Corruption in the Crosshairs: Singapore High Court Takes Aim Public Sector Corruption with Stricter Sentencing Guidelines

21 September 2020 17:48


Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic,the Singapore High Court has published an updated sentencing framework for public sector corruption and bribery. This legislative modification comes at a time in which global governmental integrity faces increased scrutiny over public procurement of pandemic-related resources. How then, does the new sentencing framework function in detail? And what does it imply for entities dealing with public bodies in Singapore?

Increasing the pressure on public sector corruption

In light of a number of recent public sector corruption cases that emerged in Singapore, such as the case of an insider trading within Singapore’s National Library Board (NLB) and the bribery of a council manager by third party contractors, the Singapore High Court decided to reinforce its zero-tolerance approach to corruption. Indeed, domestic legislation points to the fact that the city state’s jurisdiction considers public sector corruption as an aggravated form of corruption since it significantly weakens the governments integrity and undermines the citizens’ trust in public entities.

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5-step sentencing analysis may lead to stronger punishments for bribery and corruption

The newly presented sentencing framework aims to boost the use of enhanced punishment provisions (section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act) - rather than as basic corruption offences (sections 5 and 6) - through the support of a new five-step sentencing analysis.

  1. The court seeks to identify both the level of harm caused by the offence as well as the level of culpability.
  2. Classify the applicable indicative starting range for sentencing depending on the aforementioned level of harm and culpability.
  3. Establish the appropriate indicative starting point of the offence according to the previously identified sentencing range.
  4. Adjust the proposed sentencing in light of offender-specific factors such as co-operation with the authorities or a guilty plea.
  5. Consider the justness and appropriateness of potential aggregated sentencing in light of Singapore’s totality principle.

Minimizing the exposure of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) in Singapore

In light of these recent sentencing framework changes,both public and private entities in Singapore to identify and mitigate potential PEPs risks.Indeed, recent reports find that, due to a heightened risk of corruption and bribery, Asia Pacific regulators are increasingly focusing on compliance rules around PEP identification and monitoring. This comes as no surprise since PEPs’ often-substantial involvement within governmental structures, make them a prime target for illicit actions such as corruption and bribery.

The recent announcement of aggravated sentencing for public agents in Singapore is a good reminder to re-evaluate how your organisation mitigates potential risk exposure due to PEPs. This should be done within a three-step framework:

  1. Carry out screening and enhanced due diligence on PEPs. This is particularly essential for organisations in sectors with a high risk of bribery and corruption.
  2. Implement ongoing monitoring of all PEPs, an entity is involved with, since both a PEP’s public function and behaviour may change over time.
  3. Integrate PEPs data into proprietary solutions. All relevant datasets should be integrated in the respective risk management applications.

The new sentencing framework in Singapore will, without doubt, substantially influence entities within and beyond the city state and will further underline the global trend of increased scrutiny of the public sector when it comes to corruption and bribery.

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