30 July 2013

Public servants in Singapore are better paid than in almost all other jurisdictions. The rationale is that well rewarded officials will resist corrupt temptations.  It may work for most.  Singapore is 5th on the latest Corruption Perceptions Index  – seen as having  the least corrupt public administration after New Zealand, Denmark,  Finland and Sweden but ahead of Switzerland and Australia.  (Singapore was not among the 97 countries surveyed for the 2013 TI Global Corruption Barometer published earlier this month.)

Incidents in Singapore although not widespread appear to periodically involve a spectacular breach. The latest involved a court appearance last week by a director of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. He was charged with theft from his agency of more than $NZ 2 million, that he then spent in casinos. He has also been charged with corruption and fraud offences.

Unsurprisingly the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in charge of the Civil Service expressed concern that a senior anti-corruption officer entrusted with maintaining government integrity was charged with fraud.

Other recent high-profile cases include the head of Singapore’s Civil Defence Force, imprisoned last month for giving preference to an equipment supplier in return for sexual favours. He argued unsuccessfully that sexual favours unlike cash payments, were not corruption.  The former head of the Police drug enforcement unit however, was acquitted recently on similar charges.

The corrupting effect of sexual favours  seems to be viewed with more ambivalence in China.  A Transparency International blog commented recently about non cash gift-giving in business where perks ranging from sexual favours and massages to clothing and restaurant entertainment are not regarded as bribes.

To be charged with a bribe under the Chinese Penal Code requires a minimum and direct payment in cash of the equivalent $NZ 1,200. Other benefits – like sexual favours – are not covered by the code.