It was reported that Singapore was ranked fifth by Transparency International as the least corrupt country in the world.
The ranking by the international anti-corruption body listed Denmark as first in being least corrupt, Finland and New Zealand joint second, Norway fourth, while the city-state is ranked fifth together with Sweden.
However, it has been noted that Singapore’s ranking has been dropping. It was ranked fourth in 2021 and third in 2020.
Transparency International said that the 2022 CPI shows most countries are failing to stop corruption. The CPI ranks 180 countries and territories around the world by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, scoring on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).
More than two-thirds of countries score below 50, while 26 countries have fallen to their lowest scores yet. Despite concerted efforts and hard-won gains by some, 155 countries have made no significant progress against corruption or have declined since 2012.
Both China’s and India’s scores were below 50 at 45 and 40, respectively. And both countries were ranked in the 80th position before the Covid pandemic in 2019.
In the latest 2022 ranking, however, China has improved its ranking, attaining the 65th position, while India’s ranking has dropped to 85th.
Singapore’s ranking drops
Since the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020, Singapore’s ranking has dropped from 3rd to 5th last year. It has also attained the lowest score in a decade since the scoring metric was revamped by Transparency International in 2012.
Ms Ilham Mohamed, Transparency International’s spokesperson, said that while Singapore remains among the top countries in the fight against corruption, it is not perfect and can do more.
“It is not just a two-point drop from the previous year. What we are seeing for Singapore is a stagnation and a slight drop in the last 10 years,” she commented.
She said there are two main issues that Singapore needed to manage. These are illicit financial flows across borders, and having more civic spaces to voice out against corruption.
“For illicit financial flows, many advanced economies in Asia are also failing at this. One key thing in such economies is that they allow for the incorporation of anonymous entities and shell companies which move money around the globe,” she said.
“This is used not just by criminals, but also politically exposed persons. And politics is often linked to grand corruption.”
She said that even though Singapore has “very strong banking systems”, it has a responsibility to ensure the money held in its financial systems is not dirty.
Indeed, in 2016, the Financial Action Task Force, a multicountry advisory group set up to combat money laundering, said that Singapore’s financial firms had “a less developed understanding of the risk of illicit flows into and out of Singapore.”
“Singapore is the new Switzerland,” Shanghai-based independent economist Andy Xie said. Xie was fired as chief Asia economist at Morgan Stanley in 2006 after a private e-mail he wrote calling Singapore a money-laundering center became public.
“Since the US Department of Justice went after Swiss banks for hiding tax dodgers years ago, Singapore has filled the role,” he said. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) disputed the allegation.
But in the same year, MAS had to shut down a second Swiss bank and fined the local banks DBS and UBS in its biggest crackdown on alleged money-laundering activities connected with Malaysian sovereign fund 1MDB and ex-Malaysian PM Najib. More than US$3 billion was said to have been siphoned from 1MDB, some of which moved through Singapore’s banks.
MAS Chief Ravi Menon was forced to admit Singapore’s shortcomings and said that 1MDB showed Singapore could do better. “There is no doubt that the recent findings have made a dent in our reputation as a clean and trusted financial center,” Menon said. The authority was “disappointed with the lapses” in financial controls, he added.
Singapore lacks civic spaces
Ms Ilham also said that Singapore lacks civic spaces for people to whistle-blow publicly. “There needs to be space for people to speak up, for activists and journalists to safely whistle-blow, demonstrate and point out corruption,” she said.
“If civic space is not given, then you will find that people will not report corruption. Reporting and whistle-blowing are essential, even in a perfectly set-up anti-corruption agency.”
“The problem with a 0 to 100 score and ranking is that because Singapore is so far ahead of other countries, it makes it look like the country doesn’t have any problems,” she said.
“But Singapore should instead be comparing with what Singapore could be. Singapore can seek to aim even higher.”