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By Hiding All Financial Information about Its Ruling Family Singapore Gets an Undeserved Reputation for Incorruptibility

I just saw a news report on the BBC that the U.K. PM, Rishi Sunak, is facing questions over shares his wife holds in a childcare agency that could benefit from increased payments for childcare jusr announced in the Budget.

At least Britons live in a democracy and have an independent media and Opposition that are not afraid of defamation suits or other reprisals if they reveal conflicts of interest or corruption affecting their leaders. They also require MPs to register income earned outside Parliament in a register that can be publicly inspected. In Singapore the PAP trumpet their supposed incorruptibility but have silenced those who would even dare to ask questions by their use of defamation laws and other reprisals against those who raise questions about conflicts of interest or special deals given to the PM or his family and to other PAP Ministers and MPs.

LHL says that PAP MPs are expected to uphold the highest standards of integrity and give him a list of their assets which they are required to update regularly. However he is not required to report his assets to anyone. From the lack of information and the complete silence from state media a foreign observer might think that the PM owns no assets. Yet he has been earning millions of dollars a year and the present value of his cumulative earnings from office must be over $100 million. His wife, whom he appointed but with the figleaf of pretending that the board of Temasek, which he controls, made the appointment, must have earned maybe ten times or more what he has earned. Her earnings alone are probably over $1 billion. Yet the PM blocks any attempt to find out what she earned. Then there is the amount he inherited from his parents and the growth in value of those assets. It is certain that LHL and his wife are worth more than the British PM, whose wealth comes from his wife and makes him probably by far and away the richest PM in recent British history. If the Sunak family fortune is US$800 million or over $1 billion then the LHL family fortune is almost certainly several times that.

However, barring a change of government, Singaporeans will never find out what his true worth is. LHL uses his control of the media to prevent any inquiries as to his assets and uses his control of the AG, the judiciary, the SPF and all the other investigative and coercive institutions of government, to ensure that no impertinent questions are asked or details revealed. If there were any conflicts of interest that benefited his and his wife’s investments then we would never be able to find out. Even the size of his late father’s estate remains a mystery as the PAP Government abolished death duties just before the death of his mother. Since the Nassim Jade scandal revealed that LKY and his son had been given discounts on property purchases not available to the public, LHL and his family have been at pains to keep details of their asset holdings and net wealth a closely guarded secret.

While LHL may claim that his Government is incorruptible the world only has his word for it. Certainly there is a total lack of transparency over the wealth of his family and whether companies in which he or his wife hold shares benefit from Government policy or receive special treatment. The appointment of his wife to head Temasek on a secret compensation package, a blatant conflict of interest if there was ever one, and which is echoed in the appointment of spouses and relatives of PAP Ministers to less exalted but still highly paid positions, suggests that the PAP Government does not deserve its reputation for having zero tolerance for corruption. As revealed in the Keppel Offshore Marine bribery scandal and the failure of the AG to prosecute the six individuals involved that we know about, there seems to be a general disregard for ethics. The PAP may point to corruption scandals and the discovery of egregious conflicts of interest in other countries and claim that the Singapore system of “ownself check ownself” is superior. However to believe that a system where there are no independent checks and balances and where the assets and business dealings of our political elite are shielded from scrutiny is somehow unique compared to countless other corrupt regimes where checks are similarly controlled by the person at the top, would be deeply unscientific and fly in the face of all the evidence. Until Singaporeans pluck up the courage to turn this load of self-serving hypocrites out of office, we will never know.

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