You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Lion State's anti-graft roar

New Straits Times logo New Straits Times 22/7/2019 Datuk Seri Akhbar Satar

Lee Hsien Loong, Mahathir Mohamad are posing for a picture: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during the 9th Malaysia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat in Putrajaya in April. Singapore’s strong anti-graft stance has won it international accolades.  -NSTP/File pic © Provided by Media Prima Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during the 9th Malaysia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat in Putrajaya in April. Singapore’s strong anti-graft stance has won it international accolades. -NSTP/File pic Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

IN 1961, Singapore’s former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew reportedly refused a bribe of US$3.3 million (equivalent to US$25 million today or RM103 million) from an agent of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to keep an espionage attempt under wraps. 

The agent had been caught trying to purchase information from a Singapore intelligence officer.

Lee had said: “I had two options, either I get corrupted and I put my family in the Forbes’ list of the richest people in the world and leave my people with nothing or I serve my country, my people and let my country be in the list of the best 10 economies in the world. I chose the second.”

Based on the 2018 Corruption Perception Index (CPI 2018) released by Transparency International (TI), Singapore was ranked the third least corrupt country in the world while Denmark clinched the top spot. The year before, the island-nation tied third place with Finland.

Lee made the right decision and set a good example for others to follow. Clearly, for Lee, honesty, trust and a high level of integrity symbolised the foundations of a good leadership. His enduring legacy of good governance and integrity has put Singapore in good stead and this remains today.

Some of the criteria TI uses to measure public sector corruption are the status of bribery, nepotism in the public service, misuse of position, diversion of public funds and effective prosecution of corrupt officials and freedom of information.

Singapore’s public service “continues to be recognised as one of the most efficient and cleanest in the world”; only an average of eight public sector employees were prosecuted for corruption and related offences over the last three years.

Corruption cases are handled by the Singapore Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), a government agency under the Prime Minister’s Office and reports directly to the prime minister. CPIB is independent and is free to investigate any person, including the prime minister. The huge power granted to CPIB to conduct investigations without fear and favour has a big impact.

The conviction rate has remained consistently high, above 97 per cent. Besides enforcement, CPIB also works with stakeholders and the community to prevent corruption. These are testament to Singapore’s continued vigilance, commitment and zero tolerance in its fight against corruption.

Being a microstate with a good legal and regulatory framework, its strong anti-corruption institutions help to control, prevent corruption and misuse of power effectively. Although Singapore is classified as a “flawed democracy” in the Democracy Index 2018, it was found to possess strong and sincere political will, an independent and effective anti-corruption agency while the public plays an important part to maintain social norms to eschew corruption.

The beauty of Singapore’s Prevention of Corruption Act 1961 (PCA) is that it is still effective to combat corruption. The penalty is harsh. A person convicted under the PCA is liable to a fine not exceeding S$100,000 (RM302,000) or a jail term not exceeding five years or both.

According to Jon S.T. Quah, an anti-corruption consultant in Singapore, Lee’s commitment to meritocracy, empowerment of the CPIB, competitive salaries to attract the “best and brightest” to join the civil service and maintenance of the rule of law constitute his legacy of good governance. The culture tends to prevent corruption and misuse of power.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was asked, during a book launch at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London in 2016, how Singapore managed to stay clean. He said:

“We keep our system clean not just for ourselves, but also to uphold our international reputation. Thus we deal strictly with those who use financial institutions in Singapore to launder money or transact ill-gotten gains from corruption. We are zealous in protecting the integrity of our financial centre and business hub.”

However, it appears Singapore now faces challenges in fighting corruption. In 2015, the Boston Consulting Group stated that Singapore held around one eighth of the global stock of total offshore wealth whilst the International Monetary Fund report in 2014 estimated that over 95 per cent of all commercial banks in Singapore are affiliates of foreign banks: a testament to its extreme dependence on foreign and offshore money.

It is estimated that the amount of money laundered globally in one year is two to five per cent of global gross domestic product, or US$800 billion to US$2 trillion.

According to Deloitte, Singapore, as a top-41 global financial centre has a front row seat to money-laundering threats. As a nation, Singapore is not immune to new laundering threats that emerge expediently. But the country has taken the lead in addressing the evolving “threatscape” through innovative initiatives, solutions and forums, as seen in the continued run of the Singapore Fintech Festival.

Asean countries with low CPI scores should follow Singapore’s experience. When the CPI of a country is low, the corruption tends to be on the high side. Singapore has clean, high integrity and effective civil servants, clean law enforcement agencies and an efficient, incorruptible and honest judiciary.

Malaysia, being the closest to Singapore, has easy accessibility to the island republic. To be more effective in fighting corruption, Malaysia may want to look at strategies implemented by the Singapore government to curb graft.

Its legal, regulatory frameworks and localised model is simple and has proven effective. To curb corruption, there must be sincere and strong political will with effective anti-corruption agencies and strong support from the public.

The leaders must strengthen the institutions that maintain checks and balances over political power, enforce anti-corruption legislation, get civil society organisations to be strategic partners of the government and also have a free and independent media.

In Pics: The world’s most and least expensive cities to live in revealed (Lovemoney)

The writer is the former immediate president of Transparency International Malaysia

© New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd

More From New Straits Times

New Straits Times
New Straits Times
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon