Published: 26 August 2023
Question: The one corruption case and extramarital affair that came up have raised questions about standards of the ruling party – has it been lowered? Even as the issue has been addressed quite rigorously, what is the impact of this on the Government and the ruling party, especially in terms of attracting new MPs, candidates for future general elections?
Minister: There has been one corruption case and one extramarital affair. To me, the key takeaway is how has it been handled. First of all, on the corruption case, it’s a senior Minister. When CPIB notified PM on the 5th of July, the next day he said proceed, against a senior Minister. It shows a very different standard compared with what happens in other countries. Absolute zero tolerance.
There are different standards. We have very different standards. And the reason why Singapore is successful is because we keep to these standards and we enforce them. It doesn't mean now and then, there won’t be people who cross the line. But the point is, 1986 was the last major incident. In between there have been senior civil servants, including an ex-Chief of the Civil Defence Force, who was charged and went to jail. So there have been incidents involving senior officers; involving Ministers, the last one was about 40 years ago and now. So, it will happen. And when it happens, you have to take very severe action, investigate. If the person hasn't done anything wrong, publish. If the Minister hasn’t done anything wrong, that will come out. If he has, that will also come out.
So it’s actually a testament to how the system works. It’s not that the incident happened, it’s how you react to it. How does the system deal with it. And that’s where, I think, the two points are: One, it’s highly infrequent in Singapore. It’s not a norm. It’s not even, I would say, less frequent, it’s hardly ever. In forty years, we’ve had two cases. So that, to me, is a big takeaway.
On the extramarital affair – you heard PM. He set out that it took him slightly more than two years, to eventually, immediately tell him – the Speaker – to leave. And he explained his reasons. This is one of those cases, he had talked about what Mr Lee Kuan Yew said in 1977: People may have affairs, he’s not encouraging people to have affairs, but it cannot become, if you quote what Mr Lee said – it cannot become an embarrassment, it cannot have paternity suits and so on.
And PM gave three categories – in cases where it’s private, it’s adults, consensual, they will be counselled, and then they stop – that’s that. In other cases where, maybe there’s a reporting relationship or some other issue at hand, which means it must be immediate and it should go. In this case, Speaker and MP, if they were married (to each other), there would be no problem. But, in the particular situation here, it does create some sort of problem. But he took his time, and he should have done it earlier – well that’s what he said. To me, if PM hadn’t said that he knew in 2020, nobody would’ve known. It is he who disclosed it. It is he who disclosed the fact that he knew, and that he’s taking action now. Even today, it is he who came out and said it in public. He wasn’t forced to come out in public. Everything was voluntary in the disclosure. And, to that extent, my sense is people trust a leader who is honest and upfront, and if he knew about it in 2020, says so. I think they would have less trust in a leader, who pretends that he didn’t know.