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Singapore Transport Minister Resigns Over Corruption Charges

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Singapore’s transport minister has resigned from his post after being charged with 27 offences in a corruption probe that has also ensnared a billionaire hotel tycoon.

Iswaran was arrested in July of 2023 and released on bail in connection with a rare top-level graft investigation in the city-state.

Iswaran, 61, said he would plead not guilty to the charges filed by the powerful Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau when he appeared in court on Thursday.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed shortly after Thursday’s hearing that Iswaran had submitted his resignation from the government, parliament and ruling People’s Action Party on January 16 after being given formal notice of the charges against him.

Iswaran has also pledged to return the money received as part of his salary and allowances since his arrest, Lee said.

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“I reject the allegations in the charges and will now focus on clearing my name,” Iswaran wrote in his resignation letter, which was published on the website of the prime minister’s office.

Most of the charges against Iswaran relate to corruption, but he also faces one charge of obstruction of justice.

Among other accusations, he is alleged to have accepted tickets to high-profile sporting events and stage shows from hotel tycoon Ong Beng Seng, one of Singapore’s richest people.

Ong, the managing director of Hotel Properties Limited, was arrested the same day as Iswaran in 2023 and also released on bail.

Ong is credited with helping bring the Formula One Grand Prix to Singapore in 2008.

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“The Attorney-General’s Chambers will decide in respect of the investigations against Mr Ong and others after the case against Mr S Iswaran has been completed,” the AGC said in a statement Thursday.

The graft investigation has gripped Singapore, a global financial hub reputed to be among the least corrupt countries in the world.

Cabinet ministers are paid salaries comparable to the top earners in the private sector to deter corruption.

Iswaran’s corruption case was the “most politically significant” in Singapore’s history, said Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at Singapore Management University, describing it as a “body blow” for the PAP.

“But I think the fair-minded observer will look at Singapore’s track record, will look at how this case has been dealt with so far, and will not come to the view that this strong anti-corruption stance is just mere talk,” he said.

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The alleged offences date back as far as 2015.

Questions remain over why they were not discovered sooner, and “whether the degree of transparency and public reporting by senior officials in the Singapore system is sufficient”, said Ian Chong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore.

“They also raise questions about whether high pay is sufficient in discouraging corruption — people could always want more,” he added.

Lee has previously admitted that his long-ruling PAP had “taken a hit” after a spate of political scandals.

In addition to Iswaran’s arrest last year, two PAP legislators resigned because of an affair.

Before that, two heavyweight cabinet members were investigated for allegedly getting favours in their rental of sprawling colonial-era bungalows but were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.

Lee has faced criticism over an alleged lack of transparency in how the government handled the scandals, as well as questions over whether the standards set by the party’s founding leaders have been eroded.

The scandals come as the party — which has ruled uninterrupted for 64 years — bounced back from its worst-ever election results in 2020 when its share of the popular vote fell and the opposition gained more seats.

AFP

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JUST IN: NLC Suspends Nationwide Protest, Extends Ultimatum To FG

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The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has suspended its nationwide protests, which were held in different states of the federation earlier on Tuesday.

The Labour, in a communiqué at the end of its National Executive Council meeting, said the objectives of the protest were achieved on the first day of the demonstration.

The communique partly reads, “Consequently, NEC-in-session resolved as follows: to suspend street action for the second day of the Protest having achieved overwhelming success thus attained the key objectives of the 2-day protest on the first day.”

READ ALSO: BREAKING: Protesters Storm Jos Streets, Demand End To Hardship, Insecurity

Recall that Nigeria has been hit by rising inflation, food inflation, forex crisis, economic hardship and high cost of living occasioned by the removal of petrol subsidy, attracting protests in parts of the country.

The Presidency had engaged labour leaders in a last-minute talks on Monday night but the meeting ended in a stalemate as the NLC insisted that the protest was going to hold.

But, the NLC grounded economic activities across the country on Tuesday, with labour leader Joe Ajaero, saying that the protest was about hunger and not just a clamour for a review of the minimum wage.

Ajaero said, “You have to understand it. This protest is about hunger. What of those who are not working? The minimum wage, when will it be completed? When will it be implemented? What will be the minimum wage that will remove hunger?”

The communiqué further stated, “the highest organ of the NLC suspended street action for the second day of the Protest having achieved overwhelming success thus attained the key objectives of the 2-day protest on the first day.

READ ALSO: Hardship: Workers Begin Protest In Ondo

“However, Nationwide action continues tomorrow with simultaneous Press Conferences across all the states of the federation by the state Councils of the Congress including the National Headquarters.

“To reaffirm and extend the 7-days ultimatum by another 7 days which now expires on the 13th day of March, 2024 within which the Government is expected to implement all the earlier agreement of the 2nd day of October, 2023 and other demands presented in our letter during today’s nationwide protest.

“To meet and decide on further lines of action if on the expiration of the 14days Government refuses to comply with the demands as contained in the ultimatum.”

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I Went From Millionaire To Zeronaire, Bash Ali Laments At 68

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Former World Boxing Federation Cruiserweight Champion, Bashiru Lawrence Ali, aka Bash Ali, took to social media on Tuesday to reflect on his commitment to fighting corruption as he celebrates his 68th birthday.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Ali recounted the sacrifices he endured over 17 years in his quest to host his Guinness World Record Boxing Championship Fight in Nigeria, emphasizing his refusal to succumb to corrupt practices.

The former World Boxing Federation Champion revealed that his principled stand had cost him dearly, resulting in a decline in his financial fortunes from being a millionaire in dollars to having virtually nothing in Naira.

He wrote: “Today Tuesday, February 27 is my birthday.

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“For 17 years I struggled in vain to host in my country, Nigeria my Guinness World Record Boxing Championship Fight because I was bold to say no to corruption in sport in particular and in Nigeria in general.

“In 17 years, I went from being a millionaire in dollars to a zeronaire in naira.

“In 17 years, I was beaten and injured that I had to be admitted twice and treated at the National Hospital in Abuja.

“In 17 years, I was detained eight times at various police stations in Abuja. In 17 years, I was once detained at Kuje Prison for 43 days.

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“I went through hell in my country not because I am a criminal but because I say no to corruption. Despite juicy offers to fight outside of Nigeria, I never gave up on my dream to fight in Nigeria and I never gave up on Nigeria.

“Today, our dream is finally becoming a reality and because I am an extraordinary human being, I am going to fight until I am 70 years old, retire young and healthy with a lot of money and then go on to be the President of Nigeria. This is my ultimate goal so mark my words.

“Thank u very much for always being by my side. I appreciate you, always. Happy birthday The Great Bash Ali.”

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FULL LIST: Agencies That May Be Scrapped Based On Oronsaye 800-page Report

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President Bola Tinubu has ordered the full implementation of the Oronsaye report.⁣

As a result, the government announced the merging, subsuming, scrapping, and relocation of several agencies.

In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan established the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions, and Agencies, with Mr. Steve Oronsaye as the Chairman.

Coming from a private sector background, Oronsaye transitioned into the civil service at a senior level and ascended to the position of Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.

Submitted in 2012, the Oronsaye report highlighted the existence of 541 Federal Government parastatals, commissions, and agencies, both statutory and non-statutory.

The 800-page report recommended the reduction of statutory agencies from 263 to 161, scrapping 38 agencies, merging 52, and reverting 14 to departments in different ministries.

A previous investigation by The PUNCH found that the Nigerian government has the potential to save more than N241bn if the recommendations are put into action.

READ ALSO: 20 Insights Into Oronsaye Report As EFCC, FRSC, Others Set For Merger

Below is a list of some of the agencies that may be scrapped if the Oronsaye report is fully implemented as ordered by President Tinubu:

One of the key suggestions in the report is the consolidation of the Code of Conduct Bureau, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission into a single agency.

Additionally, the report recommended the elimination of the Fiscal Responsibility Commission and the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, with their responsibilities being incorporated into the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission.
The Salaries and Wages Income Commission is likely to face a similar fate..
38 Federal Agencies were recommended for abolition, including the Public Complaints Commission, National Poverty Eradication Programme, Utilities Charges Commission, National Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS, National Intelligence Committee, and more.
National Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS be merged as a Department under the Centre for Disease Control in the Federal Ministry of Health.
The merger of National Emergency Management and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internally Displaced Persons.

READ ALSO: JUST IN: Tinubu Orders Full Implementation Of Oronsanye Report⁣ ⁣

The Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa be abolished and its functions, along with those of the Technical Aids Corps, transferred to an appropriate Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Infrastructure Concessionary and Regulatory Commission be subsumed in the Bureau of Public Enterprises for greater synergy and their enabling laws amended accordingly.
It was suggested that the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, and the Nigerian Metrological Agency should be combined into a new entity called the Federal Civil Aviation Authority, with their laws adjusted to accommodate the merger.
The committee suggested merging the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council to enhance resource management and utilisation.
The committee suggested repealing the enabling law of the National Commission for Nomadic Education and transferring the Commission’s activities to the Universal Basic Education Commission.
The National Council of Arts and Culture will combine with the National Theatre and the National Troupe to form a single organisation.

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The National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure be merged with National Centre for Agricultural Mechanization and Project Development Institute
The committee suggested that the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria and the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission be abolished, with the government focusing solely on offering consular services and vaccinations to prospective pilgrims.
The Nigerian Communications Commission, the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission and the regulatory functions of the Nigerian Postal Services were recommended by the committee to be merged.
The National Information Technology Development Agency to be fused into the Ministry of Communication Technology
Nigerian Television Authority, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria & Voice of Nigeria into the Federal Broadcasting Corporation of Nigeria.
The Nigerian Army University to be merged with the Nigerian Defence Academy; to function as a faculty with the the Nigerian Defence Academy.

Air Force institute of Technology also to function as faculty within Nigerian Defence Academy.
Debt Management Office to become an extra-ministerial department in the Federal Ministry of Finance Public Health Department to return to the Federal Ministry of Health
The Nigerian Investment Promotion Council was recommended to merge with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council to enhance resource management and utilisation.

One important recommendation from the committee was to stop providing government funding to professional bodies and councils. Therefore, it is necessary to revise the Professional Bodies (Special Provisions) Act of 1972, which requires the government to offer financial assistance to these organisations.

The list comprises various professional councils and boards in Nigeria, such as the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, Computer Professionals Council of Nigeria, Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, Nigeria Press Council, Architects Registration Council, Council for Registered Engineers of Nigeria, Estate Surveyors’ Registration Board, Town Planners Council, Nigerian Builders Council, Quantity Surveyors’ Registration Board of Nigeria, and Council of Nigerian Mining Engineers and Geoscientists.

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