$1.7 million worth of questions the government is disinclined to answer

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In any real democracy, there would likely be demands for an independent commission of enquiry. Wrong-doing within the ranks of an anti-corruption agency is serious stuff. Any government that truly aims to live up to the highest standards of accountability will agree to one.

Instead, we have a longish statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that contains no information as to how it occurred. All it gives is a brief narrative of what it has done since the day a tip-off was received. Yes, it does say that “The Prime Minister appointed an independent review panel to look at how this case happened, and to strengthen the financial procedures and audit system in CPIB to prevent a recurrence,” and that “The recommendations of the panel are being implemented.” However, the findings of the panel are not published.

In any case, calling it “independent” in what is effectively a non-disclosure press statement is a far cry from satisfying the public that it was independent. Our government plays with words.

Actually, only the first 4 paragraphs, comprising 137 words, or 25 percent of the total length of 542 words in the press statement, constituted the narrative. The remaining 75 percent was devoted to asserting ad nauseum that all is still well, the government is honest and that “cases involving public officers have remained low and quite stable over the last five years”.

In other words:  All remains in great shape. Citizens don’t need to know anything more. You have enough reason to trust us (the PAP government) without reservation.

A truly independent commission of enquiry would hold its hearings in public. Evidence would be taken from relevant persons at those hearings. Like a coroner’s  inquest — see my previous article — it would find fact impartially and in the full glare of public scrutiny. It’s that open process that creates trust, not self-serving assurances slathered over opaque statements.

The day Edwin Yeo was charged in court, the media provided a glimpse of the facts:

An assistant director of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) has been charged with 21 offences, including misappropriation and forgery.

39-year-old Edwin Yeo Seow Hiong is accused of eight counts of misappropriation totalling more than S$1.7 million.

Of that sum, almost S$1.1 million was meant for goods and services for his Field Research and Technical Support department. S$470,300 was meant for the department’s operational expenses, and S$151,900 for unspecified purposes.

On top of that, Yeo is accused of misappropriating S$46,700 worth of vehicles — two Honda Civic cars and two Honda motorcycles.

Yeo also faces one count of forgery.

— Channel NewsAsia, 24 July 2013, CPIB assistant director charged with misappropriating S$1.7m. Link.

Of the sum embezzled, only $67,000 has been recovered.

What I find staggering is that the alleged offences took place over four years 2008 to 2012, and even includes “misappropriating” two cars and a motorcycle. The Straits Times reported that it was a whistle-blower who alerted the CPIB to the case, not that it was discovered in the course of an annual audit. This seriously undermines confidence in audits of government agencies. How can large fixed assets like cars go missing without anyone noticing?

pic_201307_19It’s not as if the CPIB is a large sprawling department. It operates out of a four- or five-storey building — I have been inside — the size of a small hotel or polyclinic (pic at right).

There are additional questions , e.g.

  • Were there others within and without the CPIB who abetted the embezzlement?
  • What cases had been assigned to Edwin Yeo to work on, which may now be tainted?
  • How many of those cases had previously gone to trial, with persons convicted, and should we not review those convictions?

Perhaps more details will emerge at Yeo’s trial. Then again, perhaps not. He may choose to plead guilty and the case concluded within an hour, leaving the public none the wiser what really happened.

At the same time, the defendant has to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Maybe Edwin Yeo didn’t do it; maybe someone else did. In fact, all we can sort-of-confidently say at this point is that over $1.7 million has gone missing. And that is precisely what’s so frustrating about the opacity thrown over the case: more important than knowing the details of what Edwin Yeo did or his lifestyle, which no doubt the media will fixate on, the public interest chiefly lies in how the monies went missing and why controls and audits were so lax that they were not detected. In other words, how deep are the flaws?

The PMO statement concluded with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean saying: “I have asked the Head of the Civil Service to share the study’s findings with his officers and to also make the key findings public. I understand that he will be doing so by the end of the week.”

pic_201307_14Why only key findings and not the full report? Why not immediately? Why allow so many days for furious redacting and spin-doctoring?

It is Saturday today, and I have still seen no news of those “key findings” in the media or on the PMO website. Or was a frustratingly superficial story in Today newspaper it? (If the story is no longer available on Today’s website, click the thumbnail.)

Is this what passes for accountability in this place?

—-

ADDENDUM

I see that the Straits Times 27 July, on page A8, has a story about a “new study” that was “commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Office”. It says that  “the study was initially ‘classified’ but the PMO made it public yesterday due to ‘public interest’.”

Going by what is contained in the Straits Times story, the study is underwhelming — and that’s putting it kindly. It is certainly not what I was led to expect. Instead of being an investigative report into what went wrong, it isn’t even related to the Edwin Yeo case. It is a secondary school level analysis trying to discern some pattern about public officers who in the past have been the subject of graft or similar cases. See this table published with the article:

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Unsurprisingly, the story includes a quote from Peter Ong, the head of the civil service: “our system as a whole remains sound”. With that reaffirmation of the faith, is $1.7 million officially no more an issue?

19 Responses to “$1.7 million worth of questions the government is disinclined to answer”


  1. 1 MaxChew 27 July 2013 at 13:49

    More details to emerge at Edwin Yeo’s trial? I believe the ST reported that when Edwin requested the court for a lower bail, he declared that he would not be engaging any counsel and would plead guilty. He would represent himself and needed some time to prepare his mitigation plea!

    You are correct, when this happens, his trial will likely last around 10 minutes similar to that of the Sr Prison Officer last week held responsible for the young Indian prison inmate’s demise and for which the former pled guilty and was fined a paltry $10k….case closed, including the ongoing Coroner’s Inquest!

    It’s sad but disgusting that our Govt keeps pulling wool over our eyes time and again.Watch out for the next one and the next…..

  2. 2 oute 27 July 2013 at 14:15

    Come clean with honesty and intergity.. How come the WP MPs are so quiet about this…Do they know about this.

    • 3 Sgcynic 27 July 2013 at 21:19

      You should pose your question to Vivian. He’s the one that is concerned with upholding integrity and maintaining cleanliness and experienced in budget mismanagement.

  3. 4 Natureschild 27 July 2013 at 16:18

    If Edwin Yeo’s superior officer/s was/were unaware that the perpetrator was siphoning huge sums of tax-payers’ money each time, for four long years, then something is very wrong with the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in CPIB. What happened during the department’s yearly audit between 2008 to 2012? Will the chief auditor be held accountable? Surely there are others above Edwin Yeo who must be held responsible for the embezzled $1.7 million, no?

  4. 5 shocking 27 July 2013 at 17:57

    What’s even more shocking is the fact this department has been used to “investigate” corruption cases before, issuing the final judgement that people have to accept the lawful truth.

    If there is corruption happening in the department itself, there is a serious issue of the credibility of their past investigations. This is an alarming matter that deserves more attention than just a longish statement from the PMO.

    I would go as far as to say some decisions should be re-investigated with a newly appointed independent panel with no government links. Like the recent case of Tey Tsun Hang where the naive mainstream public are completely unaware of his background.

    Regardless, the people’s trust in the system is just going to decline further.

  5. 6 Wong 27 July 2013 at 18:16

    This is not corruption. This is fraud. The two are different.

  6. 7 Anon Hkco 27 July 2013 at 22:50

    This is what the government wants netizen to read. The government would not be silly to reveal much about the dirts within its agencies as this will cause a backlash. This is what we called ‘honest politics’ n integrity.

  7. 8 For our future's sake. 27 July 2013 at 23:08

    After reading your article I felt sad. There lots of people out there who don’t read online blogs and news. They rely on the 149th freest newspaper in the world for their news and analysis.
    They will never know there is another side to a coin.

  8. 9 mad old harry 28 July 2013 at 10:40

    you online smarty pants are underestimating by far how much the silent majority can’t wait to vote out pap

    • 10 JL 28 July 2013 at 13:22

      I only hope you are right, Harry. I believe only when the older Harry passed on that things might start to change, but he’s still hanging around.

  9. 11 mohan 29 July 2013 at 14:48

    it is so obvious that the govt will prefer him to plead guilty and therefore give him lenient punishment than to go on trial to spill more truth of how CPIB could be corrupted due to lapse, and uncover more shits.

    If anyone notice, the modus operandi of this PAP government has been changed to one that go for move-on cases with immediate plead to guilty in exchange for leniency to avoid exposing more issues under the government, and of course, it unlikely to apply to opp party.

  10. 12 Dumb Investor 29 July 2013 at 14:51

    Honestly I expected nothing more. For all the calls for integrity, accountability and transparency, what we are receiving is their standard hogwash “Evrything is okay and trust us”. People got to realise that it is this misplaced trust which has put the population where is it now and soon it will get worst for most while the elites enjoy life with their million dollar salaries. They made a hell of hoohah for the $7200 in cleaning fees and yet are freaking quiet about the 1.7milion. Honest men my ass.

  11. 13 mohan 29 July 2013 at 16:21

    “For all the calls for integrity, accountability and transparency, what we are receiving is their standard hogwash “Evrything is okay and trust us””

    the call for “integrity, accountability and transparency” only applies to lesser mortals and opp parties not to PAP. PAP is so special and extraordinary that any attempt to apply them may just end up with contempt of court, scandalize the judiciary, defamation lawsuit, heavy fine and jail term. They are basically god unto themselves.

  12. 14 Ginger 29 July 2013 at 17:35

    Waiting for the next whistleblower to shed light on corruption in our defence spending… And hope it happens soon, before the next GE.

    • 15 MacSnuff 1 August 2013 at 16:14

      My Malaysian friend told me the BN cannot lose power because they will all go to jail if they do. Or flee with the money. What are the chances of Harry’s gang going quietly? Do you think they want someone digging around in the accounts?

  13. 16 Alan 29 July 2013 at 18:53

    It was reported he was suspended since Sept last year and yet only recently they made it public. Looks like something fishy is happening behind the scenes. So much for PMO’s brand of integrity.

    One obvious thing that comes to my mind is that his dump superiours must be sleeping on their jobs without the minimum intelligence to detect that he is stealing right under their noses!

  14. 17 mohan 30 July 2013 at 00:42

    “One obvious thing that comes to my mind is that his dump superiours must be sleeping on their jobs without the minimum intelligence to detect that he is stealing right under their noses!”

    up to now we still do not know if the whistle blower is his superior or a lower-grade staff. I more incline to believe that same rank or higher could be whistleblower, otherwise the latter may be fixed.

    How come it is not public interest to pursue the case and let the public know rather than just cover up and move on ?

  15. 18 Chanel 31 July 2013 at 14:02

    It still shocks me how 2 cars and 2 motorbikes can be “embezzled”!! This must be a world’s first.

  16. 19 penguin choo 1 August 2013 at 16:01

    “The Prime Minister appointed an independent review panel…”

    hahahahahahaha!


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