Civil servants who frequent casinos must declare visits

SINGAPORE - All public officers who visit casinos regularly must identify themselves to their superiors from today, as the Government moves to strengthen integrity in the public service.

Those who go to local casinos more than four times a month, or buy an annual pass which allows unlimited visits over a year, must declare this within seven days.

For a smaller group of officers who are in positions vulnerable to bribery, or those whose misconduct "will have significant reputational risk to the Public Service", every visit to a local casino must be declared, the Public Service Division (PSD) said yesterday.

The new rules come after a string of high-profile malfeasance cases involving public servants. The latest, in July, involved an assistant director with the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) being charged with misappropriating $1.7 million over five years - apparently to fund his gambling habit at the Marina Bay Sands casino.

In a statement, the PSD said that the new rules stem from a review it conducted after the case, during which it also looked into strengthening measures to reduce the risk of fraud and corruption.

So, from January, officers in positions vulnerable to bribery and exploitation will be rotated every five years, while those in "transactional work" must take at least five consecutive days of leave per calendar year. The change will affect those whose core responsibilities relate to finance or procurement, or are in regulatory roles where the risk of bribery is high.

Some front-line enforcement agencies, like the Land Transport Authority, already have these safeguards in place. The "block leave" measure, also practised in the private sector, would mean that others look over their work processes when covering for them.

In the past year, former civil defence force chief Peter Lim and former Central Narcotics Bureau head Ng Boon Gay have stood trial for graft. Lim was found guilty and sentenced to six months in jail while Mr Ng was acquitted.

The PSD said that it has reminded agencies to help officers who may be in financial distress, as indebtedness can put them at higher risk of being exploited.

Superiors have a list of community groups to refer those in trouble to, but PSD stressed it would not hesitate to carry out disciplinary actions against an officer once a case is made against him.

It has also refreshed its internal code of conduct after townhall sessions with staff. The code's key principles include upholding the integrity and reputation of the civil service, and ensuring there is no conflict of interest between official duties and personal interests.

Civil servants had mixed reactions to the new rules, with some wondering how they would be enforced given that local casinos do not give out the information of patrons freely. Some worried that the declarations may become common knowledge among colleagues, causing unfair stigma.

One public servant who declined to be named said that forcing those who gamble regularly to come clean to their bosses would help those "on the brink" as they would be forced to get help early.

But another said he was "surprised that they would do such a thing and subject personal preferences and interests to scrutiny".

"But I guess it's to protect the image of the civil service." >

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