A Myth – Singapore is corruption free

[Askmelah’s Note: While it is widely acknowledged that corruption in Singapore is rare due to the good pays (if you are top civil servants and ministers and in some sectors such as IT, research and financial sectors it even pays better than private sectors), stable jobs, good benefits … coupled with strict laws to deter corruption, it is still a myth to assume that it is corruption free and that high pay = no corruption. As Minister K. Shanmugam once said: “Singaporeans are not inherently more honest than our neighbours because we come from the same roots. However, our strict rules against corruption and strong enforcement keep everyone honest – and will also keep our immigrants honest.”

Updated 5 Aug 2012: A few months later, after a spat of mid and high level officials’ corruption incidents had been uncovered, the same minister said and I quote (Source: Todayonline 5 Aug 2012):

“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.”

“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.”

“You can’t eradicate it unless we say in Singapore, we are superior human beings, which we aren’t. But what we can do is put in a system, choose good people … and we expect good behaviour, and we expect everyone to observe the rules.”

“That alone is not enough, you need a good Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, reporting directly to the Prime Minister. So that there is a high likelihood that if you transgress, you will be caught. And if you are caught, and you are guilty, we are going to be very, very hard on you.”

“Low corruption doesn’t mean no corruption.”

So Askmelah’s own take of all these statements is:

The Singapore Government’s logic of paying highest salary in the world to its politicians and officials while effective in reigning corruption has masked the true honesty of its officials than other countries which pay moderate wages to its Government officials and yet came out top in corruption-free. I will respect the latter more.]

You could argue that the Taiwanese government is corrupt; but then we could say that all we have done in Singapore is to legalise corruption through those incredibly large salaries.”Clement wee

“Maybe there was no one taking money through the back door in the dark of the night, there was no need because the money was taken from the front door in broad daylight through all this overcharging.” Shanmugam

Related links:

Does Singapore have a clean government?

Source: Mindblogging Stuff

A resounding “Yes!” if you read the eulogies released through the government-controlled media properties. Yet words, no matter how well articulated, never speak louder than action. The following article is an excerpt from Economic Crisis and the Prospects for Democratisation in Southeast Asia. It paints a different picture, especially if you receive your regular diet of information from the “proper channels”.Even the supposedly corruption free island republic of Singapore has not escaped the taint of corruption. In 1996, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and son Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong admitted to receiving discounts on purchases of luxury apartments from a publicly listed company Hotel Property Ltd (HPL) where Lee Kuan Yew’s younger brother is one of the Directors. Lee and son, with the support of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, were not reprimanded for the 12% discounts when purchasing the HPL properties. The government had apparently accepted their argument that as they did not solicit the discounts and were somehow unaware that they did received the discounts, even though it collectively amounted to more than S$1,000,000, they had therefore not wilfully acted improperly. Suffice it to say, in more transparent, accountable and vigorous democracies, public officials have been known to resign for less serious corruption allegations.

[Askmelah’s note: the incident was so remote that I cannot remember exactly who blew the whistle on the top man and his son in this island then. Was it CPIB? How many more cases go unreported? It is so hard to prove the profiteering from insider knowledge that the only way to prove our leaders are indeed cleaner than clean is to declare theirs and their immediate families’ assets by not subjected to public scrutiny, which will deter good people from joining politics, but a controlled independent committee to scrutinize if there are any wrong doing. When I was in civil service previously, we have to declare property purchased and direct interest in any company (except listed companies), but they are just that, voluntary. Crooks will be able to get away easily and it is very hard to be detected unless they are dumb enough to flaunt their wealth like the two SLA officers did.

Talking about not flaunting their wealth, do you notice the top civil servants here mostly do not buy flashy cars such as Lumborgini, BMW and Merz or stay in the most flashy properties here until perhaps after their retirement? It is not easy to detect even if there is any wrong doing. I am not saying there is, but never say never, even a simple guy like Teh Cheang Wan could not escape the lure of sins. More on other past  high ranking officers convicted.

Ways to report corruption cases: send information to CPIB or the Deputy Secretary or the senor director of human resources of the Ministry or statutory board belongs to.]

As the assets of public officials do not have to be made public in Singapore, speculation and rumour-mongering remains rife about the previous discounts attained by PAP politicians and the extent of assets accumulated by them while in public office. To placate the strong undercurrent of public disquiet with PAP politicians acquiring property at discounted prices, Prime Minister Goh has required Ministers to provide detailed information on their ties with the developer and whether any discounts, special terms or treatment` was received before they and immediate family members purchase properties.

Long before the HPL affair, public disquiet with the financial remuneration of PAP politicians were fuelled by their generous salaries which easily surpass their counterparts in industrialised countries like Japan and the United States. Lee Kuan Yew justified their generous salaries as a means of minimising the otherwise strong temptation to engage in corrupt activities. Argued Lee, “Pay political leaders the top salaries that they deserve and get honest, clear government or underpay them and risk the Third World disease of corruption.”

In an attempt to squash public criticism of Ministerial salaries, the government released a 1994 White Paper entitled “Competitive Salaries for Competent and Honest Government” which recommended that the salary of ministers be pegged at two-thirds the average mean income of the highest paid professions.70 The logic behind the pegging of ministerial salaries to corporate high-flyers was that this was the most effective way of attracting the talented to public office. Instructively, arguments pertaining to the importance of politicians possessing a strong commitment and duty to public service, ironically a Confucian junzi trait the PAP leadership have in the past attributed to themselves,” was not highlighted in the White Paper. That PAP politicians have to be paid salaries that supersede their political counterparts in Japan or the United States in order to entice them into public office and prevent them from succumbing to the “disease of corruption” is in itself an indictment of the calibre and commitment of PAP politicians.

Posted by Stephen Yeo at 11:32 PM