Straits Times: Singapore remains 5th least corrupt country

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SINGAPORE has kept its ranking in a global corruption survey as the fifth least corrupt country, indicating that the recent high-profile corruption cases involving public officers have not dented its reputation for fighting graft.

It is surpassed by Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and Sweden in the Corruption Perceptions Index released yesterday by Berlin- based group Transparency International (TI).

The index captures perceptions of the extent of corruption in the public sector in 176 countries, as viewed by business people and country experts.

It aggregates 13 sources of data from graft-related polls and surveys carried out this year and last year by institutions such as the Economist Intelligence Unit and World Economic Forum.

The countries are scored on a scale of zero, for highly corrupt, to 100, for very clean.

Denmark, Finland and New Zealand tied for first place with scores of 90, Sweden scored 88 and Singapore, 87.

Last year, Singapore was also ranked fifth, with 9.2 points out of a possible 10. The scoring system was changed this year.

Singapore has also consistently been placed ahead of other Asian economies including Hong Kong (14th), Japan (17th), South Korea (45th), Malaysia (54th), Thailand (88th) and Indonesia (118th).

Mr Liao Ran, who oversees TI's rankings for East Asia, told The Straits Times that the top 20 countries share features of "good and sound legal systems, consistent implementation of the law, healthy access to information and government officials who are accountable".

It is also hard to conclude that a country is corrupt from a few scandals involving public officers.

Experts here also feel Singapore's ranking and score attest to its ability to tackle graft despite the sex-for-contracts cases involving the former chiefs of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (Peter Lim Sin Pang) and Central Narcotics Bureau (Ng Boon Gay).

Said Professor Neo Boon Siong of Nanyang Business School: "The fact that there are cases being brought up and prosecuted shows our system of checks and balances, and detecting and prosecuting wrongdoing is still in place."

Associate Professor Tan Khee Giap, co-director of the Asia Competitiveness Institute at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, noted that the nature of corruption here has changed from money to sexual favours.

He said: "They are all equally bad, but cash corruption is more serious in terms of implications for the economy... We have not had corruption in big amounts in the last few years. In that sense, it is to be congratulated."

Addressing the corruption cases in September this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had expressed confidence that they were not typical of the public service and that incorruptibility has become ingrained: Singaporeans expect and demand a clean system, and will not give or accept "social lubricants" to get things done, unlike in other countries.