Commerce relies on personal relationships. It is a fact of human interaction that commercial relationships frequently become friendships. I can attest to having met many people I now count as friends, initially through professional interactions. Nonetheless, there are certain ‘red lines’ which demarcate appropriate and inappropriate relationships within a commercial relationship.
Mostly, these factors pertain to conflicts of interests between the two parties. Often there is no black and white clarity about where / when the line is crossed. Instead, it normally relies on following one’s own conscience and judgement. However, other instances fall plainly on weak ground, legally and ethically.
Take the case of a National University of Singapore (NUS) Law Professor allegedly receiving sexual and material gratification from a student in consideration for improved course grades; or senior Singapore government officers allegedly obtaining sexual fulfilment in return for preferential treatment of a particular company’s bid to provide services.
I must point out that these cases are still before the courts. As of today, neither an innocent or guilty verdict has been pronounced.
Still, one thing bothers me about these cases. In neither case has the ‘bribe giver’ been charged with a crime. In other words, the NUS student who supposedly gave a Mont Blanc pen, had sex or paid her law professor’s bill remains free as a bird. Only her reputation has been sullied by the turn of events. Likewise, the marketing persons who had sex with senior government civil servants purportedly to facilitate sales to government agencies also continue to be untouched by the law.
The situation baffles me because were an individual to bribe a government servant (or professor) with cash in return for certain treatment both parties will face the courts, i.e. the person giving the bribe and the person receiving the bribe. Try bribing a policewoman handing you a parking a ticket and see whether you get hauled off to court?
After all, does it matter whether the bribe was paid in cash or kind? What matters more is that consideration was illegally received by one party in return for inappropriately using his influence to benefit the ‘bribe giver.’ Even if a lawyer can explain to me the legal niceties allowing these ‘bribe givers’ to get away scot free, the situation does not pass my ‘smell test.’ The circumstances stink of rottenness. At the very least, justice is not seen to be done.
To top it all off, the general public receives a mixed message. It is illegal to receive bribes but acceptable to offer bribes. Surely, that is not the signal Singaporeans should be receiving from the law enforcement authorities?