Many Maldivians are familiar with Singapore, and many local politicians have presented their policies promising to transform the Maldives into “a new Singapore”. It may appear that most are familiar with how Singapore achieved a high level of economic and infrastructural development in a short period of time. However, the bigger picture of Singapore’s success story does not only concern its economy.
Singapore has also managed to develop a transparent government over the years. The Singaporean government has consistently been ranked as one with the least amount of the corruption in the world. For the past ten years, Singapore has ranked among the top 10 countries in the Corruption Perception Index, annually evaluated by Transparency International. By this metric, Singapore happens to have the least corrupt government in Asia.
The first Prime Minister of independent Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, said that for Singapore; which was underpopulated and poor in natural resources; to develop, the country to should go against the grain by doing something not done by other countries; and harder work would be needed. Therefore, from day one, Lee Kuan Yew and his associates strove to remove corruption from the Singaporean government and uphold the rule of law.
It can be assumed that corruption in the Singaporean government is so low for two major reasons. One reason is due to strict laws that deal with corruption, and due to the powers granted to the entities mandated with combating corruption. The other reason is the government's meritocratic hierarchy. All high political positions can only be filled once the candidate has gone through several steps. Casual appointments of unqualified party loyalists are unheard of. Therefore, the individuals at the higher echelons of government tend to be people who have proven their competence and also their integrity over the years.
The entity mandated with combating corruption in Singapore is the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). This entity had existed even when Singapore was a colony of Great Britain. However, a proper law that dealt with corruption came into being under the administration of the People's Action Party (PAP), lead by Lee Kwan Yew.
Under this law, different forms of corruption were defined, and the Director of the CPIB was granted several powers. In addition, the law declared that special investigators be assigned to inquire into cases of corruption, and the law also granted CPIB investigators the powers of search and seizure.
In addition, the law grants the CPIB permission to view the bank account transactions of the spouses and children of suspects.
The law stipulates a 5-year prison sentence and a $100,000 (Singapore dollar) fine as a penalty for anyone found guilty of corruption. In addition, if funds had been received by bribery, the government has the right to confiscate the value the guilty party had received in bribes.
The CPIB has four major tasks. These are (a) to investigate complaints received about the Singaporean government and private individuals (b) to investigate complaints received about civil servants (c) to investigate the rules, practices, and regulations used by different bodies of the government and to check if any such practice or rule could lead to corruption and to run awareness programs, (d) to screen and perform background checks on candidates to government posts.
The CPIB is well-funded, and is not restricted from investigating political officials at any level of the government's hierarchy. In history, the CPIB has investigated and prosecuted cases pertaining to cabinet ministers and deputy ministers, as well. In addition, crimes that become uncovered through an investigation are also inquired into by CPIB investigators.
To reduce corruption in the government, politicians ought to also have integrity. Singapore's government is run as a parliamentary system, which means that the cabinet ministers are elected to their posts. However, in contrast to other countries that have adopted the parliamentary system, the ruling party has is strict about who they allow to run for election.
The PAP consistently searches for eligible government employees to select as candidates for cabinet positions. The party maintains a record of government employees who have achieved exceptional accomplishments in their fields. The work is undertaken by a special committee within the party.
Singapore's universities and sitting ministers sometimes recommend candidates to the committee; and the committee would hold several meetings with these candidates, sitting ministers, and party officials. The list of potential candidates growing shorter after each meeting. When Lee Kuan Yew was alive, he would also participate in meeting with these candidates.
The final step of the interviews would be with the party's Central Executive Committee. The candidates on the final shortlist would then be subjected to a 1,000-question examination.
It is required that a candidate for the cabinet at least possesses an undergraduate degree.
Cabinet ministers are paid a high salary. Singapore's ministers, the Prime Minister, and the members of parliament are paid higher than their counterparts in most other countries in the world. Lee Kwan Yew himself had said that a high salary was a major factor in reducing corruption. He had said that if a minister who was responsible for work that was worth billions was paid only a meager salary, it would result in major problems.
Lee had said that successful people would not work for a low salary. The only kind of people who would, in fact, work for such a salary would be the type of people who would talk big, make a show of serving the people, but they would really show their true colors and destroy the nation in the process, he had said.
The barriers to entering and succeeding in politics is also lower in Singapore. In the Singaporean system, parliamentary representatives are elected in groups. Each of the 14 constituencies in Singapore would vote for a group of candidates. This allows for qualified and educated people with a history of technical training and achievement enter the political arena without significant barriers.
In summary, it can be concluded that Singapore has such low rates of corruption because of their strong legal framework and because of their willingness to respect the rule of law. It is also bolstered by their meritocratic selection of political officials. This state of affairs did not arise by chance but rather formed through years of determined goal-setting and hard work.