Singapore Continues to Lead Asia in Fighting Corruption Cases

In the 10th edition of the Global Legal Insights to Bribery & Corruption (2023) published by Global Legal Group, Allen & Gledhill partners Lee Bik Wei and Lee May Ling penned a chapter offering a useful overview of policies as well as Singapore’s law and enforcement efforts in the past year. Here are some key takeaways to draw from the chapter that discusses the Singapore government’s approach to handling corruption cases.

In 2021, Singapore was ranked the fourth-least corrupt country out of 180 countries and territories in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, as well as third out of 139 countries for the absence of corruption in the government. Moreover, Singapore was the top-performing Asian country in the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index in that same year.

Based on a May 2022 release by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), Singapore’s law enforcement agency in charge of investigating bribery and corruption, most prosecutions for bribery and corruption cases were against private sector employees, with 89 percent of cases registered for probes by the CPIB in 2021 involving private sector employees.

These report findings mirrored the figures on the CPIB website that mentioned the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) listing Singapore as the least corrupt country out of 16 economies in its 2022 Report on Corruption in Asia. Singapore has maintained this position since 1995. The same CPIB website added that based on the 2022 Public Perception Survey of over 1,000 respondents in Singapore, 96 percent regarded Singapore’s corruption control efforts as effective, an increase from 94 percent in 2020.

The cornerstone reasons behind Singapore’s notably low corruption rate encompass political determination, harsh punishments for corruption offenses, and the government’s resolute commitment to maintaining a zero-tolerance mindset with regard to corruption. The menace of corruption is vigorously confronted in the country to ensure the integrity of its institutions and public trust.

Together with the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA), the CPIB signed a Memorandum of Understanding in February 2021 to set up anti-corruption programs with the accountancy sector as well as the broader business community. This move also entailed introducing an e-learning core module, titled “Anti-Corruption & Ethics: Relevance to Accounting & Finance Professionals,” to ISCA members to showcase the role of finance and accounting professionals and identify and deter corruption in Singapore.

Under the 1960 Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) that outlaws corrupt practices in both public and private sectors, any facilitation payments or gratifications to expedite an administrative process that is given to or received by a person hoping to work for or already working for the Singapore government is regarded as a corrupt bribe unless proven otherwise. The PCA does not give leeway to hospitality or gifts, and does not admit any proof that such gratifications are commonplace in a given profession or sector.

Additionally, under the 2010 Criminal Procedure Code, a company, partnership, or association, but not an individual, may ink a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the Public Prosecutor on mutually agreed terms. Such a DPA would be to eschew prosecution in return for abiding by several conditions.

Anyone, including police officers and government ministers, suspected to be guilty of a PCA offense would be subject to an extensive investigation by CPIB officers. Section 36 of the PCA would keep the information of whistleblowers confidential, although the latter would not have immunity against prosecution if he or she is involved in a corruption case as well. Besides, Section 21 of the PCA empowers the Public Prosecutor to procure details from the accused or any other person.

Notably, the PCA enjoys extra-territorial jurisdiction pertaining to acts committed by Singapore citizens overseas. Even if a Singaporean commits an overseas offense related to corruption, he or she would be subject to investigations and penalties as if the offense had been committed within Singapore.

In light of this, under the 2000 Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, the CPIB collaborates with overseas anti-corruption enforcement agencies like the United Kingdom Serious Fraud Office as well as regional anti-corruption agencies like the ASEAN Parties against Corruption group.

Today, Singapore’s efforts towards tackling corruption remain unabated, with the CPIB depending on technology to boost its operations and investigations. Since July 2022, the CPIB has been working on a platform known as Complaints Management Digital, or Command for short, to better manage complaints from the public using natural language processing and machine-learning capabilities to rank complaints with a corruption-risk score. This platform would hopefully help the CPIB to improve its efficiency and better mobilize officers to deal with each case.

In the years ahead, the CPIB, along with other enforcement and government agencies, are poised to further develop their technological know-how to facilitate future efforts in combating corruption.

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