No room for complacency: Civil service chief

Civil service head Peter Ong. -- PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Civil service head Peter Ong. -- PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
In an e-mail to the service, Mr Ong stressed the importance of trust and also spoke about a review of rules on public officers visiting casinos. -- ST FILE PHOTO
In an e-mail to the service, Mr Ong stressed the importance of trust and also spoke about a review of rules on public officers visiting casinos. -- ST FILE PHOTO

Although a study of investigations against public officers for corruption and other financial crimes has found that such cases remained low, the Public Service has said it cannot be complacent.

This is because public officers are in a position of trust and authority, said civil service head Peter Ong in an e-mail sent to the entire service yesterday.

"We owe it to our fellow Singaporeans to carefully guard their trust in us and the Public Service," he wrote. "Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and a long time to repair."

Mr Ong's comments come after a spate of high-profile cases involving errant public officers, which he said raised questions over the integrity of the Public Service. This includes the latest one involving Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) officer Edwin Yeo, who was charged in court on Wednesday for allegedly siphoning funds from the agency and other related offences.

The study Mr Ong referred to was commissioned by the Prime Minister's Office to examine cases involving public officers opened by the CPIB and the police Commercial Affairs Department.

It found that the number of cases against errant officers has remained low and fairly stable over a five-year period.

The CPIB, for instance, conducts an average of 39 investigations involving public officers each year. These make up about one in five of all graft cases.

Said Mr Ong: "I am reassured by these findings as they show that our system as a whole remains sound. But we cannot be complacent. Every case is one too many."

He added that the Public Service has "zero tolerance for corruption" and said its leaders must lead by example and ensure that their actions are beyond reproach.

"The fact that senior officers have been charged in the courts for corruption and other financial crimes is a matter of concern, but it also underscores our deep resolve and commitment to bring all wrongdoers to justice and uphold integrity in the Public Service at all levels," he said. "We will not hesitate to take action against a corrupt officer, no matter how senior he or she might be."

MP Hri Kumar Nair, the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, agreed.

"People don't expect perfection from public officers, but when they fall, then firm and decisive action needs to be taken," he said. "The Public Service needs to uphold its integrity, and public officers are expected to conduct themselves at a higher standard than most others."

BRYNA SINGH