Corruption in our government

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The Singapore government's reputation for being incorruptible is something few would contest readily. This seems to suggest that our politicians are somehow a notch above those in other countries when it comes to being greed-free and transparent people. However, any Singaporean who has been through the past few general elections would know otherwise. The government's reputation for being corrupt free is based largely on indicators that ignore certain factors. If one truly looks at firstly the minister's grossly inflated paychecks, secondly their cozy ties with the corporate sector and lastly, the flawed elections, one would realise that in reality, Singapore is much much more corrupt than it seems. The following article from The Straits Times looks at how corruption is supposedly being fought in Singapore...
Tough law enforcement critical in fighting graft, says expert
[2008] 28 Mar_ST

HIGH pay for ministers cannot, by itself, guarantee a clean government unless law enforcement is tough on graft, an international expert on corruption said yesterday.

Economist Robert Klitgaard made the point when he was asked, during a public lecture he gave, whether other countries should also raise ministers' salaries to stem corruption.

Said the scholar: 'The crucial thing about the Singapore situation is you've got a high enough wage to attract honest people who are very good and you've got very strong enforcement, very high probability of being caught if you hide a stash of money.'

The latter is the chief ingredient in Singapore's success formula in fighting corruption, he added.

Dr Klitgaard, who has studied corruption in more than 30 countries, was speaking at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).The president of the Claremont Graduate University in the United States was invited by the Singapore Economic Review journal to give the lecture on The Challenge Of Corruption.

The hour-long lecture was attended by about 100 NTU faculty members and students, including those from countries like China and Vietnam where corruption is rampant.

His main argument is that corruption is an economic crime that can be curbed by 'making the calculations less favourable to a bribe'.

This would involve reducing monopolies and making the powers of management transparent and accountable to others.

During the question-and-answer session, he was asked about Singapore's high ministerial salaries, which the Government had said were necessary to attract top talent and prevent corruption.

Dr Klitgaard noted that these salaries were 'benchmarked to private sector salaries at the top end' and called it a 'pathbreaking' move.

However, he said, the level of wages was not as crucial as strong measures to deter and punish corruption.

He asked the non-Singaporeans in the audience: 'Is there anything in your countries that gives the evidence that rich people are less corrupt than poor people?'

When told that it was the reverse, he replied with a smile: 'If they can misuse their office and get away with it, then you will tend to find corruption even when the pay is high.'

I can't agree more. The fact is, corruption already exists, and this is something neither law enforcement nor the high ministerial pay levels have been able to correct.

1. Exceedingly high pay checks - This is in itself corruption. Just because it occurs openly doesn't mean that should no longer be considered corruption. The fact is that the money of taxpayers is being misappropriated for the benefit of these ministers. If we don't call this corruption, then what is it. Then let's look at the supposed donations these ministers make. Well well, we don't pay you to make donations. If these ministers really want the best for the people, then allow the money to remain within government coffers, where the money can be used for things such as healthcare subsidies, building better schools, improving education in Singapore.

2. Cozy ties with the financial sector - Lee Hsien Loong's wife is the director of Temasek Holdings, and the other ministers all have a seat in the board of some company or another. According to a site which I can't seem to find now, many of them have around 4-6, with the top few having 9 or 11 seats. And supposedly, most of them are paid at least 10,000 per year just for sitting on the board. I wonder whether a) our government has a policy ensuring that there is no conflict of interest between the minister's duty to his people and his economic interest in ensuring the company he's a board member of earns money b) the government is even transparent about this (I don't see all this being declared on the government website) This is even more of a problem if you consider that having a minister on the board of such companies is inherently beneficial to the company (it's simply regulatory capture), thus creating a situation whereby such companies naturally seek to have more such ministers on the board.

3. Elections - Every General Election, the incumbent PAP finds some way to disadvantage the opposition party. From the GRC system with ever shifting borders that are only made known just before the actual voting, to housing quotas, to a ban on political videos online, to dominating the mainstream media and the various means of repression such as suing political dissidents or using the ISA, we can draw this conclusion - high pay doesn't really stamp out corruption. If anything, it is free and fair elections together with an informed electorate which should. Neither of these prerequisites are possible in Singapore today, in part because the government is corrupt to begin with.

Perhaps we need a coup similar to the one in Thailand. Or perhaps we just need to migrate. I for one belong to the upper-middle class that remains less affected by the widening income gap perpetuated by the existing government. But what about those who lack this mobility, or are simply more vulnerable to such a widening income gap. I shudder to think of what it would be like had i been born into a poorer family.

Corruption in Singapore is more pervasive than you would think. It has merely taken on a legitimate guise.