The Straits Times says

Step up global fight against corruption

Corruption remains a bane to development in many societies, preventing them from realising the full potential of their people. Businessmen by and large abhor it, although many are driven to bribery when they operate in places where it is a part of life. While, like temptation, it can never be completely snuffed out, political will, a culture of zero tolerance for graft and societal disapproval can be strong factors in combating corruption. The societies at the top of global anti-graft watchdog Transparency International's (TI) annual Corruption Perceptions Index show how it is possible for corruption to be virtually eliminated from the public sector and business. Singapore, which saw its rank improve from eighth to seventh position in the latest TI index, for last year, has had a sustained strategy of vigilance against corruption.

Alas, the latest index also paints a dire picture of the fight against graft globally. The index, which captures perceptions of the extent of public sector corruption viewed by country experts and businessmen, shows more countries declining than improving, with public sector corruption pervasive around the world. More than two-thirds of the 176 countries and territories assessed scored below 50 on a scale ranging from zero to 100, with zero perceived as highly corrupt and 100 considered very clean. The global average stood at what TI described as "a paltry 43, indicating endemic corruption in a country's public sector".

No country is spotlessly clean, but a good number has made sure that there is no place for graft. The countries that jointly topped this year's list - Denmark and New Zealand - scored 90, and Singapore scored 84. These outranked some major economies such as the United States, which was ranked 18th; Japan, in the 20th spot; and France, in the 23rd.

Yet, in some of these societies, populist politicians like United States President Donald Trump and French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen have railed against a "corrupt elite" for ailments like median-wage stagnation and the marginalisation of workers, to gain ground at elections.

Such populist arguments are misleading. Leaders who base their claim to power on them often act in contradictory ways once they are in office. For example, there is talk in the US about rolling back key anti-corruption legislation. Surely, that move would only exacerbate corruption, not stem it. There are larger forces at work in the issue. Many of Mr Trump's supporters have lost faith in global institutions and feel that they have grown corrupt. In order to assuage the fears of such Americans, the global resolve to combat graft must not waver. Citizens around the world must have faith that corruption can be fought without recourse to populism. Corruption must never become the norm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Step up global fight against corruption'. Print Edition | Subscribe