The Singapore example is worth emulating by governments around the world.
When it comes to curbing corruption, the legacy of Singapore is
exemplary. Its founding father Lee Kuan Yew had three main concerns:
to ensure national security, to boost the economy, and to resolve
social issues. The prevention of corruption lay at the heart of the
governance required to achieve these goals. As Mr Lee has said: 'The
moment key leaders are less than incorruptible, less than stern in
demanding high standards, from that moment the structure of
administrative integrity will weaken, and eventually crumble.'
Singapore has followed its own approach to dealing with corruption,
including paying market-based salaries to officials, which has
reduced, if not eliminated, the temptation of rent- seeking that is so
common in the developing world.
At the moment, corruption, broadly defined, is an issue in developed
nations as well. The public in the United States is seething with
anger over the excessive pay packets of bankers and other top
corporate executives. And in Europe, in addition to disgust at top-hat
salaries, the public is angry with government officials milking their
expense accounts. Austria and Italy are currently plagued by a series
of corruption cases.
Even the BRICs - the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India and China -
which are touted as the leaders among emerging economies and are
dynamic in many ways, do badly when it comes to corruption.
Transparency International (TI) publishes an annual Corruption
Perceptions Index, which in 2010 covered 178 countries. Brazil was
ranked at 68, Russia at 154, India at 87 and China at 78. The latest
entry to the group, South Africa, did relatively better, ranked at 54.
By contrast, Singapore, was ranked 1st out of 178, jointly with
Denmark and New Zealand.
Globally, TI identifies the police as the most frequent recipient of
bribes in the past 12 months, and almost six out of 10 people report
that corruption in their country has increased, with the biggest rises
perceived to be in North America and the EU.
We are clearly facing an unprecedented problem with corruption that is
not only endemic in the developing countries, but is worldwide.
Like many other social problems, corruption hits the poor the most.
They have to bribe their way through almost every day of the year.
Further, their poverty may arise from systemic failures in their
countries - which are themselves partly a result of corruption. For
example, they are often poor because they and their families were
poorly educated because of a corrupt education system. They also
suffer because of dubious land rights from which much of their profits
are grabbed by rent-seeking officials. Or else they work in menial
jobs that pay below the official minimum wages, imposed by
The managers and officials themselves also suffer in their own way.
For instance, junior ministers in developing countries observe their
superiors pocketing millions of dollars in bribes, and are emboldened
to emulate these practices. In principle, this behaviour is no worse
than that of a poorly paid policeman demanding cash from a poor
Eventually, the mounting rage against corrupt officials and leaders
can cause uprisings, as we saw in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year.
While one cannot prescribe revolution as a policy against corruption,
the huge financial and social costs of corruption need to be better
Just think how much more productive the BRICs might be if their
officials behaved honestly and their large populations could trust
their governments and leaders.
If they could trust their neighbours as well, billions of dollars of
inefficient spending on armaments and the war machine could be freed
up and used to solve social problems.
American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, after analysing
political and economic systems, suggested that societies endowed with
high social capital tend to have an economic structure based on large
enterprises which are managed by professionals. Trust is an essential
element in this process. If trust can pass from the level of the
family to social, professional and business relationships, it would be
possible to achieve the high level of social capital to which Mr
Fukuyama refers. We would hope that had occurred already in the
developed nations of the world - but this is not so, according to
Transparency International, which notes that in many developed
nations, levels of distrust are rising.
Corruption thrives in an administration when there are plenty of
loopholes for it to flourish unnoticed and unchecked. Recognising this
reality, many governments can take a leaf from Singapore's playbook,
which embodies the idea that if there is an efficient system of
governance that is tight and well controlled, there will be less room
The writer is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global business
community. Horasis hosts annual meetings to advance solutions to the
most critical challenges facing corporations today.
Frank-Jürgen Richter is the founder and chairman of Horasis, a Zurich-based global business community
Horasis is a global visions community committed to enact visions for a sustainable future. (http://www.horasis.org)
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