Graft index: Singapore down 2 spots in global ranking

A view of Singapore's Marina Bay. The city-state has slipped two notches in a ranking of countries seen as being the least corrupt in the world, coming in seventh place this year. -- PHOTO: AFP
A view of Singapore's Marina Bay. The city-state has slipped two notches in a ranking of countries seen as being the least corrupt in the world, coming in seventh place this year. -- PHOTO: AFP

Slip to seventh place could be due to recent high-profile corruption cases

Singapore has slipped two notches in a ranking of countries seen as being the least corrupt in the world.

It came in seventh in this year's Corruption Perceptions Index, which is compiled by graft watchdog Transparency International (TI), after three years of taking the No. 5 spot.

But experts interviewed say the drop is no cause for alarm and that Singapore still has zero tolerance for corruption.

The index captures perceptions of the extent of corruption in the public sector in 175 countries, as viewed by business people and country experts.

It aggregates 12 sources of data from graft-related polls and surveys carried out this year and last year by institutions such as the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy.

The countries are scored on a scale of zero, for highly corrupt, to 100, for very clean. The Republic's score fell two points to 84 this year, from 86 last year, according to data released by TI yesterday.

The top five countries in this year's index - Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and Norway - held the same position as they did last year.

Top scorer Denmark came in with 92 points, up from 91 last year. But Switzerland, which ranked seventh last year, overtook Singapore to be joint fifth with Norway - the position Singapore held last year.

A spokesman for the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) told The Straits Times yesterday that TI's data sources can vary from year to year, and the ranking should be taken in perspective.

"To give a more balanced view on such international rankings, Singapore was recently ranked first in the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy's 2014 Report on Corruption in Asia, a position it has held since 1995," he said.

Singapore may have lost its footing in TI's index this year partly owing to several corruption cases involving senior public servants that concluded late last year and early this year, said Associate Professor Tan Khee Giap, co-director of the Asia Competitiveness Institute.

But Prof Tan and other experts noted that Singapore is still the only Asian country in the top 10, with Japan next in 15th place.

Nanyang Business School's Professor Neo Boon Siong said "the actual position - whether fifth or seventh - isn't determined in a scientific way". "It depends on things like how many countries are taking part that year."

Anti-corruption consultant Jon Quah argues that even if Singapore's reputation might have taken a slight beating, "there's no cause for concern because the Government's policy of zero tolerance for corruption remains unchanged".

He pointed to former anti-graft senior officer Edwin Yeo Seow Hiong who was jailed for 10 years earlier this year for misappropriating $1.76 million, as evidence that the CPIB would not hesitate to punish one of its own.

"Here, if you're caught, there's no 'discount', no protection. Anyone who is foolish enough to be corrupt will get caught," he said.

China, Turkey and Angola were among the countries whose reputations for corruption worsened the most in the past year, TI said. North Korea and Somalia were at the bottom of the index, with a score of just eight each.

rachelay@sph.com.sg