A resounding “Yes!” if you read the eulogies released through the government-controlled media properties. Yet words, no matter how well articulated, never speak louder than action. The following article is an excerpt from Economic Crisis and the Prospects for Democratisation in Southeast Asia. It paints a different picture, especially if you receive your regular diet of information from the “proper channels”.
Even the supposedly corruption free island republic of Singapore has not escaped the taint of corruption. In 1996, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and son Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong admitted to receiving discounts on purchases of luxury apartments from a publicly listed company Hotel Property Ltd (HPL) where Lee Kuan Yew’s younger brother is one of the Directors. Lee and son, with the support of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, were not reprimanded for the 12% discounts when purchasing the HPL properties. The government had apparently accepted their argument that as they did not solicit the discounts and were somehow unaware that they did received the discounts, even though it collectively amounted to more than S$1,000,000, they had therefore not wilfully acted improperly. Suffice it to say, in more transparent, accountable and vigorous democracies, public officials have been known to resign for less serious corruption allegations.
As the assets of public officials do not have to be made public in Singapore, speculation and rumour-mongering remains rife about the previous discounts attained by PAP politicians and the extent of assets accumulated by them while in public office. To placate the strong undercurrent of public disquiet with PAP politicians acquiring property at discounted prices, Prime Minister Goh has required Ministers to provide detailed information on their ties with the developer and whether any discounts, special terms or treatment` was received before they and immediate family members purchase properties.
Long before the HPL affair, public disquiet with the financial remuneration of PAP politicians were fuelled by their generous salaries which easily surpass their counterparts in industrialised countries like Japan and the United States. Lee Kuan Yew justified their generous salaries as a means of minimising the otherwise strong temptation to engage in corrupt activities. Argued Lee, “Pay political leaders the top salaries that they deserve and get honest, clear government or underpay them and risk the Third World disease of corruption.”
In an attempt to squash public criticism of Ministerial salaries, the government released a 1994 White Paper entitled “Competitive Salaries for Competent and Honest Government” which recommended that the salary of ministers be pegged at two-thirds the average mean income of the highest paid professions.70 The logic behind the pegging of ministerial salaries to corporate high-flyers was that this was the most effective way of attracting the talented to public office. Instructively, arguments pertaining to the importance of politicians possessing a strong commitment and duty to public service, ironically a Confucian junzi trait the PAP leadership have in the past attributed to themselves,” was not highlighted in the White Paper. That PAP politicians have to be paid salaries that supersede their political counterparts in Japan or the United States in order to entice them into public office and prevent them from succumbing to the “disease of corruption” is in itself an indictment of the calibre and commitment of PAP politicians.