It was not the report card they expected. Singapore is now placed fifth according to the latest ranking by non-governmental corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI). Significantly, the countries perceived by experts or their residents to be less corrupt - New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Sweden - all have heads of government drawing smaller salaries from the tax payers.
Mr Liau Ran, who oversees TI's rankings for East Asia, has this notion about corruption-free countries: "In many countries, you have to pay (and pay) to get things done." TI's ranking has a more stringent definition of corruption: abuse of entrusted power for private gain. What Liau missed out is that what we have is a pre-paid reward system for sanctioned corruption of morals.
Responding to Han Fook Kwang's concern about the ministerial pay policy remaining deeply popular, Lee Kuan Yew said this, "It is people's expectations - office is for honour. It is not."
"We are in this part of the world where "money politics" is the culture, we're not in Europe, nor Australasia, or some region where different political cultures prevail, different standards of living and different population ratio. Are we able to maintain this system? You see your counterparts, their wives are bedecked with jewels. And yours?" (HT, page 123)
In case you miss the drift:
"Some Singaporeans believe ministers ought to do it for honour and glory. But how many will do it for more than one term? My generation did it because we had prepared ourselves to give up everything.
Can a successor generation do that? No." (HT, pages 125-126)
It would appear that the vaunted aspiration for attaining the Swiss standard of living was never about striving for the European benchmark of moral society, just the monetary hallmark. Hence the consoling pat on the back: Singapore remains the least corrupt in Asia, ahead of Hong Kong and Japan. The attempt at sophistry reminds one of an old communist joke:
"Following months of negotiations, the long awaited hundred-metre sprint race between American President John Kennedy and Russian Premier Nikita Khruschev finally took place. The Soviet First Secretary came in a respectable silver medallist, while the American President was unfortunately second from last."