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Double Standards for Corruption

A few days ago a district court here sentenced a former director of Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to ten weeks jail for criminal breach of trust. The convicted criminal is shown in the photo on the left. (The photo on the right is of our Prime Minister’s Press Secretary.)

This case perfectly illustrates that double standards apply when it comes to the Lees.

The director’s crime was to misappropriate two iPads worth a total of S$1,877 provided to SCDF by a vendor for testing mobile applications. According to the account in Today Online he gave one iPad to his daughter and sold another to a Senior Director of SCDF for $200.

I absolutely support a ruthless clampdown on public servants who exploit their positions to gain favours for themselves or misappropriate public monies and resources for their own benefit.

That is why I demand to know why different standards appear to apply to the Prime Minister when he uses public monies and resources to benefit his private life.

The civil courts exist for individuals to seek redress for civil not criminal actions at their own cost. One such individual who recently chose this route was Mr Lee, a private individual, who chose to sue another private citizen, the blogger Roy Ngerng.

Mr Lee then acquired some negative publicity as a result of that foolish action, in particular an article in the Economist magazine irked him.

Most men at this stage would write a letter to the Editor or ask their lawyer to write one or even hire a reputation management firm to mitigate the damage.

Instead like many such men all over the world Mr Lee decided to use his firm’s secretary and resources to write that letter defending him and like all those other men crossed a line when he did so.

The twist is that Mr Lee also happens to be a civil servant and public office holder and our Prime Minister. He is an elected representative and as such his office, resources, budget, staff and his salary all belong to us, come from us and must be accountable to us  – the citizens.

There is no dispute that Mr Lee went into work and diverted State Office resources and his public servants from government work to work shoring up his personal business.

His Press Secretary wrote a letter to the Economist magazine; defending him: in her official public servant role, in official time, using state resources.

The problem is that we are all powerless to hold him to account and the Opposition in parliament is ineffectual in national matters preferring to allow themselves to be effectively diverted by the PAP into believing that they are merely estate managers.

I wrote a letter to the Press Secretary demanding answers and also published that letter on this blog on 7 July 2015 . When I didn’t get a response to my letter, the same questions were also put to the Prime Minister in a press release by the Reform Party. Needless to say they have not been answered.

Mr Lee’s salary is $2.4 million a year. If he only took two hours out of his schedule to deal with his personal lawsuit then he is guilty of a greater degree of misappropriation in monetary terms alone than the hapless Mr Jeganathan. This does not include the monetary value of his secretary’s time spent writing letters defending him or the state resources used.

Of equal concern is the sheer amount of time the case has taken up. We live in worrying times  and the head of the Nation should be at work doing the job we pay him for and not in court having to take the stand to be cross examined by a blogger. Don’t forget: the blogger apologised already.

Mr Lee took the better part of a day off work to appear in court on his personal matter. Imagine if a terrorist attack had happened while he was in court.

Look at it another way. Imagine that Mr Jeganathan was embroiled in a personal online dispute and ordered his department’s media staff to deal with his personal problems by writing letters to the Press. Then imagine that he took extensive time off during office hours to attend to his personal legal dispute and to attend court. Would he still be in his civil servant position?

Mr Jeganathan misappropriated two ipads, gave one to a family member and sold one of them.
Result: 10 weeks in jail.

Mr Lee conflated the public and personal. He damaged our reputation globally and showed complete disregard for probity, the  gravity of his position the civil servant code and even the needs of the citizens. The amount of actual State money and work hours lost to his personal  fiasco is impossible to calculate.

Result: A refusal to answer legitimate questions from a citizen and also from a legitimate political party.

Clearly Singaporeans are happy that our leaders are just like the aristocracy they claim to be : above the laws that apply to everyone else.

I reproduce the letter with the still unanswered questions below:
Dear Madam,

We are greatly concerned over the potential implications for conflict and co- mingling of resources and funding and potential for possible breach of the Ministerial Code as a result of the Prime Minister taking legal action in his personal capacity. In an effort to seek clarification, we therefore respectfully request answers to the following questions.

We look forward to a response that reassures us that there has been no such co-mingling or conversely that where co-mingling has occurred, a clear accounting of how the taxpayer will be reimbursed:

  1. How much time has the Official Press Secretary -a civil servant whose salary is also taxpayer funded –spent in meeting journalists, researching, composing and writing letters on behalf of Mr Lee Hsien Loong as a private individual (in other words defending a private action that he willingly chose to take) to foreign newspapers such as the Economist? In other words what time has been spent defending his position over his personal lawsuit? What economic value would you put on this or if it is not possible to assign a dollar value how many (wo)man-hours have been expended so far?
  2. Did the PMO bill Mr Lee Hsien Loong personally for the total cost of using the Official Press Secretary on his private business?
  3. Did Mr Lee Hsien Loong pay the cost of other resources used to assist him in his suit against Roy Ngerng?
  4. State Media photos show Mr Lee Hsien Loong arriving at court in a chauffeured limousine. Did Mr LHL use his own car or an official car to transport him to the hearing when he gave evidence in his personal capacity at that hearing for a legal action he chose to initiate?
  5. If it was an official car, did he pay for the use of the car, the driver, the petrol?
  6. Who paid for the cost of his bodyguards or any special police escort to accompany Mr Lee Hsien Loong to the hearing?
  7. Was any extra security in place and who paid for that?
  8. Did Mr Lee Hsien Loong take official or unpaid leave for the day he spent in court fighting his private matter or does he expect taxpayers to finance it?
  9. Mr Lee Hsien Loong is paid at least $2.4 million p.a. out of state funds as PM to run the country and for his MP duties. How much of his own working time has been spent on his private lawsuit against Roy Ngerng? Again can you assign a dollar value to this and will he be refunding the taxpayer? For avoidance of doubt we refer here to Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s time not to his staff‘s time which is dealt with in question 1
  10. We are further disturbed by his admission in court under cross-examination by Roy Ngerng that he had been watching him for some time “making more and more outrageous allegations about the CPF, stopping short of accusing him of doing bad things personally, but coming closer and closer to saying that.” Please clarify how much time, for some time is, in real terms. Mr Ngerng for example, started blogging in 2012. How much of his working time would you estimate has been spent in “watching” what bloggers are saying or might be about to say? Does he watch these bloggers on official machinery? Do you consider that he can monitor all these bloggers over a period of time and still run the country efficiently? Would you say this is the best use of taxpayers’ money?
  11. Maybe he does not watch the bloggers personally. Does he in fact watch them personally or does he have private or state funded staff watch them for him? Have you set up a special unit within the PMO to monitor bloggers and social media including Mr Ngerng for comments that he does not like personally or that he considers defamatory of him in his personal capacity? Is this being paid for out of State funds? (Note that even though we do not condone it in general, we are not concerned here with the use of state funds, staff and resources to defend the PM as PM or the Government’s record but that this legal case is being fought by Mr Lee Hsien Loong as a private individual and furthermore this is an action he consciously chose to initiate in his personal capacity whilst simultaneously holding the office of PM, head of GIC and so on and so forth.)
  12. You are presumably aware that Tan Tock Seng Hospital dismissed Mr Ngerng for among other things, misusing hospital resources. Similarly NUS sacked Chee Soon Juan in the early 1990s for using office stamps for a personal letter. Would you not agree that if state resources have been used for Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s personal interests such as this lawsuit against Roy Ngerng, then this could also be viewed as the same misappropriation? If you are required to expend resources defending the Office of Prime Minister as a result or reputational damage incurred by Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s private actions and decisions then is that not also state funding that could have and should have been avoided. At the very least would you not consider that you are giving the taxpayer poor value for the salary they provide Mr Lee Hsien Loong?

We are also concerned that by making this decision to initiate legal action in his personal capacity, in the High Court no less against an unemployed blogger with such a huge disparity between them in power, wealth, income, and influence Mr Lee Hsien Loong has risked reputational damage to the office of the Prime Minister and the image of Singapore as an emerging democracy. For the record we believe that Mr Lee Hsien Loong could have avoided any such risk implications and potential for conflict by stepping down for the duration of the case that he wished to pursue as an individual.

Yours faithfully,

Kenneth Jeyaretnam









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