In 2005, at the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute’s World Ethics and Integrity Forum, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said that corruption is incipient in every society. It eats into any system, regardless of the philosophy or ideology.
Corruption must be continuously purged so that it will not set in. It must be eradicated at all levels of government.
“When the core leadership is clean, corruption can be gradually diminished. Both must be prepared to take on the big ones in the highest echelons of the government. This is most painful to do as I know from experience,” Mr Lee said.
He recounted his painful experiences with corrupt ministers.
One of them was Wee Toon Boon.
Mr Lee said:
Wee Toon Boon was minister of state in the Singapore ministry of the environment in 1975 when he took a free trip to Indonesia for himself and his family members, paid for by a housing developer. He also accepted a bungalow worth S$500,000 from this developer. He had been a loyal non-communist trade union leader and my staunch supporter from the 1950s. It was painful to have him charged, convicted and sentenced to four years and six months in jail.
Of Mr Teh, Mr Lee said:
In November 1985 one of Teh Cheang Wan’s (Minister for National Development) old associates told the CPIB that he had give Teh two cash payments of S$400,000 each in 1981 and 1982, to allow a development company to retain part of its land which had been earmarked for compulsory government acquisition, and to assist the developer in the purchase of state land. Teh denied receiving the money. He tried to bargain with the senior assistant director of the CPIB for the case not to be pursued. The cabinet secretary reported this and said Teh had asked to see me. I told the Cabinet Secretary that I could not see him until the investigations were over. A week later, on the morning of 15 December 1986, my security officer reported that Teh had died and left me a letter:
I have been feeling very sad and depressed for the last two weeks. I feel responsible for the occurrence of this unfortunate incident and I feel I should accept full responsibility. As an honourable oriental gentleman I feel it is only right that I should pay the highest penalty for my mistake.
Yours faithfully, Teh Cheang Wan
Teh preferred to take his life rather than face disgrace and ostracism. I never understood why he took this S$800,000. He was an able and resourceful architect and could have made many millions honestly in private practice.
Mr Lee said, “Singapore has to keep fighting corruption wherever it exists and however difficult it may be politically. The system works because everyone knows the Singapore government is prepared to act against the most powerful in the land.
“We have to keep our own house clean. No one else can do it for us.”