is both a friend of Mr Shanmugam’s and in the same branch of government,” Mr Lim noted that it was PM Lee who asked the CPIB to investigate this case.
He pointed out that the CPIB found no evidence of wrongdoing or corruption,” he said, adding that both the Attorney-General’s Chambers and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh accepted the CPIB’s finding.
Mr Lim said, “When the CPIB completes its investigation of Mr Iswaran, its findings will be submitted to the AGC which will decide on what to do with them. Such is the CPIB’s fearsome reputation for thoroughness, few Singaporeans doubt its ability to see any case of corruption to its logical conclusion.
This is why The Economist’s charge that simply because the CPIB reports to the Prime Minister calls into question its independence, would strike many Singaporeans as deeply offensive and uninformed.”
Mr Lim argued that safeguards are in place for the appointment or removal of the CPIB director, requiring the concurrence of the President. He also cited Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh’s acceptance of the CPIB’s findings on the Ridout Road rentals case, in which the bureau found no evidence of wrongdoing or corruption.
In response to The Economist’s implication that the CPIB’s relationship with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong calls its independence into question, Mr Lim asked how Singapore could consistently rank high in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index if the CPIB lacked independence. Singapore ranked fifth in the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index, placing it ahead of all other Asian countries.
Mr Lim then questioned whether The Economist would suggest that the head of Scotland Yard lacks independence due to the appointment process involving the UK Home Secretary and the Mayor of London.
Reaffirming the Government’s commitment to thoroughly and transparently investigate any case of corruption, regardless of the individuals involved, Mr Lim emphasized:
“The Prime Minister – as well as his successor, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong – are as determined as their predecessors were to investigate any case of corruption, no matter whom it involves, thoroughly and transparently. Singaporeans and foreign investors alike can be certain of this.” /TISG