Speech by President Halimah Yacob at Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau's 70th Anniversary Commemorative Event
Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister
Mr Goh Chok Tong, Emeritus Senior Minister
Mr Denis Tang, Director CPIB
Distinguished Guests from the Anti-Corruption Bureau of Brunei Darussalam, the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Corruption Eradication Commission of Indonesia, and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission
Ladies and Gentlemen
A very good evening. It is my pleasure to join all of you today to commemorate Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB)’s 70th Anniversary.
2. Singapore is widely recognised today as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. We have a clean and honest government, and a strong rule of law. Meritocracy is a central tenet of our society. Singaporeans have equal opportunities to fulfil their potential. Businesses can flourish here because the rules are transparent and fairly applied. This has led to our country’s progress and prosperity.
3. But this has not always been the case. The post-war years saw persistent shortages of food, basic necessities, and widespread poverty. It was not uncommon for people to bribe public officers for needs such as to obtain ration cards, or permits and licences just to be able to get on with their livelihoods. Police corruption was rampant in colonial Singapore because of low salaries and the low risk of detection and punishment. In the late- 1940s, access to flats developed by the Singapore Improvement Trust was also not spared from this scourge. One could bribe government officials to secure or expedite the allocation of housing units. The lack of effective enforcement meant that perpetrators see such acts as ‘low risk, high reward’.
4. CPIB was established by the British colonial Government in 1952 to tackle increasing corruption under this backdrop of political and socio-economic uncertainties. However, CPIB itself faced tough challenges from the beginning. Even until the late- 1950s, the Bureau only had a very lean force of a few good men. It was a tall order for CPIB in the face of mounting corruption cases - the Bureau simply lacked the necessary resources and legal empowerment.
5. Making the transformation to a society where there is strong public trust in the Government and where people abide by the rule of law did not happen overnight. This was down to the choices our founding generation of leaders made and the examples they set. When Mr Lee, our founding Prime Minister, and the newly-elected PAP government came to power in 1959, they made it their mission to establish a clean and efficient Government.
6. Mr Lee expected the highest standards of integrity and honesty from himself and all in public service. In his words, leaders must be above suspicion, and must insist on the same high standards of probity of their fellow Ministers and of the officials working for them. Our pioneer leaders put in place strong anti-corruption laws, ensured an independent judiciary, and cleaned up the public service. CPIB was strengthened with much better resources, and empowered to carry out its work independently. Corruption became a ‘high risk, low reward’ offence.
7. CPIB has since developed a formidable reputation for its thorough and fearless investigations. It has not shied away from taking action against senior government officials, be it Ministers, Members of Parliament, or senior civil servants. This is testament to CPIB’s independence which is protected by the Constitution. The Director of CPIB can go directly to the President should the Prime Minister stop him from investigating any individual under suspicion of corruption. This means that CPIB can investigate anyone, without political influence, favour, or fear of reprisals.
8. A clean and incorrupt system of governance has been an important factor in Singapore’s progress from third world to first. This is one of our biggest competitive advantages, and vital for a small island nation like Singapore, poor in natural resources.
9. Singapore would not have achieved our remarkable social and economic progress without strong trust in our Government and institutions. Over the years, we can see how public trust has helped us confront challenges and overcome adversities. The COVID-19 pandemic is a recent example. We were able to respond quickly and effectively because Singaporeans trusted the Government and rallied behind our pandemic response measures. Today, Singapore remains well positioned to be a COVID-19 resilient nation.
10. By placing integrity and competence at the heart of good governance, Mr Lee and our pioneer leaders have painstakingly built up the strong trust in our system and the way we work. With their conduct beyond reproach and devotion towards public duty, it is clear to Singaporeans that decisions are taken and policies developed for the public good rather than private or vested interests. This has underpinned the strong social compact between the Government and the people. It is incumbent on our leaders today, and indeed every Singaporean, that we protect and maintain what we have inherited. Integrity and Incorruptibility – these are absolute values that future generations of leaders and all Singaporeans must continue to treasure and uphold.
11. CPIB has been playing, and will continue to play, a key role in this shared responsibility. It must continue to carry out its duties efficiently, fiercely protecting the integrity of our public service and safeguarding Singapore’s clean reputation.
12. In the words of our founding Prime Minister, ensuring the effectiveness of our system to check and punish corruption rests on a CPIB which is scrupulous, thorough and fearless in its investigations. These three words provided the inspiration behind the title of the history book which we are launching today. The book documents Singapore’s anti-corruption journey and CPIB’s work. It will serve as the collective memory of everyone who has contributed to Singapore’s successful, but continuing battle against corruption. It is also a timely reminder that every Singaporean must continue to play their part to ensure that Singapore remains corruption-free.
13. We will also unveil an orchid to commemorate CPIB’s work over the past 70 years. It is named Papilionanda CPIB. Its lineage features our national flower, Vanda Miss Joaquim, and is closely intertwined with that of Aranda Lee Kuan Yew, an orchid unveiled in 2015 as a tribute to the late Mr Lee. This is very fitting, considering Mr Lee’s firm determination to weed out corruption from our way of life.
14. In his book ‘One Man’s View of The World’, Mr Lee observed that, and I quote: “In the end, my greatest satisfaction in life comes from the fact that I have spent years gathering support, mustering the will to make this place meritocratic, corruption-free and equal for all races – and that it will endure beyond me, as it has”. Singaporeans can be proud of what we have achieved, and the values we embrace as a people. But we must not let our guards down.
15. And CPIB is not resting on its laurels. I am heartened to learn that CPIB has embarked on a transformation journey to enhance its capabilities, through leveraging technologies and investing to strengthen the core competencies of its officers. It has also stepped up efforts to identify and collaborate with relevant partners in the public and private sectors to take the fight against corruption upstream beyond enforcement. Some of these are showcased at the exhibition which CPIB put together at the Reception Hall today. CPIB also placed emphasis in developing strong ties of friendship and collaboration with its foreign counterparts, some of whom we are pleased to have with us today. Such networks are important in advancing operational cooperation, and exchanging best practices and know-how.
16. It is important that CPIB continues to attract good officers to join its ranks. I understand that there is an ongoing review on the scheme of service for Corrupt Practices Investigation Officers. The objective is to allow CPIB to better recruit and retain officers with the requisite experience and knowledge through alignment of the retirement age with that of the Public Service, as well as strengthen the professional development of specialised expertise which CPIB investigators must possess.
17. CPIB has been and is a tenacious and effective instrument against corruption. To past CPIB directors and officers, I thank you for your devotion to duty and professionalism in fighting corruption. You have all made an indelible mark on CPIB’s history.
18. To the officers of CPIB today, I encourage you to keep up the good work and stay committed to the cause. With broader use of technology, increasing sophistication of business transactions, and the more transnational dimensions of corruption, you will face challenges unlike what your predecessors encountered. But I am confident that CPIB will always rise to the occasion in an evolving operating environment.
19. Incorruptibility is a key part of the Singaporean DNA. This did not happen by chance, but is hard-earned. CPIB must continue to play an important role in preserving our system of clean governance and the values we hold dear. However, CPIB is just one component in Singapore’s anti-corruption framework, alongside strong political will, tough laws against corruption, and a vigilant public ready to come forward with information on any suspected wrongdoing. CPIB needs the unwavering support and confidence of Singaporeans as it continues to forge ahead in the fight against corruption.
20. Well done, CPIB! I wish the Bureau and its officers a Happy 70th Anniversary. Thank you.