SWIFT AND SURE

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It’s an ironclad rule, one known to all Singaporeans – corruption is not to be tolerated. But establishing this standard of integrity took determination on the part of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB)

Based on passages from The Journey: 60 Years of Fighting Corruption in Singapore (Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, 2012)

CPIB’s roots can be traced to 1952 when a Special Investigations Team was set up to look into systemic failures to prosecute officers involved in an opium heist the year before. Following this crackdown, the team was renamed CPIB.

In battling corruption, CPIB officers were aided by the Government’s commitment to the rule of law. In 1960, the Prevention of Corruption Act was enacted to replace the Prevention of Corruption Ordinance that had been introduced by the colonial administration in 1937. The Act strengthened CPIB’s authority in enforcing the law.

Over the decades, no allegation has been considered too minor to be investigated. And no citizen or public officer, regardless of his or her rank or position, has been spared when found to be corrupt. In other words, the public trust in Singapore’s standards of integrity, fairness, and impartiality, so vital to the country’s success, remains steadfast.

In March 2010, CPIB launched Case Mods, an operation to probe the bribery of vehicle inspectors. It was the bureau’s first-ever case involving the vehicle inspection sector. Cars in Singapore are regularly checked for road worthiness; this helps to minimize accidents and ensures public safety. Often, cars are sent to inspection companies by workshops on behalf of car owners.

Investigations found that car owners would pay the workshops to remove illegal vehicle modifications (to engines, exhaust systems, and windscreens, for example) before inspections. But often the workshops simply used this money to buy off vehicle inspectors.

“Not only had they taken bribes, the vehicle inspectors had also compromised road safety by issuing certificates without conducting proper inspections,” explains Assistant Director Bay Chun How, 39, the lead investigator of the case.

CPIB officers worked swiftly to tear down the web of corruption within the sector. “Due to the number of car owners involved, CPIB had to enlist the help of the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to arrest drivers for immediate inspection of their vehicles at CPIB’s very own car park,” Mr Bay recalls.

CPIB officers and LTA mobile teams staked out multiple locations islandwide in the wee hours of the morning to wait for car owners to approach cars that had been targeted. The car owners were then escorted to CPIB so that their vehicles could be inspected.

CPIB officers worked round the clock over two days to interview and record statements from vehicle inspectors, car owners, and workshop representatives. In the end, six vehicle inspectors and others were charged and sentenced for taking bribes.

The Case Mods operation demonstrated once again CPIB’s single-minded commitment to ending corruption in all its forms. The crackdown also deterred criminal activity within the sector; following CPIB’s investigations, a stricter inspection process was put in place.

“Keeping Singapore corruption-free is directly related to safeguarding public safety, public health and our economic competitiveness,” explains Mr Bay, a 15-year veteran of the bureau. “There’s great meaning in our work, and it’s our sense of duty that keeps us going.”