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“Let me be quite clear – we will never tolerate corruption; we will not accept any slackening or lowering of standards,” he said in a speech at the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau’s (CPIB) 60th anniversary celebration. “Anyone who breaks the rules will be caught and punished….” [Emphasis added]

-TODAY, 19 Sep 2012, reporting on a speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 18 Sep 2012

“Q: Are both the giver and receiver of the bribe money guilty of corruption?

A: Yes, it is an offence to give or receive a bribe.”

-FAQ, CPIB Website http://app.cpib.gov.sg/cpib_new/user/default.aspx?pgID=26#13, accessed 28 Sep 2012.

Unless you have spent the last 3 months living in a hole, you will know by now that there have been a series of corruption probes and prosecutions involving the supposed giving of sexual favours in exchange for certain benefits. In the case of former CNB head-honcho Ng Boon Gay, Ng currently stands trial for corruptly receiving sexual favours from Cecelia Sue in exchange for advancing the interests of Ms Sue’s then- employer. Associate Professor Tey Tsun Hung was charged in July for receiving, among other things, sexual favours from one Ms Darinne Ko in exchange for better grades.

At the root of these prosecutions is the nebulous notion of corruption, or, in layspeak, bribery. The official definition, according to the CPIB, is this:

“Corruption is the asking, receiving or agreeing to receive, giving, promising or offering of any gratification as an inducement or reward to a person to do or not to do any act, with corrupt intent.”

Yes, everything you have been taught in school about not using a word to explain the same word is wrong. Corruption includes the giving or receiving of gratification with corrupt intent.

Leaving aside cases in which gratification is offered but not accepted, the inviolable rule of corruption is this- there cannot be a receiver without a giver. The government recognises this and has made it very clear that givers can expect to be prosecuted as harshly as receivers of corrupt gratification.

Yet, the fact remains that in both the above cases, the givers, both female, have not been charged. Instead, in the case of Ms Sue, the prosecution has sought to portray her as a “victim”, even applying belatedly for a gag order because of the supposed mental and emotional anguish inflicted by the continuing media scrutiny. I suppose Ng Boon Gay and his wife are simply enjoying all the publicity to date. In Ms Ko’s case, the details of Tey’s investigation were widely available, yet Ms Ko’s name was withheld from the public, at least in the initial stages.

The differing treatment of the giver and receiver in Ng’s case is as stark as it is inexplicable. Ms Sue either gave the sexual favours willingly or she did not. It follows that she is either a giver of corrupt gratification or a rape victim. The fact that she may have felt some compulsion to give the gratification means exactly nothing in respect of her culpability. To the best of my knowledge, no one gives a bribe unless he or she feels like there is no practical alternative.

Why then, has Ms Sue not been charged? The cynic would suggest that there has been some deal brokered in which Ms Sue had agreed to cooperate in exchange for immunity from prosecution. There is no indication that that has happened. Instead, Ms Sue has been offered up as a helpless woman who was powerless to resist the advances of a man who had friends in high places. For that reason, and in the name of the unassailable exercise of prosecutorial discretion, Ms Sue has not been prosecuted.

Likewise, while no evidence has been tendered in respect of Tey’s case, there is no indication that Ms Ko has been charged. It is then pertinent to ask: When is it acceptable to charge the receiver without also charging the giver?

Does there have to be some vast disparity in power or standing between the giver and receiver? Last time I heard, givers of bribes to police officers and ministers were charged all the same.

Does the giver have to be suffering greatly from the media coverage and stigma that stems from prosecution? I doubt very much that Tey is enjoying the proceedings any more than Ms Ko is. In any event, the decision as to whether to charge was taken long before the media scrutiny began.

The obvious cannot be ignored.

It bears pointing out that the persons who have actually done the most damage to the dystopian, corruption-free society that is Singapore are the 2 ladies themselves. Ms Sue was allegedly instrumental in securing business transactions between her employer and the Singapore Government. Ms Ko allegedly successfully undermined the grading system at Singapore’s highest-ranked state university, scoring better grades in the process.. What did the men involved do? Well, Ms Sue and Ms Ko, apparently.

It is vitally important, even as we strive to eradicate even the slightest hint of impropriety in our state systems, that prosecutorial action be firm and fair. It is even more important that such action, which is a highly-visible manifestation of the government’s attitude and conduct, be SEEN to be firm and fair. In the circumstances, I cannot understand the decision to prosecute only the receivers while, at least in the above 2 cases, actively protecting those, who appear to me at least, to be equally complicit.

I express no view on the guilt or innocence of the parties involved or on the conduct of the ongoing trial. It does, however, seem to me that, in respect of the relative  treatment of the givers and receivers in the above cases, it would appear that while all animals are equal, some animals are more equal than others.

Corruption has, and will always be, difficult to tackle and the authorities have a difficult task. All we ask, with due respect to Ms Sue, is that they do a good job.