How Can Ukraine Benefit from Anti-Corruption Practices of Asian Tigers? Part 1 - Singapore

According to a number of anti-corruption ratings, Ukraine is perceived in the world as a highly corrupt country with a stunt economic growth. Seeing such unfortunate figures, I am always wondering what are these key steps that should help us overcome corruption and move from the bottom to the top where the least corrupt nations reside.    

To put these thoughts together, I am launching a series of posts on international best practices on fighting corruption. I will commence with the country I was inspired by during my recent trip – Singapore, one of the “Asian Tigers”. For centuries, corruption was common in Asian countries, so Singapore’s tremendous success in anti-corruption fight is worth attention and analysis. After gaining independence from the UK in 1965, Singapore was a poor country with no natural resources, low salaries of civil servants, and over 40% of illiterate population, all these factors contributing to corruption development. Much worse conditions if comparing to Ukraine’s situation in 1991, I would say. And now, that Singapore constantly scores top places in anti-corruption ratings, one may ask what is that magic pill that helped them overcame corruption? 

The fight with corruption in Singapore began with simplification of decision-making procedures and removal of ambiguities in legislation through publication of clear and simple rules, including abolition of licenses and permits. As Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said, “the acid test of any legal system is not the greatness or the grandeur of its ideal concepts, but whether, in fact, it is able to produce order and justice”. Ukraine has still a long way to go in this area, even though some progress is already visible. For instance, the 2017 World Bank Doing Business report identified Ukraine as a country that has reformed multiple aspects in the last 5 years and moved us few ranks up to the 80th place in its rating.

The second step was strengthening of the independent anti-corruption body and enhancing liability for corruption. Singapore inherited the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) founded in 1952 by the British colonial government, but its powers were extremely restricted. Lee Kuan Yew significantly raised the role of CPIB and gave it truly limitless powers. In parallel, all officials and their families were deprived of immunity and liability for corruption crimes has been drastically increased. 

If Ukraine would follow practice of Singapore, the agents of National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) should be vested with more extensive powers to carry out their investigations, most valuable – the right to wiretap those suspected in corruption. If found guilty, a public official convicted of corrupt activities should be deprived of the job, pension and all benefits. This should be a good deterring factor for those stepping on the slippery corruption road.

Singapore’s Prevention Corruption Act (PCA) of 1960 introduced the third element of anti-corruption reform in Singapore – presumption of guilt of public officials. As defined in PCA, any unexplained wealth that is disproportionate to known sources of income of public officials is presumed to be from graft and can be confiscated. Thus, PCA effectively shifted the burden of proving innocence to the official, who must convince the court that wealth was acquired legally and not from corruption schemes. Obviously, this element of anti-corruption reform is strongly required in Ukraine, as after publishing electronic declarations of state officials no visible enforcement from the anti-corruption bodies can be seen in this regard yet. There is a hope, though, that such instrument will be implemented soon, as the Parliament currently considers the respective draft.

The fourth element of the reform was drastic raise of the salary of public officials to meet the level of private sector. The revision of public salaries were tied to the amount of income taxes paid by the private sector according to the formula still valid in Singapore: salary in the public sector equals 2/3 of the salary of private sector employees of comparable rank. In my opinion, all attempts to increase salaries for public officials in Ukraine without correlation with salaries in the private sector will fail to deter public officials from seeking additional sources of income. 

As you may see, the recipe of Singapore’s success in the anti-corruption fight is not that sophisticated, if implemented comprehensively and backed by the political will. Simplified state regulation and straightforward procedures limit leeway for corruption; strong anti-corruption authority and presumption of guilt of government officials make the proper enforcement possible, and public-private correlation of salaries attract to the public sector talented employees, who further contribute to the state reforms and improving of public administration. 
All the instruments are there, all we have to do is to push harder for their faster implementation and control.

Stay tuned since there are more inspirational examples from the Asia to come!


Olga Burlachenko is attorney-at-law admitted to the bar in Ukraine and Czech Republic. Prior to her current job in the company of financial sector in Ukraine, Olga worked as senior counsel at leading automotive company and senior associate at top tier Ukrainian law firm. Olga graduated from the law faculty of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.