SINGAPORE: Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam said that Singapore cannot completely eradicate fraud and bad conduct, even though it has created a system that is very clean and efficient by international standards.
Mr Shanmugam made these points in his speech at a National Day celebration dinner in Chong Pang on Saturday.
Mr Shanmugam highlighted meritocracy as a bedrock of Singapore’s system.
Noting that some people have questioned it due to the recent spate of corruption cases, the minister said that corruption and falling to temptation are basic vices that have existed since time immemorial.
"Like in all societies, and in Singapore as well, there have always been people who have been corrupt. There will always be people who will be corrupt," Mr Shanmugam said.
"There will be people who, whatever rules you put in, they will look to find a way around the rules and they will fall for temptation. There is no society in the world, in the past or the present, where every person is totally clean."
Mr Shanmugam warned that in the clean and corruption—free society of Singapore, wrong—doers will be exposed and punished regardless of who and how high they are, and that they will lose everything.
The minister added that Singapore is neither special nor superior, and that Singaporeans are also human.
But he stressed that the difference in Singapore is that correct conduct in public service is emphasised and required.
"In the last 55 years, the political leadership has emphasised moral rectitude and correct conduct in public service," the minister said.
"If anyone breaches that, if anyone goes out of that, it is likely to be found out and severe punishment is certain for those who are guilty."
Mr Shanmugam added that besides meritocracy, another key fundamental to Singapore was equality of opportunity.
The minister said that while these do not change, the government has to constantly re—examine whether its policies were consistent with the fundamentals.
He singled out per—school education, saying that all children deserved it and should get the best possible help in their pre—school years.
Every child from every background needs to be helped to achieve their full potential, Mr Shanmugam emphasised.
"Pre—school years are formative and highly important. Research is not conclusive whether there are superior academic outcomes as a result of pre—school, but what it does show is that generally in life, there are superior outcomes. People do better, they don’t get into trouble if they go to a good pre—school," he said.
"The real question is if people, our children, are our only resources, can we afford not to make it a high priority item and invest heavily in pre—school?"
"Doing so, giving this opportunity to every child from every background will help their child fulfill his or her fullest potential and that’s consistent with meaning of equality of opportunity," Mr Shanmugam added.
"How do we achieve it? For example, in schooling, it’s obvious middle—class parents, professional parents are able to give a lot of advantages to their children. Now we can’t prevent that, and we shouldn’t."
The minister asked: "But, to what extent can we, as a society, make sure that other children also get as best an education as possible, even before they get into primary school?
"The first six years are very formative, and I personally am very passionate about this. I’ve raised a substantial sum of money, to try and do a good pre—school in Chong Pang, and I believe very strongly that ... children, people are our only resource. We need to invest heavily in them."
The National Day celebration dinner was attended by some 1,800 residents.
At the event, Mr Shanmugam also gave out bursary awards to 189 primary and secondary school students ranging from S$50 to S$350.
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