Integrity and whistle‑blowing in the Public Service
Oral Reply to Parliamentary Questions on integrity and whistle-blowing in the Public Service
Parliamentary Sitting: 14 February 2012
Ms Tin Pei Ling: To ask the Prime Minister what measures have the Government taken to maintain the integrity and incorruptibility of the Public Service.
Mr Pritam Singh: To ask the Prime Minister in light of investigations into senior SCDF and CNB officers (a) whether the Government will conduct a comprehensive review of the feedback mechanisms currently in place in the Civil Service; and (b) whether the Government will consider whistleblower/whistleblower protection legislation and the institution of a national ombudsman to act as layers of deterrence against wayward civil servants.
Oral Reply (for the Prime Minister) 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:
Maintaining High Standard of Conduct
The Civil Service is governed by a Code of Conduct based on the principles of integrity, incorruptibility and impartiality. The Code articulates key conduct principles and expected behaviour of our officers.
All officers are expected to maintain a high standard of conduct by upholding the integrity of the Public Service and public confidence in it. We do not tolerate corruption, which is an abuse of position and trust.
There are specific requirements set out in the Code. For example, where decisions are taken on issues which an officer is deemed to have personal interest in, he must declare his interest.
Officers should not accept gifts on account of their official position.
Where it is impractical or inappropriate to refuse, the gift must be declared.
The Ministry of Finance (MOF) sets the policies on Government financial procedures and procurement rules, and reviews these on a regular basis. Ministries are required to put in place sound accounting practices and internal controls to ensure integrity of their financial systems. These measures include the rotation of officers handling financial work and segregation of duties so that different officers are involved at different stages of a transaction and no single officer is allowed to handle all phases of a transaction. For instance, in procuring goods and services, the officer who approves awards of contracts or quotations is different from the officer who approves payments. For procurement tenders, the approving authority for award consists of a panel of three officers, minimally, rather than an individual.
Internal audits are also conducted on a regular basis to ensure processes are in order and prudence has been exercised in managing the resources. In addition, there is scrutiny by the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) which ensures proper accounting of public moneys and use of public resources; and the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee which examines various accounts of the Government.
While we have the principles, policies and processes in place, the leaders must set the tone for effective implementation. We expect Public Service Leaders to have the ability, commitment and integrity to act in the national interest. They are selected on that basis. Public Service Leaders are put through challenging assignments and their abilities and character are continually assessed. Regular job rotations also prevent officers from gaining excessive familiarity, power and control over the systems and departments they monitor or supervise. Where they fail to meet the high standards expected, appropriate corrective action will be taken.
To reinforce high standards of conduct and accountability, there is a reporting framework in place where officers can report wrongful practices or behaviour they have observed in the Service. Officers should be vigilant and make a report if they have sufficient grounds to believe a wrongdoing has been committed.
There are multiple avenues for officers to report wrongdoings and irregularities in procedures. Apart from making such reports internally within their own departments or agencies, officers can escalate cases of misconduct to their Permanent Secretary and the Head of Civil Service. In addition they can also report wrong doing to the Public Service Commission (PSC), which is an independent body, vested with the authority to dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over civil servants. Corruption cases may be raised with CPIB. Non-compliance with accounting procedures and accounting frauds may be raised with the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO). Where there is sufficient basis and information provided, the complaints will be looked into.
Enforcement and Discipline
CPIB plays a pivotal role in curbing corruption. CPIB acts swiftly against offenders who, if convicted of corruption offences, face severe penalties. As part of CPIB’s preventive programmes, it regularly reaches out to government agencies to remind officers of the importance of maintaining incorruptibility and the potential consequences of failure to do so. CPIB also reviews the work procedures of government departments to see whether there are systemic flaws which can be exploited.
In cases where corruption is not involved, but the law has been broken, for example where public funds or property have been stolen or misappropriated, the matter will be investigated by the Police. The officer can be charged under appropriate provisions in the law according to the facts of the case.
Even when there are insufficient grounds to proceed against an officer under the law, there may be sufficient grounds to proceed with civil service disciplinary proceedings against an officer for misconduct. In such cases, PSC will institute formal disciplinary proceedings against the officer. PSC ensures impartiality in the disciplinary proceedings. An officer who has been found to have misconducted himself could be reprimanded, fined or have his increment forfeited, reduced in rank, retired in the public interest or even dismissed depending on the severity of the issue. If investigations reveal that an officer is responsible for any loss of public money or Government property, the officer involved may also be required to make good the losses.
The powers of the Public Service Commission are also provided for in the Constitution, with other details of the civil service disciplinary procedures set out in regulations like The Public Service (Disciplinary Proceedings) Regulations. Under the policy, all reporting will be treated with utmost confidentiality and every effort will be made not to reveal the identity of the officer, to the extent feasible and permissible under law. If an officer has sufficient grounds to feel that he is being treated unfairly as a result of a report that he has made, he may submit a complaint to his Permanent Secretary. Therefore there are already provisions for the protection of officers who make such reports.
I should add that we must also be careful to encourage responsible reporting and discourage malicious or frivolous allegations. Those who make reports are expected to identify themselves. If a report is made in bad faith or for personal gain, disciplinary action may be taken against the officer making the false report.
The measures I have outlined deter officers from misconduct and reduce the opportunity for corruption. However, even in the best of systems, no one can guarantee that corruption can be entirely eradicated and that there will never be cases of misconduct, as there will always be human failing. To sum up, there are multiple channels for raising irregularities. Independent bodies like the Public Service Commission (PSC), Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) and CPIB are involved in the process.
The recent cases demonstrate that there are strict rules, reporting procedures, and legal and disciplinary processes in place to maintain the integrity of the Public Service and the proper conduct of public officers.
The strong will of this government, and the public service itself, to curb corruption and our commitment to take firm action against offenders, regardless of their seniority, have contributed to our good reputation as a government and nation, recognised for efficiency, rule of law and low corruption rates. We will continue to uphold the integrity of the Public Service and maintain the trust of our people.