S’pore tops list of least corrupt nations

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 27 Oct 2010 Straits Times report of Singapore’s sharing of the top spot with Denmark and New Zealand as the least corrupt nations in the latest ranking by Transparency International (TI).

According to TI, corruption is defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Singapore ministers have been paying themselves million dollar salaries for many years now. Their million dollar gains cannot be public gain but must be private gain instead. Since their million dollar salaries have been set by themselves and the ministries they control, the use of entrusted power for private gain is also clear and unambiguous. The remaining word in TI’s definition of corruption ‘abuse’ is more open to interpretation and debate. According to the dictionary, ‘abuse’ refers to ‘wrong and improper use’. We need to ask ourselves whether setting million dollar salaries for ourselves is right or wrong, proper or improper.

Transparency International can do a simple survey on the population of Singapore with one simple question: “Is it right or wrong, proper or improper for ministers to pay themselves million dollar salaries?” Until that question is answered, how can we know if there has been abuse or not?

Alternatively, do we assume that everything that an elected government does must be right and proper bearing in mind some unique electoral circumstances we have in Singapore? In Singapore, we have:

– the Group Representative Constituency (GRC) where several electoral territories are contested as one, effectively allowing one strong incumbent to win several seats by himself

– for many years until recently, the tying of HDB upgrading to voting which is effectively a form of vote buying

– the amalgamation of all paid newspapers into one company whose shares are largely owned by government linked companies and whose chairman has always been important ex-ministers

If Singapore ranks amongst third world nations in the World Press Freedom Index, surely we can’t be as transparent as TI makes us out to be?

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