Trust and confidence in the Public Service
Oral Reply to Parliamentary Questions on trust and confidence in the Public Service
Parliamentary Sitting:12 August 2013
Mr Hri Kumar Nair: To ask the Prime Minister in light of the recent high profile prosecutions against senior civil servants, whether the Government is taking any steps to address the issue of confidence in our public institutions.
Mr Ang Wei Neng: To ask the Prime Minister whether the Government keeps track or has plans to keep track of the number of public servants who possess annual entry passes to the two integrated resorts.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad: To ask the Prime Minister how does the Government plan to address public concerns on the integrity and trust placed with our enforcement departments and what measures are taken to ensure adequate oversight over enforcement units.
Mr Yee Jenn Jong: To ask the Prime Minister (a) since the implementation of the internal disclosure policy in the Civil Service in February 2011, how many reports have been received including those from organs of state and statutory boards; and (b) what percentage of these reports are serious enough to warrant formal investigations.
Oral Reply by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security, Minister in charge of the Civil Service and Minister for Home Affairs:
1. Madam Speaker, may I have your permission to take the first four questions together?
2. The Government emphasises very strongly the integrity of the Public Service and the public’s trust in public officers. We expect public officers to uphold the highest standards of integrity and professionalism. The Government is thus concerned about the recent spate of cases involving public officers. Although the statistics do not show an uptrend, we are concerned that these cases should not undermine public confidence, or convey the impression that standards have slackened over time. This is why we are prosecuting the cases vigorously.
3. We have systems and processes to maintain the integrity of the Public Service. These include robust financial procedures, personnel-related measures, strong enforcement and inculcating sound values. These measures are regularly reviewed and strengthened where needed to address weaknesses or adapt to new circumstances. For example, we are reviewing our financial and audit processes, not just for the officers directly handling money and procurement, but also supervisors and managers who must give command emphasis to proper financial management in their units.
Financial procedures and audits
4. As I informed this House in February 2012, all government agencies are required to have in place sound accounting practices and internal controls to ensure the integrity of their financial systems. Members have filed a number of questions on audit which the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance will address later in this session.
5. We also have checks and safeguards on the suitability of officers. All public officers are required to declare their financial standing when they are first appointed to the Service, and every year thereafter. The purpose is for the Public Service to know whether an officer may become vulnerable due to financial embarrassment. The Service can then assist the officer to overcome his financial difficulties, and thereby protect both the Service and the officer.
6. Mr Zaqy Mohamad asked about oversight of enforcement officers and units. We have instituted additional measures for enforcement officers because they do have a special responsibility to uphold the integrity of the system. For example, the Singapore Police Force and the Central Narcotics Bureau conduct psychometric testing when they recruit officers. All potential SPF, CNB and CPIB officers also undergo security vetting before their appointments. As a further check, the Police conducts credit bureau screening on all Police officers, and CNB screens officers involved in enforcement and regulatory work. Arising from the recent CPIB case, CPIB has also recently implemented credit bureau screening for its uniformed officers, and for civilian officers who handle financial and procurement matters.
7. Mr Ang Wei Neng asked if the Government has plans to track the number of public officers who possess annual entry passes to the two casinos. The Government currently does not do so. While there is no blanket rule prohibiting public officers from visiting the casinos, agencies have imposed restrictions on officers where there is potential for conflict of interest. For instance, officers from the Casino Regulatory Authority are prohibited from visiting the two casinos here, or overseas casinos belonging to the parent companies of these two casinos, except for official duties. Police officers working on law enforcement matters involving the casinos are also prohibited from visiting the casinos, except for official reasons. In addition, Police, and CNB officers who are involved with general law enforcement work, as well as CPIB officers, are required to declare their casino visits within seven days of each such visit. Other agencies, such as the Ministry of Trade and Industry, also require officers working on casino-related issues to declare visits to the casinos.
8. The Public Service Division (PSD) is studying the application of similar safeguards for officers occupying positions that expose them either to the risk of being suborned and exploited, or to the temptation of misusing their positions to feed a gambling habit.
9. PSD has also been reviewing the rules and requirements relating to public officers in general visiting casinos, to tighten them. For public officers in general, PSD intends to require those who visit the casinos frequently, or who purchase the annual casino entry levy, to declare these actions. PSD is currently working out the implementation details for these new rules, to strike a balance between strengthening safeguards and imposing too many checks and rules on the system and public officers.
10. As I informed Members in February 2012, there are several different avenues for public officers to report suspected wrongdoing. An officer can report such cases to his supervisors, or directly to his Permanent Secretary. He may also file a report to the Head of the Civil Service or the Public Service Commission. Officers may also report to enforcement agencies such as the Police or the CPIB.
11. Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked about the number of reports made under the Internal Disclosure Framework. Since February 2011, 81 reports of suspected misconduct have been made by public officers. 86% (or 70 reports) led to further investigations. Of these, half (or 35 cases) resulted in some form of disciplinary action. The Government will do more to make all officers, especially new ones, aware of the reporting channels already available to them.
12. The Public Service does not tolerate wrongdoing and misconduct, and will take firm action in all cases, decisively and transparently. Every case is thoroughly investigated. If need be, a separate agency will conduct the investigations to ensure independence and impartiality. For example, in the recent CPIB case, the investigation was carried out by the Commercial Affairs Department of the SPF, which then submitted the investigation papers to the Attorney-General’s Chambers. In all cases, if investigations reveal wrong-doing, the officer will be charged, regardless of his rank or seniority.
13. Errant officers who have not broken the law but whose actions are serious enough to constitute misconduct are subject to disciplinary action, either by the Permanent Secretary or the Public Service Commission. They may be warned, reprimanded, fined or have their increment forfeited, reduced in rank, retired in the public interest or dismissed, depending on the severity of the case.
Building a values-driven Public Service
14. Strong processes and enforcement must be underpinned by sound values. We expect officers and leaders of the Public Service to uphold the core values of integrity, service and excellence, and to imbue these values in their officers. The core values are also embedded in many processes, such as hiring new officers, training and developing officers, and assessing their performance. For example, an officer’s performance and progression prospects are assessed not just based on his intellectual and inter-personal qualities, but also his motivation, commitment and integrity.
15. All public officers are governed by a Code of Conduct, which sets out key principles expected of public officers. PSD has recently updated the Code of Conduct with guidelines for situations that public officers are likely to encounter in their work. For example, how officers should behave when they deal with suppliers and vendors, and what to do when conflicts of interest could arise. The updated Code will be issued by PSD soon.
Independent oversight over key appointments
16. Even with the principles, policies and processes in place, we must appoint the right people as Public Service Leaders to ensure that the Public Service is well-led and maintains its integrity. The Public Service Commission interviews the candidates and exercises its independent judgement in assessing the character and values of these potential public sector leaders, before appointing them to key leadership positions.
17. The Chairman and members of the PSC are appointed by the President, acting in his discretion, if he concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister. The President also has veto power over the appointment of key officers in the ministries and organs of state who may be involved in investigations, prosecutions, and the administration of justice, such as the Attorney-General, Auditor-General, Chief Justice and Judges of the Supreme Court, Commissioner of Police and the Director of CPIB.
18. The Director of CPIB in particular, reports to the Prime Minister. However, if the PM refuses to give consent to the Director of CPIB to make any inquiries or to carry out investigations into allegations or complaints against any person, the CPIB can still proceed to carry out such inquiries or investigations if the President, acting in his discretion, concurs.
19. These powers of the President are enshrined in the Constitution. They are important safeguards that this Government, on its own volition, has put in place to maintain the integrity and incorruptibility of the Government and the Public Service.
20. Our Public Service is internationally recognised as effective and efficient, with zero tolerance for corruption and wrongdoing. This Government is committed to upholding high standards of integrity in our Public Service. This is an endless task that requires continuing effort and commitment of the leadership.
21. We may have tight processes and systems in place, but there will still be people who try to circumvent them. They may succeed for some time, but sooner or later they will be caught. This is because Singaporeans, including our own public officers, reject corruption. We have prevented corruption from becoming a way of life in Singapore, and succeeded in keeping Singapore clean. This differentiates us from many other countries and is a distinctive part of what makes us Singapore.
22. There are reporting channels for public officers as well as members of the public to report possible wrongdoing. Citizens and public officers will be outraged if they are asked for, or offered, a bribe. The recent court cases demonstrate that the Government will not hesitate to act against any officer who does wrong – no matter how senior he is or what position he holds – even if it causes embarrassment to the Government. We will also continually review our systems and processes, and improve them to plug loopholes, address weaknesses or manage new circumstances.
23. Public officers know that they are held to the highest standards of professionalism and integrity. The vast majority adhere strongly to the Public Service values of integrity, service and excellence as they carry out their duties to serve Singaporeans, every day. I am confident that they will continue to do their best, and in doing so, help to maintain public trust and confidence in the Public Service.