More public officers “breaking bad”

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Another week, another public officer getting into trouble with the law. As Jesse Pinkman would ask: What’s the matter with you people, yo?

What is disturbing in this CPIB case is that this happened right in the heart of the anti-corruption bureau itself. It’s not just about a staff getting caught for an offence; here the criminal activities were repeated and undetected for four long years, totalling eight separate acts of misappropriation and one of forgery. Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me over and over and over again?

CPIB head Eric Tan must be feeling pretty daff then. It’s a good thing that he accepts “responsibility for any lapses and deficiencies which allowed a senior staff’s actions to go undetected for four years”. But short of resigning, which would be harsh for at this stage, what does it mean exactly when the chief accepts responsibility? Two weeks ago, Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee made no mention of responsibility and hardly anyone raised a ruckus. Responsible or not, the outcome on both cases will be similar: internal investigations, more checks in place, throw in a few government statements on the importance of integrity, the chief’s job stays safe for now, and let’s quickly move on and hope it doesn’t happen again. Fingers crossed, yo.

The Straits Times reported that perpetrator Edwin Yeo was overheard saying “game over, game over” as he left the Subordinate Courts yesterday. An apparent admission of guilt aside, we don’t know if he was referring to his career, his gaming of CPIB’s checks and balances, or the end of his unprofitable gaming activities at Marina Bay Sands. Unlike Iskandar Rahmat, who reportedly got into financial troubles not due to gambling but unknown family reasons, Yeo’s case is a straightforward gambling losses getting too hot to handle. He should have told himself “game over” when the losses started piling up, and found himself a less expensive hobby earlier. It seems money is the root of most crimes committed by our civil servants (sex covers the rest).

Just as with Iskandar, we should be asking why are our civil servants with stable, well-paying careers landing in deep financial problems. This even before the impending doom Moody’s and MAS are warning us about! Save your financial troubles for a rainy day, yeah — why the rush? Easy access to vice from the casinos? High costs of living? Critics of the government will have a field day.

The police likes to remind us that low crime doesn’t mean no crime. Similarly, low corruption doesn’t mean no corruption. In fact, low corruption as they tell us doesn’t even mean low corruption per se — it simply means a low number of reported cases. Is 20% of all investigations by CPIB high or low for public sector fraud? Is the number of offenders going up, or have we simply become better at uncovering these crimes? How many other cases go undetected? Your guess is as good as mine, yo.

In the acclaimed TV series “Breaking Bad”, a  docile chemistry teacher turns to crime after getting cancer, so as to amass enough money to pass on to his family. With Jesse Pinkman as partner in crime, he uses his chemistry expertise to manufacture crystal meth and eventually transforms into a ruthless drug lord over the course of five seasons. Compelling viewing indeed. But at this rate of our public officers “breaking bad” in a similar fashion, I reckon I can soon ditch those DVDs and head straight for the local Singapore news to get my crime drama fix, with a “reality TV” element to boot.