SINGAPORE - Singapore has again made it to the top ranks of the least corrupt countries in the world based on a global survey released annually.
The Republic along with Finland, Switzerland and Sweden scored 85 points each, tying for third place in the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index released by the global anti-graft movement, Transparency International (TI), on Thursday (Jan 28).
Denmark and New Zealand earned 88 points each to tie for top spot among the 180 countries and territories surveyed.
Singapore took top spot in Asia, and was the only Asian country to make it to the top 10.
TI chair Delia Ferrerira Rubio said the Covid-19 pandemic in the past year was as much a health and economic crisis as well as one of corruption which the world was failing to manage.
"Those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge," she noted. "But even those at the top of the (index) must urgently address their role in perpetuating corruption at home and abroad."
Corruption often intensifies the effects of a crisis, and when combined with a public health emergency like Covid-19, poses a threat to lives and livelihoods, said TI.
The Berlin-based non-governmental organisation cited its own research from 2019, which found that corruption deprives the global health sector of more than US$500 billion (S$665 billion) annually.
Countries that perform well on the index invest more in healthcare, are better able to provide universal health coverage and are less likely to violate democratic norms and institutions or the rule of law, added TI.
For instance, Uruguay, which scored the highest (71) in Latin America, had a robust epidemiological surveillance system aiding its response to the coronavirus, it said. At the other end of the scale, Bangladesh (26), was rife with bribery in health clinics, misappropriated aid and corrupted procurement of medical supplies.
The year in the United States, TI said, was marked by alleged conflicts of interest and abuse of office at the highest level, topped off by weak oversight of a US$1 trillion Covid-19 relief package which raised serious concerns over accountability.
As a result, the superpower continued its downward slide in the index to an all-time low of 67 points since 2012, when it was last revised.
Since that year, Singapore has not scored below 84 points or ranked lower than seventh in the index which is derived from 13 expert assessments and surveys of business executives.
The situation in Singapore remains well under control with corruption-related reports on a downward trend, and public sector cases remaining low over the years, said the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) in a statement on Thursday.
It pointed to Singapore being ranked, since 1995, as the least corrupt country in a yearly study by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) covering Asia, the US and Australia. In 2020, civil society organisation World Justice Project also ranked Singapore third - and top in Asia - in a rule of law index measuring absence of corruption in public office in 128 countries.
The bureau also noted that its most recent biennial public perception survey of over 1,000 respondents in Singapore last year found 94 per cent rating local corruption control efforts to be effective - up from 92 per cent in 2018.
"Our success comes from the public's vigilance and resolve in keeping corruption at bay as a nation. We must not let our guard down in our fight against corruption despite the disruptions from the Covid-19 pandemic," said CPIB director Denis Tang.
The next least corrupt place in Asia in the TI survey was Hong Kong, which came in at 11th place with 77 points. As a region, the Asia Pacific - which includes Australia and New Zealand - scored an average of 45, second only to the average of 66 for countries in Western Europe and the European Union.
More than two-thirds of all the countries attained less than 50 points, with the average score being 43. Nearly half of those on the index have remained stagnant on it for almost a decade - indicating stalled government efforts to tackle the root causes of corruption, said TI.
The anti-corruption watchdog recommended ways to stamp out graft and better respond to future crises. It urged all governments to strengthen oversight of institutions, ensure open and transparent contracting, defend democracy and promote civic space, publish relevant data and guarantee access to information.