Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong recently emphasized the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) steadfast commitment to combating corruption, stating that it is an integral part of the party’s DNA. In the wake of former transport minister S. Iswaran facing 27 charges, including corruption, Wong addressed journalists on Jan 18, highlighting the non-negotiable nature of the PAP’s stance on corruption, according to The Straits Times.
Maintaining Integrity Amidst Challenges
Deputy Prime Minister Wong asserted that the PAP Government would continue doing everything in its power to uphold the highest standards of integrity, incorruptibility, and propriety. This commitment, he emphasized, is vital for maintaining the trust that Singaporeans have placed in the government.
The remarks came following the legal developments involving former minister Iswaran, who faced charges of corruption, obtaining items through business dealings, and obstructing justice. Wong expressed sadness and disappointment at Iswaran’s departure from politics under these circumstances, acknowledging the potential impact on party morale.
Despite the challenges posed by the situation, Wong reiterated that the PAP would not allow the incident to compromise its zero-tolerance stance against corruption. This commitment, he emphasized, remains a top priority for both the party and the government.
Proactive Pursuit of Justice
Wong highlighted that the investigations into Iswaran were initiated by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). The government, he said, pursued the matter decisively and proactively after CPIB completed its investigations. The subsequent decision to proceed with charges, independently assessed by the public prosecutor, showcased the commitment to justice.
In court, Iswaran pleaded not guilty and is currently out on bail amounting to $800,000. DPM Wong clarified that the case would have no impact on succession and the planned leadership transition within the PAP.
Moving Forward: Leadership Transition and General Election Plans
Wong affirmed that the PAP’s leadership transition, scheduled before the next general election and the party conference in November, remains on track. He assured that the recent case would not derail the party’s succession plans.
Regarding the timing of the general election, Wong emphasized that the government’s focus is to continue its work, redoubling efforts to improve the lives of Singaporeans. When the general election comes, the PAP intends to present its report card to Singaporeans, seeking to earn their confidence and trust.
Code of Conduct for Ministers: An Evolving Framework
DPM Wong addressed the Code of Conduct for Ministers, emphasizing that it is not a static document. The Code, in place since 1954, continues to be updated. Wong pledged a review and update, considering the experiences and learnings from the recent incident.
Acknowledging the disappointment, shock, and sadness among civil servants, especially those who worked closely with Iswaran, Wong highlighted that there was no whistle-blower or tip-off. CPIB pursued the matter independently, conducting a thorough investigation that left no stone unturned.
DPM Wong stressed the determination of the PAP Government to keep the system free from corruption. He expressed hope that civil servants would recognize this determination, ensuring that Singapore remains special and can move forward with confidence in the future.
Transcript of DPM Wong’s Interview
Transcript of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong’s Doorstop Interview on the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) Investigation on 18 January 2024.
DPM Lawrence Wong: As all of you are aware, the investigations on Mr Iswaran were initiated by the CPIB (Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau). And since then, the Government has been pursuing the matter decisively and proactively.
The CPIB has completed its investigations. The Public Prosecutor assessed the findings independently and this morning they decided to proceed with charges against Mr Iswaran. There are 27 charges in total – two charges of corruption, 24 charges of receiving gifts as a public servant, and one charge of obstruction of the course of justice.
Mr Iswaran has resigned as a Minister and MP and a member of the PAP, and the Prime Minister has accepted his resignation. Chee Hong Tat will be appointed Transport Minister. Grace Fu will be appointed Minister-in-Charge of Trade Relations.
We are disappointed by what has happened. We are saddened and disappointed that Iswaran has to leave politics under these circumstances. But the PAP’s stance on corruption is non-negotiable. This is part of our DNA. There can be no compromise, no relaxation, no fudging of this, no matter the political price.
The PAP government will continue to do everything we can to uphold the highest standards of integrity, incorruptibility, and propriety. That is how we maintain the trust that Singaporeans have placed in us.
The Straits Times: Given that Mr Iswaran has indicated that he will claim trial, are you concerned about how this will affect your leadership transition, as well as the timeline for the GE (General Election). As well as the level of trust amongst Singaporeans in the 4G leadership, and within the party of course.
DPM Wong: Mr Iswaran has claimed trial, so the courts will make the decision and justice will prevail, I am sure, through the process. This is how our system works. As far as (leadership) succession is concerned, there will be no impact. We have announced that the leadership transition will take place before the next General Election and before the party conference this year. This plan remains on track.
Will this incident have an impact on the party and party morale? I have no doubt that it will, but we cannot allow this political hit to compromise our zero-tolerance stance against corruption. And that is why the party, the government, will continue to do the right thing and do everything we can to keep our system corruption-free. I believe Singaporeans expect no less from us.
Channel NewsAsia: How will the Government be looking to tighten the process through which the Ministers might receive or reject certain gifts that they might be offered?
DPM Wong: There is a Code of Conduct which sets out the principles and rules in which Ministers should act, and their personal affairs. The key principles underpinning the Code are clear; they are sound; they are valid. For example, on gifts, Ministers should not receive gifts that place them under obligation in a conflict-of-interest position.
That is stated in the Code of Conduct. Of course, the Code of Conduct is not static. It has been in place since 1954 and it continues to be updated. And we will continue to review and update the Code, taking into account the experiences and learnings from this incident.
But I should also say when we look at our system in Singapore, it is a system where we do our best to try and prevent and deter corruption. It does not mean that there will be no corruption; it does not mean that there will be no incidents; from time to time cases do emerge, as we have seen in past years.
But that is why CPIB is also a key part of the system. And they will investigate any incident thoroughly and when necessary, take action as they have done in this case.
CNA: Mr Iswaran was anchor Minister for West Coast GRC in the previous election. With his departure from the PAP, will this affect the party stance on when to call for the next General Election?
DPM Wong: He was anchor Minister for the West Coast GRC. Minister Desmond and the elected MPs in West Coast GRC are now taking care of residents in West Coast Division, as they have been doing since Mr Iswaran’s leave of absence.
As for the timing of elections, I have already said, leadership transition happens before the General Election. So as and when that happens, we will think about when the elections have to take place thereafter. Meanwhile, the focus for us is to continue and press on with the work of government – because the work of government must continue. And we will continue to redouble our efforts to improve the lives of Singaporeans.
When the GE comes, the PAP will present our report card to Singaporeans, and we will do our best to earn the confidence and trust of Singaporeans.
Lianhe Zaobao: We understand that some civil servants are a little bit unhappy or maybe sad that the incident has cast doubt on the Civil Service; on their good work. How has the incident actually impacted the Civil Service’s morale?
Also, we separately heard that when the incident first saw light, there were some saying that some civil servants were aware of Mr Iswaran’s behaviour. If there indeed is such a case of someone knowing the incident but not reporting, would there be a follow-up on this?
DPM Wong: CPIB pursued this matter on its own accord. This was what the Prime Minister had explained earlier in Parliament. There was no tip-off; there was no whistleblower. It was CPIB that uncovered the matter, reported it up; the Prime Minister agreed for the investigation to proceed. And CPIB has done a thorough investigation – they have left no stone unturned, they have dug deep and wide, and they have presented their full investigations to the AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers).
The AGC has decided to press charges against Mr Iswaran. But the AGC has also explained that it will look at the investigations against Mr Iswaran first before deciding whether or not there will be other decisions to be taken against others who are involved in this matter. So, the matter is still not closed. It is still in progress.
As for the impact on the Civil Service, I am sure there will be many civil servants who are disappointed, shocked, saddened by what has happened, including those who have worked closely with Mr Iswaran all these years.
But I hope the civil servants will also see that what has transpired is the determination of the PAP government to keep our system free from corruption. That determination is clear, and we will not compromise on our zero-tolerance stance against corruption.
That (i.e. our zero-tolerance stance against corruption) will ensure that Singapore remains special; that will ensure that Singapore can continue to move forward with confidence in the future.