The front page of local newspapers have been splashed intermittently with headlines about crimes committed by civil servants and public servants. Two main issues can be seen: corruption and immoral behaviour.

Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, and these could include the bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, and embezzlement of public funds (Source: Transparency International). With a Corruption Perceptions Index of 9.2, Singapore ranks 5 among 182 countries as one of the 'cleanest' countries in the world in terms of low corruption levels. However, corruption still persists in the system, as can be seen by cases of reported corruption (Some examples are listed below).

Immorality which the public scorn upon refers to objectionable behaviour which are not in accord with standards of right or good conduct. (Source: Princeton University Wordnet) These could refer to sexual misconduct, as well as corruption for selfish gain. Recent charges against the chiefs of the Singapore Civil Defense Force (SCDF) and Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), involving sexual gratification in exchange for company contracts, are examples of immoral behaviour. For one, it involved obtaining sexual favours from female managers as an "inducement to help further [their] firm's business interest". (Source: Yahoo! Finance)On the other hand, those involved in this case are married, and their infidelity committed without knowledge by their spouses conveys a lack of regard for faithfulness and family values.

Below lists a few headlines related to corruption charges on top public servants or civil servants:

Civil servant jailed for $617,000 voucher scam

A CIVIL servant pocketed $617,000 of public money – splashing out on luxury goods such as bags and jewellery. Liew Chee Meng's job involved helping to buy gift vouchers to use as prizes in competitions run by the Home Affairs Ministry. But the 35-year-old also used them to fund his own four-year shopping spree, snapping up high-end accessories including two $15,900 Hermes bags. Yesterday, Liew was jailed for eight years and eight months, a sentence that reflected his position of trust and the time he spent carrying out the scam....
- The Straits Times 06/01/2012

44 men charged with having paid sex with underage girl

FORTY-FOUR men, including nine public servants, were yesterday charged with having paid sex with an underage girl. Bar one, they all claimed trial, and are expected to say they did not know she was a minor when they did the deed. A gasp went round a packed Subordinate Court 26 as former Pei Chun Public School principal Lee Lip Hong, 39, emerged as the only one to plead guilty.... The accused, aged 21 to 48, include a former police superintendent, military officers, a lawyer, businessmen and people in finance and other professions.
- The Straits Times 17/04/2012
*Note: as of June 2012, 48 men will be charged.

Former SCDF chief faces 10 charges

FORMER Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) chief Peter Lim Sin Pang was yesterday charged with 10 counts of corruption involving sex with women IT executives seeking government contracts for their companies... Lim, 52, married, and a former government scholarship recipient, was charged in the Subordinate Courts in what is the biggest graft case involving a public servant in two decades.
- The Straits Times 07/06/2012

Former CNB chief faces graft charges

FORMER Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) chiefNg Boon Gay yesterday became the second senior public servant in a week to be charged with using his position to obtain sexual favours. ...
His court appearance came days after former Singapore Civil Defence Force commissioner Peter Lim Sin Pang, 52, was charged with similar offences involving different women in a separate sex-for-contracts case.
- The StraitsTimes 13/06/2012


THE series of cases involving civil servants come amid increasingly closer scrutiny of the Government by the citizenry. No less than Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean has acknowledged rising expectations among Singaporeans of the civil service and the closer attention being paid to public officials' actions. "Public spotlight has been cast on service lapses, and on public officers who were convicted or are being investigated for alleged misconduct," he said in a message to Singapore's 130,000 public officers at the start of Public Service Week in May.

Some critics have also questioned the Government's policy of paying competitive public sector salaries, which it says is a key pillar in its zero-tolerance approach to corruption.

Singapore's leaders, however, have made clear that they will not hesitate to act against any wrong-doer – "even if he is in a senior position, and even if it may embarrass the Government", as DPM Teo told Parliament. In January, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also noted that the probe into the allegations involving Lim and Ng had demonstrated the strength of the country's system, saying, "Whoever he is, whichever position he occupies, we will pursue the matter and settle it one way or another."

(Source: The Straits Times, 09/06/2012)


No doubt, these cases of public servants and civil servants engaging in professional misconduct (like corruption) and other illegal practices (in the case of the trysts with an underage prostitute) have led the public to question the moral integrity of those in these occupations. Public servants and civil servants are expected by the public to uphold a strong moral compass, and know when to steer themselves away from temptations.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines Public Service as "a service rendered in the public interest; the business of supplying a commodity (as electricity or gas) or service (as transportation) to any or all members of a community; or governmental employment, especially civil service". In Singapore's context,

The same dictionary defines Civil Service as "the administrative service of a government or international agency exclusive of the armed forces; especially one in which appointments are determined by competitive examination".

Both Public servants and Civil servants (such as teachers and government officials), as the 'stewards' to the public. Their salaries are drawn from taxpayers' money, and their duties are meant to be in the public's interest. Hence there is an expectation from the public that in conducting daily activities, the officials will practice fairness and equality. They are also expected to maintain openness in their workings to ensure that they are operating within the public's perception of what is "right."

Why are public service ethics important?
  1. The costs of misconduct: Corruption, especially the embezzlement of funds result in losses in precious resources which were meant to support the economic and social development of a nation or an organisation. Even more damaging and unrepairable are the losses in trust and confidence of the public in these institutions. (This applies to all organisations, not just in public sectors)
  2. The integrity of public servants has a direct bearing, not only on their performance but also on public perception of government credibility. An organisation with a history of having its funds mismanaged or embezzled will not have the reputation of efficiency, transparency and accountability.
  3. Being a role model: While we should all try to maintain good personal conduct and have a strong moral compass, there is added pressure on public servants to do so. Public figures and civil servants, especially those in the education sector, are required to show exemplary behaviour as they are more often than not seen as a role model by many. Their duty to inspire the next generation gives them even less leeway for personal misconduct. When an underage prostitution scandal involving 48 men was made known to the public, a primary school headmaster and an ex-secondary school teacher involved in the case received much more limelight than the rest of the men.

Some Thinking Questions

Why did these officials still commit the crimes even when they know of the implications involved?
  1. Traits such as greed and dishonesty?
  2. Lapses in moral judgement, causing wrong decisions to be made?

How should ethics be upheld or promoted, in schools and in work places?

Is it too much to ask for public servants to be complete role models and maintain a completely clean criminal record?