04 Nov 2020

Ministerial Statement on Parti Liyani v Public Prosecutor [2020] SGHC 187 (Part 2) - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Part 2


(I) INTRODUCTION


1.     For part 2, I will go into the broader questions that I have identified, which is an inquiry, or rather the questions I dealt with in part 1 are the inquiry into how investigations, the prosecutions were conducted. Here I want to go into the broader questions. The key question is whether the case was handled differently because of the status of the complainant, or if there has been any improper influence.


2.     Did LML in any way influence these proceedings? Or was the case investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the rules like any other case? I have said it earlier and I will reiterate. I can be categorical. There was no influence by LML. It was treated as any other theft case and handled accordingly.


3.     We have checked with the IOs, their supervisor, the DPPs and their Director. They have confirmed this. There was no pressure or influence exerted on them by LML or anyone acting on his behalf, and they handled this case as they have handled other theft cases.


(II) CONDUCT OF THIS MATTER

(A) THE POLICE

4.     I will now deal with the Police. I have set out how the Police handled the matter and what they took into account. The case was dealt with by the IOs and decisions were taken by them together with their immediate supervisor.


5.     The case didn’t come to the attention of the senior management either at the Police or in my Ministry. No one senior, has spoken with or been influenced by LML or any of the Liews on this case.


6.     Meaning as I have said, it was dealt with by the IOs, and their immediate supervisor and no one beyond that. No one lobbied or exerted pressure either on the IOs or on the supervisor or on anyone in a position to influence the investigations.


(B) AGC

7.     Turning to AGC, I have explained how the matter was dealt with by AGC. It was dealt with by DPPs and cleared at the level of a Director. Again, neither LML nor anyone acting for them approached AGC or had any contact with AGC, in this case. AGC dealt with Police.


8.     There have been some questions asked specific to the Attorney-General. That he was on the Board of Directors of Capitaland between 20 Nov 2000 and 2 Jan 2006, when LML was the President & CEO. As a result, did AG in any way influence the proceedings? The answer is no. AG didn’t know of these investigations or proceedings until the case went for trial.


9.     There is a further point. AG resigned from the Capitaland Board with effect from 2 Jan 2006. He resigned because he had a difference of viewpoints with LML on some issues. When AGC conducted its internal review on this matter, AG recused himself. AG felt that given the history of differences he has had with LML, the perception of fairness may be affected if AG oversaw the review. Thus, AG had nothing to do with this case at any stage.


(C) CONDUCT OF TRIAL IN THE STATE COURTS

10.     The case was conducted by the State Courts in open Court in accordance with the rules.


(III) RULE OF LAW


11.     This case is in fact an illustration of how the Rule of Law applies. A Foreign Domestic Worker is charged. The High Court acquits her. The Complainant is a wealthy, powerful person. But all are equal before the Law. It doesn’t matter who the parties are. Justice according to the facts and the Law as the Courts see it.


12.     We may agree or disagree with the State Court’s or High Court’s decisions and conclusions. But that is a different matter.


13.     If you look at a systemic level, at the highest level, you talk about “the Criminal Justice System”. We have the Police who investigate in accordance with the legal framework for Police investigations. AGC makes the charging decision based on (1) available evidence; and (2) public interest. The Trial Courts consider the sufficiency of the evidence and the legal issues. The Appellate Courts review the decision of the Trial Court. This case shows that the criminal justice system as a whole works.


14.     If you drill down to the next level, we have “systems”. For example, these would comprise, investigative protocols, SOPs for how Police and DPPs operate. I have mentioned some errors that were made, we have to try and strengthen the “systems” at that level, try and prevent re-occurrence. I have also mentioned the challenges.


15.     Besides these levels to the system, there will always be the risk of mistakes by individuals. These lapses will have to be dealt with. The idea of Rule of Law is central to our ideas of Fairness, Equality and Justice. It is even more important, in the current zeitgeist that is sweeping through countries.


16.     Societies around the world are grappling with debates on inequality. A sense that the elite are creaming off most of the economic benefits and bending the rules and systems to their own advantage, and in the process, buying off, suborning those in Government. People are fed up with unfair structures. Equal opportunities are drying up.


17.     In Singapore, we are not in the same situation. Our active intervention in socioeconomic issues has helped most people to benefit. But our people know. We must jealously guard the availability of equal opportunities. We must ensure that everyone has a fair shake. We must be alert, guard against the wealthy and the powerful, taking unfair advantages.


18.     If a significant section of our people feel that the system favours some, or that it is unfairly stacked against them, then Singapore will lose its cohesion and it can’t succeed. Thus it is essential that we have a fair system, that we have a clean system, that we have a system that gives opportunities to all.


19.     These are our fundamental concerns. If LML did unfairly influence the proceedings, then it will be a hit to our foundations. It will hit to our sense of fairness, equality, justice and a dent to Project Singapore itself, because Singapore is built on these ideals.

 
20.     We have always been jealous about guarding against such corrosion. It does not mean there will be no abuse of power and no corruption. But when it happens, swift, decisive action must be taken. Members will know successive Governments have been clear about this.


21.     There has to be a ruthless intensity in upholding integrity. Mr Lee Kuan Yew set the tone. The case of Mr Teh Cheang Wan is a prime example of that approach.


22.     He was one of the most senior Members in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s Cabinet. But when corruption allegations surfaced, Mr Lee directed the CPIB to conduct investigations. Mr Teh was placed on leave of absence. He ultimately chose to end his life rather than face trial or corruption charges which the AGC had (then) yet to settle.


23.    Mr Lee said at that time” “There is no way a Minister can avoid investigations, and a trial if there is evidence to support one.” These were the values of our Founding Generation. And these are, and have to be our continuing values.


24.     They have been scrupulously stressed and adhered to by the two succeeding Prime Ministers. They are like religious commandments. There cannot be any compromise. Where there is a breach, action is taken. Action will be taken. Let me refer to some cases.


25.     In 2012, you had:


(1) Peter Lim, Commissioner of SCDF. In fact, he was Commissioner of SCDF when I was Minister of Home Affairs too. He was convicted of corruption charges for receiving sexual favours with three different women. Sentenced to six months imprisonment. Dismissed from public service following disciplinary proceedings.


(2) In 2013, you had Mr Edwin Yeo, Assistant Director of CPIB, misappropriating money. Jailed for ten years for criminal breach of trust as a public servant and forgery.


(3) In 2007, you had Mr T T Durai, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation. Convicted for corruption, sentenced to imprisonment. Appealed to the High Court but was dismissed.


(4) In 2012, Mr Howard Shaw, then-Executive Director of the Singapore Environment Council. Convicted for obtaining commercial sex with minors. Had asked for a nominal fine based on testimonials of his good character and social standing. Court found no exceptional circumstances and sentenced him to 12 weeks imprisonment. Sentence was to provide a strong deterrence to others.


26.     Peter Lim was a senior Home Team officer. In many countries, his actions would not have attracted criminal punishment. In most countries, Commissioners of SCDF, Assistant Directors of CPIB, are pretty much untouchable. But not in Singapore.


27.     The message is, it doesn’t matter who you are. If you do wrong, action will be taken. But it is not only corruption that we must guard against. We must also guard against soft corruption and influence peddling. Let me quote what Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Dr Goh Keng Swee have said.


28.     In 1984, Mr Lee said, and I quote:


• “We exercised power as trustees for the people, with an abiding sense of our fiduciary responsibility. Our honour, our sense of duty made us exercise power scrupulously. We have curbed, restrained, prevented any distortion of policies which would have been inevitable, if the personal interests of the few in charge were allowed full rein. This is the case in many new countries.”


• “When those in office regard the power vested in them as a personal prerogative, they inevitably enrich themselves, promote their families, favour their friends. The fundamental structures of the modern state are eroded, like the supporting beams of a house after termites have attacked them. Then the people have to pay dearly and long for the sins and crimes of their leaders.”


29.     And as early as 1961, the late Dr Goh warned about the risks, that groups of elites might create an environment that would favour one community at the expense of another.


30.     In an article in Nanyang University journal, 1961, he said, and I quote:


• “To achieve an honest and energetic administration appears easy in theory. In practice, very few of the young and emergent nations have achieved this. Even in the most advanced and leading societies, whether communist or democratic, the problem of nepotism is a recurring one and can only be countered by constant vigilance.”


• “In advanced societies, it is not so much open nepotism that is to be feared, but the insidious ‘old boy’ type whereby no illegalities are committed, but in which the pinnacles of power, influence and wealth are the reserve of those born into the right families. In underdeveloped countries, the matter could be more serious. A system may arise in which the dominant majority, whether of families, clans or even entire communities, arrogates to itself not only the openings to the seats of power, but also the avenues by which individuals can fit themselves out for such positions of power. The dominant majority is thus able to point out that those outside of the charmed circle just do not have the necessary qualifications to be admitted to this elite group.


• “Thus many able and aspiring people are denied the opportunity for the full use of their abilities.”


31.     I personally find these words, very powerful, insightful and I have more than once quoted the speech of Dr Goh in my own speeches because Dr Goh has I think identified, precisely a serious, insidious risk in any society, including ours.


32.     We are not that special that we can be immune to these risks. We have to constantly make sure that we don’t allow it. We have to be very careful, to try and stamp it out wherever it appears. And make no mistake, make no mistake. It will keep appearing in big and small ways.


33.     This is again something successive PMs have been vigilant about. One illustration of that is the letter that the Prime Minister sends out at the start of each new term of this House. Most Members are aware of the letter. I have put it in Annex 8. I think you all would have the annexes by now.


34.     I quote parts:


• The context each time may be different, but the subject remains constant. Integrity, honesty and incorruptibility are fundamental. We must never tire of reminding ourselves of their importance. One vital factor to retain the trust of Singaporeans all these years is honesty and integrity. The reputation for clean, incorruptible government is one of our most precious assets.


• I cannot stress strongly enough every MP must uphold the rigorous standards we have set for ourselves. Do nothing to compromise them. Never give cause for allegations that you are misusing your position, especially your access to Ministers.


• A few will cultivate you to obtain benefits for themselves or their companies, to gain respectability by association with you, or to get you to influence ministries and statutory boards to make decisions in their favour. Personal favours big and small are just some of the countless social lubricants which such people use to ingratiate themselves to MPs and make you obliged to them.
 

• At all times be seen to be beyond the influence of gifts or favours. Separate your public political position from your private, professional or business interests. MPs who are in business, who occupy senior management positions in companies, or who sit on company boards should be especially vigilant.


• You must not exploit your public position as Government MPs, your close contacts with the Ministers, or your access to Government departments and civil servants, for your personal interest or the benefit of your employers. Your conduct must be always above board. We have held our position because our integrity has never been in doubt. Always conduct yourselves with modesty, decorum and dignity.


35.     I can tell Members this is all not just nice sounding advice. Even before it reaches the kind of conduct referred to in PM’s Letter, if we feel that there is some conduct that requires a closer look, we do take a closer look. I am referring here to conduct which is not criminal, nor a breach of ethics, but which in our view should be avoided. Something that may be legal but for example, lead eventually to something which is not of so good odour.


36.     When we sense that, I usually have a chat with the relevant MP. They come, have a cup of coffee with me. When they leave, the issue is usually resolved. And if it is not resolved, then they don’t remain as MPs. But don’t worry, it doesn’t happen everytime whenever people come and have coffee with me.


37.     If it is criminal, of course there will be prosecution. And there have been MPs and ex-MPs who have been prosecuted. And if there are breaches of other rules, the respective professional or regulatory bodies will take action as they have done. We don’t intervene or try and stop any of this.


38.     I have dealt with this at some length because we must understand these are fundamental values. If we don’t keep them, we will be in trouble. In Singapore, in this context, we have a more challenging environment.


39.     We are a small place. A lot of people know each other. Many educational, professional, work related, social family connections. Same schools, colleges, universities, time spent in National Service, other connections. People interact with each other frequently.


40.     We try and look for people on the basis of merit. And they will often because of their careers and education, have deep connection with many others whom they interact with. The way we handle this, make sure the persons appointed are men and women of character. They have the moral fibre to do the right thing.


41.     Earlier I had said, the Attorney-General recused himself from the review because of his history with LML. What will be the position be if he was in fact a close friend of LML?


42.     We will expect him to disclose that and recuse himself as well from any decision making. This is how the system works.


43.     Let me give a few examples: Prof Jayakumar, when he was Minister for Law, what were his connections? When he was Dean Law School, the then-AG’s wife had been his Vice-Dean. Former Chief Justice, Chan Sek Keong had been his law school contemporary. Former Commissioner of Police (CP) Goh Yong Hong was also his law school contemporary and the succeeding CP, Tee Tua Ba was Prof Jaya’s law student. The Attorney-General and I were also his law students as well.


44.     I had spent 22 years in private practice. I have worked with many Senior Counsels, senior lawyers, appeared before many Judges.


45.     Our small size means these connections, interactions are inevitable.


46.     And so, we will always have to be very careful. Always remember, we are fiduciaries. This is a sacred trust. We do this for the people. We do the right thing. Do not allow any corrosion of public interest. Act with Honour. Be worthy of the trust people have reposed in us.


47.     It is critical that whatever the relationship, the Government maintains high standards of probity, of conduct so that decisions are made on objective and impartial assessment.


48.     And have we lived up to those standards? Members can ask that question honestly. What is the lived reality for Singaporeans? How much corruption do people encounter here?


49.     We rank highly, on credible international indices for absence of corruption, for Rule of Law, for the way our system functions cleanly. This is a country known for all this – and that continues to be the case.


50.     What happens if you allow the system to go awry? What happens when you allow influence peddling? What happens when you allow corruption, abuse of position and abuse of power?


51.     Let me give you a couple of examples.
 


(A) US


52.     First, the US. Influence peddling has become part and parcel of politics and governance. The US Supreme Court has said – “ingratiation and access embody a central feature of democracy.” Not against the law for officials to set up meetings, host events, and call other officials on behalf of lobbyists. Big businesses extensively lobby regulators, using middlemen. I personally think this is not good for the healthy functioning of society.


53.     Lobbying itself is a massive business. Big Pharma for example spent US$4.45bn on lobbying alone, over the last 22 years. And it works. One study found that regulators were 45% less likely to initiate enforcement action against banks that lobby, versus banks that don’t.


(B) SOUTH AFRICA


54.     The experience of South Africa offers another example.


55.     In South Africa, ‘State Capture’ is a buzzword. Because of how private interests have exerted influence over Government decision-making and used this influence to plunder the state.


56.     Corruption scandals involving the former President and the Gupta brothers are the most famous examples. It is of course an extreme example of the system going awry.


57.     Critical question for us: How do we ensure that the system stays clean? That we don’t allow what Mr Lee and Dr Goh warned against?


58.     We have a media that highlights these issues. See the number of articles that have appeared in this matter in the Singapore media. Accountability, a well-educated, aware population that holds us accountable. And Parliament. Where we have these issues to be openly discussed, debated. All these are essential. But these factors are also present in many countries where influence peddling is nevertheless a cancer.


59.     We have avoided that slippery path, because in addition to the above, we have had in our 3 Prime Ministers the strong will to ensure a clean system and the decisiveness to act when something goes wrong. It always, always, regardless of your rules, and regardless of your systems, the rot starts at the top. If the top is clean, the system can work well. And we’ve got to make sure of that. And if it starts, then very few things can save such a country.


60.     In this case, if we had seen anything wrong by way of influence peddling. Swift, open, transparent action would have been taken.


(IV) CONCLUSION ON PART II


61.     Sir, I have spoken at some length on the case and on the broader issues.


62.     Now I will deal with questions Members have raised by way of PQs which I have not already dealt with.


Annexes
Annex 1 (138kb, .pdf)
Annex 2 (164 kb, .pdf)
Annex 3 (343 kb, .pdf)
Annex 4 (303 kb, .pdf)
Annex 5 (367 kb, .pdf)
Annex 6 (184 kb, .pdf)
Annex 7 (344 kb, .pdf)
Annex 8 (68 kb, .pdf)

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