Can corruption be combatted? Yes, but only under certain circumstances! That appears to be the experience of Asian countries where corruption is ubiquitous with the exception of Singapore--a country that proved to be the only success story with a strong political leadership and better pay sales. Can this experience be replicated?
Three decades ago, Gunnar Myrdal (1968, 938-939) identified the taboo on research on South Asian corruption as one of the factors inhibiting the research of his book, Asian Drama. However, this taboo no longer exists, judging from the increasing amount of research on corruption in Asian countries in recent years. According to the Far Eastern Economic Review, corruption was the biggest story of 1996, the Year of the Rat, as a great deal of "newsprint and television time was devoted to reports and discussions on corruption in government" (Ghosh et al., 1997, 18). Furthermore, the financial crises in Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia in 1997 have highlighted the problems of corruption, cronyism, and nepotism on one hand, and the need for more accountability and transparency in government and banking operations in these countries on the other hand.
Why is corruption such a serious problem in Asian countries? Is it possible to control or to minimize corruption in these countries? This paper contends that the extent of corruption in Asian (and other) countries depends on two factors: (1) the nature of the causes of corruption in these countries; and (2) the degree of effectiveness of the measures initiated by political leaders to combat corruption. In order to curb corruption in Asian countries, the causes of corruption must first be correctly diagnosed so that political leaders can take appropriate action to minimize, if not eliminate, such causes. Asian countries like Singapore and Hong Kong, which observe this logic of corruption control, are more successful in combatting corruption than other countries (Quah, 1995).
This paper is divided into three sections. In the first section, the different levels of corruption in Asian countries are discussed. Section two describes the anticorruption strategies employed in several Asian countries. The concluding section focuses on Singapore's experience, demonstrating that, while it is difficult to curb corruption, it is nonetheless possible to do so if a country's political leaders have the commitment or will to impartially implement effective anticorruption measures.
Levels of Asian Corruption
In September 1974, the Far East Economic Review featured the cover story "Corruption: The Asian Lubricant," which surveyed corruption in 10 Asian countries. The article concluded that:
If you want to buy a Sherman tank, a Red Cross blanket, or simply speed up the installation of a telephone, there is probably no easier place in the world in which to do just that than in Asia--if you are willing to part with some cash, that is. With pathetically few exceptions, the countries in this region are so riddled with corruption that the paying of "tea money" has become almost a way of life (Far East Economic Review, 1974, 3).
This picture of pervasive corruption in Asia is supported by individual portraits of corruption in such countries as Bangladesh, the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Laos, Pakistan, Taiwan, and Thailand (Far East Economic Review, 1974, 22-31).
As it is not possible to measure the actual extent of corruption in a country, scholars usually rely on the reported extent of corruption. Lancaster and Montinola (1997, 16) have observed that students of political corruption use written documents (press reports, judicial records, and records from anticorruption agencies) and survey data to measure corruption. As these instruments are not problem-free, they have recommended the use of the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), published by Transparency International in 1995 and updated in 1996 and 1997, because it is a "robust" index that "captures more than a single indicator" and "combines several measures of political corruption for each country" (Ibid., 27-28).
According to Transparency International, the CPI is "an attempt to assess the level at which corruption is perceived by people working for multinational firms and institutions as impacting on commercial and social life" (TI Newsletter, 1996, 5). The Business International Index (BII) is based on surveys of experts or consultants conducted during 1980-1983 by Business International, which is now a subsidiary of the Economist's Intelligence Unit. The BII ranks countries from 1 to 10 according to "the degree to which business transactions involve corruption or questionable payments" (Wei, 1998, 3).
Unlike the CPI and BII, the Global Competitiveness Report Index (GCRI) is based on a 1996 survey of firm managers, who were asked questions about different aspects of competitiveness in the host countries where they invest. Specifically, 2,381 firms in 58 countries were asked to rate the level of corruption on a one-to-seven scale according to the extent of "irregular, additional payments connected with import and export permits, business licenses, exchange controls, tax assessments, police protection or loan applications" (ibid., 4).
Table 1 shows the levels of corruption in 13 Asian countries according to the three indices, the BII, CPI, and GCRI. Singapore is perceived to be the least corrupt Asian country by all three indices. This perception is confirmed by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd., whose 1996 survey showed that Singapore "maintained its reputation as a `corruption-free' haven in a region in which shady practices are all too common" (Straits Times, 1996, 3). Conversely, Indonesia and Thailand were perceived as the most corrupt Asian countries on the BII. The CPI ranked Bangladesh as the most corrupt Asian country, and the GCRI identified Indonesia and the Philippines as the two Asian countries with the highest levels of corruption.
Table 1 Perceived Levels of Corruption in Asian Countries
Country BII CPI97 (1-10 scale)(*) (1-10 scale)(*) Singapore 1.00 2.34 Hong Kong 3.00 3.72 Japan 2.25 4.43 Taiwan 4.25 5.98 Malaysia 5.00 5.99 South Korea 5.25 6.71 Thailand 9.50 7.94 Philippines 6.50 7.95 People's Republic of China NA 8.12 India 5.75 8.25 Indonesia 9.50 8.28 Pakistan 7.00 8.47 Bangladesh 7.00 9.20 Country GCR197 (1-7 scale)(*) Singapore 1.24 Hong Kong 1.52 Japan 2.07 Taiwan 3.22 Malaysia 3.97 South Korea 4.34 Thailand 5.55 Philippines 5.56 People's Republic of China 4.10 India 5.11 Indonesia 5.56 Pakistan NA Bangladesh NA
Source: Wei, 1998, 5.
(*) According to Wei, the original BII, CPI, and GCRI were re-scaled so that higher scores imply more corruption. Thus, for all three indices, a higher score means a higher level of corruption.
Table 1 also indicates the different levels of corruption in 13 Asian countries. What accounts for the variations in the extent of corruption in these countries? To answer this question, it is necessary to examine the anticorruption strategies employed by seven of these countries to ascertain whether they have observed the logic of corruption control.(1)
Anticorruption Strategies in Asian Countries
The consequences of corruption can be minimized if government has an effective anticorruption strategy and implements it impartially. Specifically, the more effective anticorruption measures are, the greater their impact on the society in terms of reducing the negative effects and the level of corruption. The effectiveness of anticorruption measures depends on two factors: (1) the adequacy of the measures in terms of the comprehensiveness of their scope and powers; and (2) the level of commitment of political leaders to the goal of minimizing corruption. In other words, for anticorruption measures to be effective, they must be properly designed (to attack the causes of corruption), and they must be sponsored and upheld sincerely by political leaders. In short, the most elaborate and well-designed anticorruption measures will be useless if they are not enforced by the political leadership (Quah, 1982, 174-175).
By juxtaposing these two variables, the adequacy of anticorruption measures and the commitment of political leadership, a matrix of anticorruption strategies can be obtained (see Table 2).
Table 2 A Matrix of Anticorruption Strategies
Commitment of political leadership Anticorruption Measures Adequate Inadequate Strong Effective strategy Ineffective strategy 2 Weak Ineffective strategy 1 "Hopeless" strategy
Source: Quah, 1982, 175.
Table 2 shows four strategies for combatting corruption, depending on the adequacy of the anticorruption measures employed and the strength of political leaders' commitment. This matrix of anticorruption strategies can be used to analyze the anticorruption efforts of several Asian countries.
To be effective, anticorruption strategies must minimize--if not eliminate--the causes of corruption. In his comparative study of the control of bureaucratic corruption in Hong Kong, India, and Indonesia, Leslie Palmier (1985, 271) identified three important causes of corruption in these countries: opportunities (which depended on the extent of civil servants' involvement in the administration or control of lucrative activities), salaries, and policing (that is, the probability of detection and punishment). According to Palmier,
[B]ureaucratic corruption seems to depend not on any one of the [three] factors identified, but rather on the balance between them. At one extreme, with few opportunities, good salaries, and effective policing, corruption will be minimal, at the other, with many opportunities, poor salaries, and weak policing, it will be considerable (emphasis added). (272)
Following Palmier's hypothesis, effective anticorruption strategies should reduce or remove opportunities for corruption, raise the salaries of civil servants, and ensure a high degree of policing.
"Hopeless" Anticorruption Strategy
Given the perceived high levels of corruption of Asian countries as indicated in Table 1, it is not surprising that the "hopeless" anticorruption strategy has been used in countries such as China, Indonesia, and Bangladesh; corruption in these countries has been institutionalized, as their anticorruption measures are inadequate and their political leaders are not at all concerned about minimizing corruption.
People's Republic of China: ,The high level of corruption in the People's Republic of China (PRC) can be attributed to the low wages of civil servants, the many opportunities for corruption during the last two decades of Deng Xiaoping's modernization policy, and the lack of political will in implementing anticorruption measures against senior party officials. Indeed, although bribery exceeding 100,000 Yuan is a capital offense, the death penalty has not been imposed on senior party officials found guilty of accepting such bribes.(2)
Several public opinion polls conducted during the late 1980s in the PRC indicated that the public had identified corruption as "the most prevailing social crime" and confirmed its resentment of corruption (Gong, 1994, 135). In fact, the corruption issue was an important catalyst for the student demonstrations in the spring of 1989 as "the students' anticorruption banner appealed strongly to the public." After the Tiananmen Square incident, the Chinese media "dramatically increased the exposure of corruption cases to highlight the party's determination and efforts to repress corruptions" (ibid., 137). The Chinese Communist Party sought to clear its image by introducing new anticorruption rules designed to (1) strengthen centralized control over certain commodities and production materials; (2) forbid such "unhealthy practices" as gift giving in public affairs and squandering public funds; and (3) punish offenders through the stipulation of disciplinary penalties for embezzlement (ibid., 139-140).
In 1982, the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC) was reestablished to deal with discipline and anticorruption work. Five years later, the Ministry of Supervision (MOS) was also reestablished "in part to curb corruption and maladministration within the civil service." Even though the MOS had received more than 700,000 reports in 1993, both the CDIC and MOS could not stem the problem of corruption because the "authorities appear[ed] to lack the political will to handle corruption cases among more senior party members" (Burns, 1994, 57-58).
So far, only two senior party officials have been convicted of corruption in recent years. In 1994, Li Yiaoshi, former Vice-Minister of the State Science and Technology Commission, was sentenced to 20 years in jail for corruption (ibid., 58). On July 31, 1998, the former Beijing party chief, Chen Xitong, became the highest-ranking party member to be jailed for corruption when he was sentenced to 16 years for graft of 555,000 Yuan and dereliction of duty. As corruption is a capital offense in the PRC, Chen's sentence is lenient; more junior party cadres have been sentenced to life imprisonment or even death for corruption involving smaller sums over 100,000 Yuan (Straits Times, 1998, 14). The death penalty is imposed on officials who accept bribes exceeding 100,000 Yuan, or US$ 12,000 (Wang, 1998, 5). In short, party officials in the PRC can "short-circuit corruption investigations by appealing to their protectors in the party hierarchy" (Root, 1996, 752).
Indonesia: In Indonesia, corruption was a serious problem during the Dutch colonial period, as it was rife among the Dutch East India Company's personnel because of their low salaries. However, this traditional tolerance for corruption was eroded during the postwar period, when corruption was viewed more critically as the enhanced role of the public bureaucracy had increased opportunities for bureaucratic corruption (Quah, 1982, 154-155). Corruption became endemic during President Sukarno's rule because his "disastrously inflationary budgets eroded civil service salaries to the point where people simply could not live on them and where financial accountability virtually collapsed because of administrative deterioration" (Mackie, 1970, 87-88).
Corruption remained a serious problem and became institutionalized during the 32 years of Suharto's term of office. According to Hanna (1971, 1), corruption in Indonesia has "become so institutionalized" that "its eradication ... might mean the critical dislocation of the whole shaky national structure." Indeed, Suharto and his family had "extensive business interests" and "benefited from what appears to be privileged access to government contracts" (Girling, 1997, 56).
The Indonesian government's first attempt to curb corruption occurred after the 1955 election; it resulted in the arrests of those involved, including civil servants and a minister. In June 1968, Suharto assigned the task of tackling corruption cases to the Team Pemberantasan Korupsi (Corruption Eradication Team), which was, however, ineffective because its efforts were blocked by influential men in the regime (Quah, 1982, 170). Student protests in January 1970 and press criticism of government corruption resulted in the appointment of a special Commission of Four elder statesmen (Komisi IV) by President Suharto to review the problem of corruption within the civil service and to make recommendations for improvement.
This commission presented seven reports on those agencies and areas that were judged to be vulnerable to corruption to President Suharto from February to June 1970. Perhaps the most important consequence of these reports was the passing of the Prevention Against Corrupt Criminal Acts Bill in 1971; previously, corruption was dealt with as a crime under the penal code. Suharto accepted the commission's recommendation that civil servants should submit an annual return of their personal assets, and he published an instruction in 1970 requiring all officials to conform accordingly. However, civil servants ignored this regulation for nine years, and it was only in 1979 that 90 percent of the officials submitted their annual returns (Palmier, 1970, 12). This example illustrates clearly that laws in Indonesia are not always implemented, especially anticorruption laws, as the implementation of such laws would prevent corrupt officials from continuing their practices.
In June 1977, the task of combatting corruption was transferred by presidential instruction from the Commission of Four to the National Security Agency (Kopkamtib), which launched Operation Orderliness (Operasi Tertib or Opstib) by making "lightning visits" to government departments known for corruption, dismissing officials caught red-handed on the spot. Even though Kopkamtib had taken action against corrupt officials, its major handicap was "its inability to take action against those generals and senior government officials involved in corrupt practices" (Quah, 1982, 171).
"The family business," or the corruption involving Suharto's family, grew without restraint during the 1980s and 1990s. Toward the end of Suharto's term, especially during the late 1990s, public criticism of his family's involvement in corrupt practices mounted, culminating in his relinquishment of power in May 1998. As the system of corruption in Indonesia has become "deeply ingrained" during the past 32 years of Suharto's rule, it will be difficult for his successor, President B.J. Habibie, to eradicate corruption. In other words, even though Suharto is no longer in power in Indonesia today, his legacy of widespread corruption will remain for a long time. Indeed, according to Shari and Einhorn (1998, 33), "the qualities that rank the country as the world's most corrupt after Nigeria won't be erased with a change of presidency [as] ... the bureaucracy runs on miserably low salaries, so until civil servants make a living wage, bribery will remain."
Bangladesh: In Bangladesh, a 1997 national household survey on corruption conducted for Transparency International Bangladesh confirmed the country's perceived high level of corruption, as revealed by the following findings:
41% of households paid a "donation" and 3.6% a direct payment for the admission of children into schools, while 36% of households made payments to or through hospital staff or other "influential persons" to secure admission into hospitals. 65% had bribed land registrars for recording a false lower sale price when registering a land transaction, while 54% had bribed either bank employees or "influential persons" to secure bank loans. 33% paid money to obtain electricity connections, while 32% paid less for water "by arrangement with the meter reader." 47% were able to reduce the holding tax assessment on house and property "by arrangement with municipal staff on payment of money," while 65% found it impossible to obtain trade licenses without money or influence. 63% of those involved in litigation had paid bribes to either court officials or the opponents' lawyers, 89% of those surveyed being of the view that judges were corrupt. 97% thought the police service was corrupt. (Quoted in Jayawickrama, 1998, 3)
Similarly, businessmen in Bangladesh have complained that "their high costs are due to the payoffs they have to make to government officials for sanctions, bank loans, and permits" (Kochanek, 1993, 199). Indeed, according to one businessman, "I get sick in my stomach whenever I have to see a government official" (Quoted in Kochanek, 1993, 199).
The politics of patronage and corruption have plagued all governments in Bangladesh since 1971, but the Ershad government has been described by one businessman as "the most centralized and corrupt in the country's history" (Kochanek, 1993, 264-265). Under General Ershad, corruption was pervasive and included petty corruption, project corruption, and programmatic corruption (Kochanek, 1993, 259). These three forms of corruption "led to a massive gap between policy and implementation," as under Ershad, "law and policy had little meaning" as "decisions were made on an arbitrary basis with little accountability or appeal" (Kochanek, 1993, 266-267).
In his analysis of bureaucratic culture in Bangladesh, Mohammad Mohabbat Khan (1998, 35) identified corruption as a dominant component, as it has been institutionalized in the public service during the last 25 years. He attributed Bangladesh's high level of corruption to four factors:
First, bureaucrats involved in corrupt practices in most cases do not lose their jobs. Very rarely they are dismissed from service on charges pertaining to corruption. Still rarely they are sent to prison for misusing public funds. They have never been compelled to return to the state their ill-gotten wealth. Second, the law-enforcing officials including police personnel are extremely corrupt. They are happy to share the booty with other corrupt bureaucrats. Third, the people have a tendency not only to tolerate corruption but to show respect to those bureaucrats who made fortunes through dubious means.... Fourth, it is easier for a citizen to get quick service because he has already "paid" the bureaucrat rather than wait for his turn. (Khan, 1998, 36)
The lack of commitment by Bangladesh's political leaders is first manifested in the fact that "many elected officials, including members of parliament and ministers, are known to be involved in large-scale corruption" (Khan, 1998, 36). A more important manifestation of the lack of political will in fighting corruption is the transfer of the director-general of the Bureau of Anti-Corruption to the Ministry of Education because of his "crusade against corruption" and his unwillingness to stop the probe against four ministers, many members of Parliament, and several senior civil servants in May 1995. Khan (1998, 37) concludes pessimistically, but correctly, that the "bureaucratic and political elite will [not] start a campaign against corruption in public life as it adversely affect their individual, group and coterie interests."
Ineffective Anticorruption Strategies
The second and third cells of the matrix of anticorruption strategies in Table 2 represent two types of ineffective anticorruption strategies (strategies 1 and 2). Ineffective strategy 1 occurs when anticorruption measures are adequate but the political leadership's commitment is weak, thus resulting in the nonenforcement of anticorruption measures. This lack of political will can be seen in the ineffective anticorruption strategies adopted in the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand.
The third cell of ineffective strategy 2 is possible but unlikely in reality, as political leaders who are strongly committed to eradicating corruption will probably improve inadequate anticorruption measures, instead of being satisfied with inadequate anticorruption measures. None of the 13 Asian countries listed in Table 1 fall into this category.
The Philippines: Corruption was introduced into the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period, when graft and corruption prevailed because civil servants were paid low salaries and had many opportunities for corrupt behavior (Corpuz, 1957, 129). In contrast, the bureaucracy of the American colonial period (1898-1913) was less corrupt, as "the bureaucrats received higher salaries and corrupt officials were promptly prosecuted" (Quah, 1982, 159). However, graft and corruption flourished in the Philippines after World War II, and the bureaucracy suffered from "low prestige, incompetence, meager resources, and a large measure of cynical corruption" (Corpuz, 1957, 222-223).
Bureaucratic corruption was a serious problem during the 1950s, especially during the administration of President Elpidio Quirino (1948-1953); during his tenure, corruption "permeated the entire Philippine bureaucracy" (Al filer, 1979, 323). Accordingly, Quirino created the Integrity Board in May 1950 to investigate complaints of graft and corruption against civil servants. However, the Integrity Board was dissolved five months later, as it did not receive public support.
When Ramon Magsaysay won the presidential election in 1953, he established the Presidential Complaints and Action Commission (PCAC) to reduce inefficiency and dishonesty in the civil service. However, Magsaysay's death in 1957 gave rise to the Garcia administration (1957-1962), which abolished the PCAC and replaced it with the Presidential Committee on Administration Performance Efficiency and the Presidential Fact-Finding Committee in 1958 to implement the government's anti-graft campaign. In February 1960, Garcia created a third anti-graft committee, known as the President's Anti-Graft Committee (ibid., 331-337).
Garcia's successor, Diosdado Macapagal, established the Presidential Anti-Graft Committee. In 1965, Macapagal was replaced by Ferdinand Marcos, who abolished that committee and formed the Presidential Agency on Reforms and Government Operations (PARGO) in January 1966. Three other agencies, the Presidential Complaints and Action Office, the Complaints and Investigations Office, and the Special Cabinet Committee in Backsliding, were later created to assist the PARGO in its task of weeding out corruption (ibid., 339-346).
According to Varela (1995, 174), "graft and corruption reached its all time high during the martial law regime under Marcos," as corruption "had permeated almost all aspects of bureaucratic life and institutions which saw the start of the systematic plunder of the country." Indeed, the tremendous amount of "official corruption" that was practiced by Marcos, his family, and friends during his two decades in power was only discovered after his downfall in February 1986. The plundering of the country's wealth by the former first family was revealed by Pedrosa:
The documents [discovered by the investigators for the Aquino government] outlined the Marcoses' formula for systematic plunder. They had amassed their wealth through bribe-taking and kickbacks from crony monopolies; through the diversion of government loans and contracts; through the profits from over-priced goods and construction; through unaudited government revenue, usually raised from taxes; and through the expedient of taking over businesses by decree and the diversion of yet more funds from government-controlled entities. Nothing was spared ... [The Marcoses had stolen] a staggering $15 billion, more than half of the entire national debt of the Philippines (emphasis added). (1987, 221-222)
When President Corazon Aquino took over in February 1986, "there was high expectation that the end of the culture of graft and corruption was near" (Varela, 1995, 174). She created the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to identify and retrieve the money stolen by the Marcos family and their cronies. Unfortunately, Aquino's "avowed anti-graft and corruption" stance was viewed cynically by the public after two of her Cabinet members and her relatives were accused of corruption. The PCGG also became a target for charges of corruption, favoritism, and incompetence; by mid-1988, five PCGG agents faced graft charges and 13 more were under investigation. In May 1987, Aquino established the Presidential Committee on Public Ethics and Accountability in response to increasing public criticism. However, this committee was hindered by a shortage of staff and funds (Timberman, 1991, 233-234). In short, as Carino has indicated, Aquino's "honesty has not been matched by the political will to punish the corrupt" (Quoted in ibid., 235).
In his study of the consequences of low salaries on the prestige of the Philippine Civil Service, Padilla (1995, 195-202) found that civil servants augmented their low wages by vending within the office, holding a second job, teaching part-time, practicing their profession after office hours, and engaging in research and consultation projects. On the other hand, civil servants could also augment their low salaries by resorting to petty corrupt practices (ibid., 206). Indeed, as long as civil service salaries remain low in the Philippines, it will be extremely difficult to minimize corruption. Unfortunately, Aquino's successor, Fidel Ramos has failed to minimize corruption, too, as the salaries of civil servants have not been increased and he did not demonstrate his political will in fighting corruption)
South Korea: Corruption has been a serious problem in South Korea since the sixteenth century, when the participation of the king's family in politics led to "increasing nepotism and corruption in administration" (Rahman, 1986, 119). As a result of corruption scandals in recent years, South Korea has been described as "a ROTC (Republic of Total Corruption) by the people and mass media"(Kim, 1994, 215).
The fight against corruption began with President Park Chung Hee, who assumed office in May 1961 after ousting the government of Chang Myon because of its involvement in corruption, its inability to defend the country from communism, and its incompetence in initiating economic and social change (Han, 1989, 273). Park formed the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) in 1963 to act as a "direct check on the economic bureaucracy" (Hart-Landsberg, 1993, 54). In other words, the BAI was the first de facto anticorruption agency in South Korea. In March 1975, Park introduced the Seojungshaeshin (General Administration Reform) Movement to curb corruption in the civil service (Oh, 1982, 324); the number of civil servants prosecuted for corruption increased from 21,919 in 1975 to 51,468 in 1976 (Rahman, 1986, 122).
Park's assassination in October 1979 led to the assumption of power a year later by his successor, Chun Doo Hwan, who reaffirmed his government's anticorruption stance by purging corrupt public officials and introducing ethics laws to reward honest officials and to enhance the structures for civil service reform (Jun, 1985, 63). However, Chun's government lacked legitimacy because of opposition by rival political parties, student leaders, intellectuals, and progressive Christians (Han, 1989, 283-284). Chun's unpopularity led to his retirement in February 1988 at the end of his seven-year term. He, his two brothers, and his wife's family were accused of massive corruption, and on November 23, 1988, Chun and his wife apologized for their misbehavior and returned 13.9 billion Won (US$20 million) to the government.
Chun's successor, Roh Tae Woo, was plagued by the "long-festering problem of political corruption," with six legislators found guilty of extorting funds from the business community. The 1992 Hanbo scandal shocked the country when Chung Tae Soo, chairman of the Hanbo Construction Company, was accused of contributing substantial funds to ruling and opposition political parties for favors involving land development ("Korea-South," 1992, 138). However, Roh himself was not immune: in October 1995 it was discovered that he had received almost $600 million for his private political fund from individuals and major business conglomerates (Macdonald and Clark, 1996, 159-160).
When Kim Young Sam assumed power in February 1993, he voluntarily declared his personal assets of 1.7 billion Won (US$2.1 million) and gave up golf, which "had become a symbol of corporate-government cronyism and the exchange of corrupt gifts." He issued a presidential decree in August 1993 that Koreans must use their real names for all financial transactions, especially bank accounts, as the "anonymous or false-name account had been the backbone of the black economy and massive fraud, corruption and tax evasion schemes" (Sheridan, 1997, 13-15). More importantly, Kim strengthened the BAI, which became the first de jure anticorruption agency in South Korea. He created the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, an advisory body of private citizens formed to assist the BAIs chairman in fighting corruption. In March 1993, the government formed a team of 100 special inspectors within the BAI to implement Kim's anticorruption campaign. By August 1993, the BAI had 776 officials involved in audit and administrative inspection. Article 24 of the BAI Act empowers the BAI to conduct anticorruption activities by examining civil servants' behavior.
President Kim's anticorruption campaign confirmed that corruption is a way of life in South Korea and exposed its pervasiveness in the country. However, Young Jong Kim (1994, 207) has lamented the lack of political will in South Korea's efforts to curb corruption, especially under the regimes of Presidents Rhee, Park, and Chun. Although Kim's anticorruption drive was hindered by the May 17, 1997, arrest of his son for bribery and tax evasion in the Hanbo loan scandal and his sentencing to three years' imprisonment five months later, Kim has clearly demonstrated his commitment to eliminating corruption by not obstructing the legal arrest and sentencing of his son. Nevertheless, the Hanbo scandal and his son's arrest and imprisonment seriously undermined Kim's legitimacy and jeopardized the continued success of his anticorruption drive. Whether Kim's commitment to curbing corruption will be continued by his successor, Kim Dae Jung, remains to be seen.
Thailand: Like South Korea, the origins of corruption in Thailand can be traced to the sixteenth century, when civil servants withheld revenue collected for the king for themselves, as they were not paid regular salaries, and sent only a small amount to the king (Chai-Anan, 1977, 1, 4). The Board of Inspection and Follow-up of Government Operations was established as the first de jure anticorruption agency in September 1972. It was ineffective, however, as its five members were guilty of corruption themselves and the group was dissolved after the October 1973 revolution.
In May 1974, Prime Minister Sanya appointed a Counter Corruption Committee to investigate charges of corruption against civil servants and to report its findings. This committee was required to prepare an anticorruption draft bill to supplement the inadequate penal code. The Cabinet approved the draft bill and in December 1974 sent it to the National Legislative Assembly. The Assembly passed the bill, and the Counter Corruption Act (CCA) was enacted in February 1975. The CCA changed the Counter Corruption Committee to the Commission of Counter Corruption (CCC), which consists of a chairman and between five and nine members.
The CCC set out to investigate allegations of corruption against civil servants and submits to the cabinet proposals for preventing corruption and for revising administrative practices. However, the CCC was ineffective for three reasons. First, according to Mulder (1996, 173-174), "the idea of corruption, meaning that the external world should not be exploited for personal gain because it constitutes the public interest" was "so baffling [to the Thais] that it lames all Anti-Corruption Commissions at the outset." Second, the CCC could not curb corruption because of the constant conflict between the Cabinet and bureaucracy (Dalpino, 1991, 66). Finally, the CCC was viewed by its critics as a "paper tiger" without real teeth, as "it could only send reports to the prime minister and the Cabinet" since it lacked "direct authority to punish public officials." Consequently, very few civil servants have been punished for corruption.
The CCC's ineffectiveness led to the CCA's amendment in 1987 to give it more power (Amara, 1992, 240). In spite of this amendment, the CCC still cannot take action against politicians, and it "only has the power to investigate a bureaucrat following a complaint." Officials found guilty by the CCC are usually reprimanded or disciplined within the department, as the public prosecutor does not use the evidence collected by the CCC to initiate new investigations (Pasuk and Sungsidh, 1994, 180-181).
Thailand's anticorruption strategy was described as "hopeless" by Quah (1982, 175-176) 16 years ago, as the country's anticorruption measures were inadequate and its political leaders unconcerned about minimizing corruption. Indeed, most Thai political leaders (with a few exceptions, such as prime ministers Anand Panyarachun and Chuan Leekpai) have not been committed in the fight against corruption. However, the situation has improved recently after Chuan Leekpai replaced General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh as prime minister in November 1997. Furthermore, the Constitution promulgated on October 11, 1997, or the "People's Constitution," is concerned, among other things, with making elected politicians and public officials accountable by introducing several measures to curb corruption. Specifically, codes of conduct for politicians and civil servants have been formulated to prohibit conflicts of interest. They are also required to declare their assets, liabilities, and their income tax returns (and those of their dependents) to the CCC when they assume and leave office and one year after leaving office. The CCC has been strengthened to "enable it to bring cases to court and to cover the cases of political officials" (Prudhisan, 1998, 275-276).
In short, Thailand's anticorruption strategy has been transformed from a hopeless strategy to an ineffective one as its current prime minister, Chuan Leekpai, is concerned about minimizing corruption. The new Constitution has introduced additional anticorruption measures, including the empowerment of the CCC. However, whether Thailand's anticorruption strategy can be transformed into an effective one will depend on how long Chuan Leekpai remains prime minister and the extent to which the new anticorruption measures are actually implemented.
Effective Anticorruption Strategy
The final anticorruption strategy is the effective strategy, which occurs when adequate anticorruption measures are in place and political leaders are strongly committed to eradicating corruption. Of the 13 countries listed in Table 1, only Singapore and Hong Kong, the two least corrupt Asian city-states, come under this category. Both have adequate anticorruption measures (Prevention of Corruption Act and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau in Singapore, and the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance and the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong); both are blessed with political leaders who are determined to remove the problem of corruption in their countries (Quah, 1995).
The final section of this paper will discuss Singapore's effective anticorruption strategy, with the aim of showing how corruption can be minimized when political leaders are sincerely committed to this task by impartially implementing comprehensive anticorruption measures.
Learning from Singapore's Experience
As Table 1 indicates, Singapore is the least corrupt country in Asia today according to the three indices. However, the situation was quite different in Singapore during the British colonial period, when corruption was a way of life. The 1879 and 1886 Commissions found that bribery and corruption were prevalent among the Straits Settlement Police Force in Singapore. Indeed, an analysis of the Straits ]rimes from 1845 to 1921 shows that 172 cases of police corruption were reported during this period (Quah, 1979, 24). Corruption was also widespread during the Japanese occupation (1942-1945), as rampant inflation made it difficult for civil servants to live on their low salaries. The situation deteriorated during the postwar period, and in his 1950 Annual Report, the Commissioner of Police revealed that graft was rife in government departments in Singapore.
When the Peoples Action Party (PAP) leaders assumed office in June 1959, they realized that corruption had to be curbed to ensure that the Singapore Civil Service attained the country's development goals. They also realized that they could not continue the British colonial government's incremental anticorruption strategy if their intention was to minimize corruption. Accordingly, the PAP government's immediate tasks were twofold--to minimize corruption and to change the public perception of corruption as "a low-risk, high-reward" activity to "a high-risk, low-reward" activity. In 1960, a comprehensive anticorruption strategy was introduced with the enactment of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the strengthening of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). Because corruption is caused by both incentives and opportunities to become corrupt, the new comprehensive strategy was based on the "logic of corruption control," as "attempts to eradicate corruption must be designed to minimize or remove the conditions of both the incentives and opportunities that make individual corrupt behavior irresistible" (Quah, 1989, 842).
Reducing the Opportunities for Corruption
Singapore was a poor country in 1960, with per capita gross national product of S$ 1,330, or US$443 (Republic of Singapore, 1986, ix). As such, the PAP government could not afford to combat corruption by raising the salaries of its civil servants. It was left with the alternative of strengthening the existing legislation to reduce the opportunities for corruption and to increase the penalty for corrupt behavior. Corruption was first made illegal in Singapore in 1871 with the introduction of the Penal Code of the Straits Settlements. The first specific anticorruption law was introduced on December 10, 1937, when the Prevention of Corruption Ordinance (POCO) was enacted. The POCO was amended in 1946 to increase the penalty for corrupt offenses from two to three years and/or a fine of S$10,000, and to enable the police to arrest corrupt individuals without warrants.
The Prevention of Corruption Act (POCA) was enacted on June 17, 1960, and included five important features to eliminate the POCO's deficiencies and to empower the CPIB to perform its duties. First, the POCA's scope was increased to 32 sections, in contrast to the POCO's 12 sections.(4) Second, corruption was explicitly defined in terms of the various forms of "gratification" in section 2, which also identified for the first time the CPIB and its director. Third, to enhance the POCA's deterrent effect, the penalty for corruption was increased to imprisonment for five years and/or a fine of S$10,000 (section 5). The amount of the fine was further increased to S$100,000 in 1989. Fourth, a person found guilty of accepting an illegal gratification would be fined the amount of the bribe, plus any other punishment imposed by the court (section 13). Finally, the fifth and most important feature of the POCA was that it gave the CPIB more powers and a new lease on life. It provided CPIB officers with powers of arrest and search of arrested persons, and it empowered the public prosecutor to authorize the CPIB's director and senior staff to investigate "any bank account, share account or purchase account" of anyone suspected of having committed an offense against the POCA. Section 18 enabled the CPIB officers to inspect a civil servant's banker's book and those of his wife, children, or agent, if necessary (Quah, 1978, 10-13).
To ensure the POCA's effectiveness, the PAP government amended it as necessary or introduced new legislation to deal with unforeseen problems. In 1963, the POCA was amended to empower CPIB officers to require the attendance of witnesses and to question them. This amendment enabled CPIB officers to obtain the cooperation of witnesses to help them in their investigations. In 1966, two important amendments were introduced to further strengthen the POCA. First, section 28 stated that a person could be found guilty of corruption even if he did not actually receive the bribe, as the intention on his part to commit the offense constituted sufficient grounds for his conviction. The second amendment (section 35) was directed at those Singaporeans working for their government in embassies and other government agencies abroad: Singapore citizens could be prosecuted for corrupt offenses committed outside Singapore and would be dealt with as if such offenses had occurred within the country. In 1981, the POCA was amended for the third time to increase its deterrent effect by requiring those convicted of corruption to repay the money they received in addition to facing the usual court sentence. Those who could not make full restitution would be given heavier court sentences.
On December 14, 1986, then-Minister for National Development Teh Cheang Wan committed suicide, 12 days after he was interrogated for 16 hours by two senior CPIB officers regarding two allegations of corruption against him by a building contractor. Teh was accused of accepting two bribes amounting to SSI million in 1981 and 1982 from two developers to enable one of them to retain land which had been acquired by the government, and to assist the other developer in purchasing state land for private development. An important consequence of the Commission of Inquiry that followed was the enactment on March 3, 1989, of the Corruption (Confiscation of Benefits) Act 1989, which concerned the confiscation of benefits derived from corruption; it stipulates that if a defendant is deceased, the court may issue a confiscation order against his estate.
The CPIB is the anticorruption agency responsible for enforcing the POCA's provisions. It has grown in size by nine times, from eight officers in 1960 to its current establishment of 71 officers, comprising 49 investigators and 22 clerical and support staff. The CPIB performs three functions: (1) to receive and investigate complaints concerning corruption in the public and private sectors; (2) to investigate malpractices and misconduct by public officers; and (3) to examine the practices and procedures in the public service to minimize opportunities for corrupt practices (CPIB, 1990, 2).
Reducing Incentives for Corruption
The PAP government was able to implement only the second prong of its comprehensive anticorruption strategy--the reduction of incentives for corruption by improving salaries and working conditions in the civil service--in the 1980s long after it had achieved economic growth. The improvement of wages began in March 1972, when all civil servants were given a 13-month nonpensionable allowance comparable to the bonus in the private sector. This allowance was not aimed at curbing corruption, but enhancing working conditions in the civil service in comparison to the private sector.
Perhaps the best justification for the PAP government's approach to combatting corruption by reducing or removing the incentives for corruption by improving political leaders' and senior civil servants' salaries was provided by the former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in Parliament on March 22, 1985, when he explained why the wages of the Cabinet ministers had to be raised. He contended that political leaders should be paid the top salaries that they deserve in order to ensure a clean and honest government. If they were underpaid, they would succumb to temptation and indulge in corrupt behavior. According to Lee, Singapore needed a corruption-free administration and an honest political leadership to preserve its most precious assets. He concluded that the best way to deal with corruption was by "moving with the market," which is "an honest, open, defensible and workable system" instead of hypocrisy, which results in duplicity and corruption (Straits Times, 1985, 14-16).
Apart from reducing the incentives for corruption, the PAP government had to improve the salaries and working conditions in the civil service to stem the "brain drain" of competent senior civil servants to the private sector by offering competitive salaries and fringe benefits to reduce the gap between the two sectors. Accordingly, the salaries of civil servants in Singapore were revised upwards in 1973, 1979, 1982, 1989, and 1994 to reduce the drain to the private sector and the salary gap in the two sectors. As a result of these salary revisions, senior civil servants in Singapore earn perhaps the highest salaries in the world compared with their counterparts in other countries. For example, the basic monthly salary of the highest grade (staff grade V) is S$38,799, or US$25,866 (Straits Times, 1993, 28); this is much higher than the top monthly salary for the United States Federal Service, which is US$7,224, or SS 11,631 (Wright and Dwyer, 1990, 6).
Singapore's experience demonstrates that it is possible to minimize corruption if there is strong political will. Conversely, if such political will is lacking, the situation is hopeless, as political leaders and senior civil servants or military officers will pay only lip service to implementing anticorruption measures. On the other hand, it might be difficult for other countries to replicate and transplant Singapore's experience in curbing corruption for two reasons: Singapore's unique policy context differs from that of other countries; and the prohibitive economic and political costs of paying political leaders and civil servants high salaries and reducing the opportunities for corruption.
Jon S. T. Quah is a professor of political science at the National University of Singapore. He has published widely on public administration in Singapore and other Asian countries, with emphasis on administrative reform, anticorruption strategies, and human resource development. He is a member of Transparency International's Governance Council.
(1.) As space limitations and limited access to data do not permit a discussion of all the 13 countries, only the anticorruption strategies of the PRC, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Singapore will be analyzed in this paper.
(2.) A great deal of research has been done on corruption in the PRC in recent years. See, for example, Gong (1994), Gong (1997), Kwong (1997), and Mulvenon (1998).
(3.) For a recent treatment of corruption in the Philippines, see Coronel (1998).
(4.) The POCA now has 37 sections as a result of subsequent amendments.
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Jon S. T. Quah, National University of Singapore3…