Singapore ranks 12 in Bribe Payers' Index
By ringisei on 19 Oct 2006 7:27 AM
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Transparency International's (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is due to be released on 2006-11-06. One expects that Singapore will be shown in a good light once again. One also expects that our nation-building press will highlight how the government's achievements in beating public sector corruption are being recognized by the West.

However, during the STICERD/DESTIN public lecture on "Money vs Morality: Is corruption just a matter of mis-aligned incentives?", Mr David Nussbaum (photo centre), Chief Executive of TI, highlighted that Singaporean corporations did not do particularly well in the recently released Bribe Payers' Index (BPI) 2006 (PDF). We placed 12 (out of 30) with a score of 6.78 (10 for being perceived to pay the least bribes), albeit performing the best among fellow Cluster 2 states like Spain (6.63), UAE (6.62) and Mexico (6.45).

To quote from the report: "...Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan performed substantially worse in the BPI 2006 than in the CPI 2005. This can lead one to conclude that companies from these countries are more likely to bribe when they operate overseas than would be accepted back home. This apparent tendency for companies to let standards slip when working in countries with less stringent regulations than their home countries is alarming, and underlines the need for governments to take responsibility for the way their companies do business abroad as well as at home."

Pragmatic businessmen may shrug their shoulders, saying: "Boh pian. [No choice.]" Bribery is endemic in some markets outside Singapore and that it is a matter of commercial survival rather than airy fairy ethics. They might like to know that Singapore is a signatory (UN/CPIB) to the 2002 United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). State parties to the UNCAC are required, vide Article 16 (PDF), to criminalize the bribery of foreign public officials. Both the US State Department and the OECD sees the Prevention of Corruption Act as fulfilling this requirement.

In addition, Principle 10 of the UN Global Compact pledges businesses to "work against all forms of corruption, including extortion and bribery." The Global Compact Network in Singapore is being developed under the auspices of the UN Development Program and, so far, thirteen locally-based participants including Banyan Tree, City Development Limited and NTUC Fairprice have signed up. Nussbaum, who was formerly non-executive Chair of Traidcraft, mused that perhaps a Corruption Free certification for various goods and services could allow consumers to express their support for anti-corruption efforts just like the way fair trade initiatives were aimed at consumers who wanted to support poverty eradication and environmental protection.

After defining corruption ("the abuse of entrusted power for private gain") and its massive actual and opportunity costs, the bulk of the lecture was spent developing how to go beyond a technocratic approach against corruption. Reforming politics, providing the correct economic incentives and improving legal regulation was important. But these could be further supplemented by the appropriate use of emotional/rational appeals via behavioural psychology (possible parallel in the design of the UK's Kill Your Speed campaign) as well as making the link clear between people's deeply held beliefs and values about justice, fairness, loyalty (philosophy/ethics) to group norms/practices and the split second reflex decisions of everyday life (anthropology).

"The fish rots from the head." An African saying quoted by Nussbaum in response to a question about whether it was more important to tackle petty or grand corruption first. He pointed out that many instances of petty corruption were actually the bottoms of massive networks and pyramids of corruption that go all the way to the top of a country's leadership (e.g. a traffic cop takes bribes from motorists, he pays his OC in order to keep his job, his OC pays his CO, CO pays Div Comd etc). Also the change of political leadership can allow people's deeply internalized values against corruption (justice as fairness?) to emerge, citing how, despite over 20 numbing years of massive corruption, ordinary Kenyans spontaneously began to refuse to give bribes to officials after the victory of the opposition National Rainbow Coalition in 2002.

Another question about the responsibility and complicity of Western financial institutions in grand corruption also brought an interesting response. Nussbaum acknowledged that Western financial institutions and networks were essential to corrupt behaviour in the Third World because it was impossible to physically move the sums of bribe money offshore (estimated USD 1 trillion per annum for bribery alone, not including extortion and looting of state funds). Only Western banks had the expertise and access to large liquid money markets to handle such huge transactions. Perhaps this gives rather different spin to the entire Andy Xie email fiasco. Nussbaum also mentioned how the investigations into the Oil for Food scandal has implicated over 2,000 companies - many of whom are from the West, not least the Australian Wheat Board.

In conclusion, this lecture has highlighted how corruption is truly a transnational phenomenon. States and financial institutions, which are relatively free of corruption themselves, may be facilitating corrupt practices elsewhere - if only by the sin of omission and insufficient due diligence. It was also heartening to hear from a leading anti-corruption advocate how the arts and humanities can play a leading role in furthering the fight against corruption.

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867 words | Categories: Law, World

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