Optics matter even if no conflict of interest

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing's explanation of how there is generally no conflict of interest between the Auditor-General's Office and the ministries that it audits is difficult to accept without further explanation (No conflict of interest between AGO and ministries in audits: Chan, March 1).

I believe in the integrity of our leaders and government officers, and that they will discharge their duties to the best of their abilities.

But optics plays a part in politics too. By giving the spouse of a political office-holder an audit appointment, it gives the public the impression of a looming conflict of interest.

An actual case of conflict of interest does not need to happen before public confidence in the Government gets affected. The wrong impression may also lead to the same outcome.

There is an understanding in schools that prevents teachers from teaching school classes containing their own children, to avoid a potential conflict of interest.

Given that, according to Mr Chan, "values of integrity and excellence apply equally to the appointment process" in the public service, and surely teachers cannot be faulted in this regard, this restriction should be removed if the Government does not want to be seen as having double standards in different sectors.

Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui said that recent incidents have shaken Singaporeans' confidence in the Government (When River Hongbao fireworks got tangled up in red tape, Feb 28). It is therefore even more compelling now for the Government to manage optics effectively and restore institutional trust.

Mr Chan spoke of "specific processes to manage" a potential conflict of interest. If the Government is to stand by its position on this issue, it should explain these processes to Singaporeans, for the sake of transparency and the public interest.

Sean Lim Wei Xin