The PAP statement on the Tin Pei Ling fiasco has a damning line. “…the party did not object…,’’ the party said of its initial stand when the MP informed it of her plan to join Grab. PAP glossed over the issue of conflict of interest until concerned citizens continued to hammer the point that her role in charge of public affairs and policy matters had moral implications.
The technology and ride-hailing company is no ordinary company; it has to deal with the government on many fronts like technology, rider welfare and safety and public perception. It has deep political implications like whether she will be used to lobby government for the Grab’s interests and whether she will use the information she has gained as a ruling party MP to tip off her management.
What is more worrisome is that the episode shows how the ruling party has chucked the issue of conflict of interest into the dustbin to be ignored and forgotten. It is not a new issue; it has been cropping up since 1986 when Lee Kuan Yew made his son a minister in the late PM’s Cabinet. There was disquiet in the country but nothing was articulated publicly.
Then came the appointment of his daughter-in-law, Ho Ching, as CEO of Temasek Holdings by then PM Goh Chok Tong. What made it even more alarming was that her husband was the Finance Minister to whom the government investment company had a dotted line of responsibility.
What should worry concerned Singaporeans is the insidious way the topic of conflict of interest has seeped into our society which can only lead to moral principles being compromised and the talented thinking twice about Singapore’s future.
Over the weekend I met a friend who told me about the managing director of a small company giving a lucrative contract to provide technical support to his wife. No tender was called, and no permission was sought from the board.
The managing director did not even bat an eyelid when he introduced his wife to the staff. Some were unhappy but nobody questioned him about the appointment which was done in such a blatant and brazen manner.
In this case, there was a happy ending. The chairman got wind of it and the lady’s contract was ended. I nearly became a party to such a case when I was invited by a good friend to help him with a project. During the first meeting, I found out that his company was the project consultant. And that she was a board director. I excused myself from helping him.
I am sure there are similar cases that don’t reach the public arena. But they must be a worry for those Singaporeans who want a morally upright nation that they can all be proud of.
Many look upstairs and ask: If they can do it, why can’t we? That is the culture of a population that has been numbed by the appointment by Lee Kuan Yew of his son to a Cabinet position. Or giving the job of Temasek Holdings’ CEO to Ho Ching when her husband was the Finance Minister, who has oversight over the government investment company.
As our ministers beat the drum about overcoming the pandemic and doling out money to citizens, they cannot wish away issues that can come to haunt them later.
Attitudes are changing. Social media, despite its drawbacks, are driving that change. When LKY appointed his son to the Cabinet, there were only whispers. Today, the same issue has taken on a life of its own, forcing the government to act.
The message for the government from the Tin Pei Ling affair is a simple one: Singapore is changing. Economic growth alone cannot take the country forward; Showing a moral fibre is equally important.
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